Subscribe to E-Update here.  
Labor Report

PA Labor Secretary Reminds Employers, Teens About Summer Job Requirements

As counties across Pennsylvania move into the green phase and teenagers begin summer employment, Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak is reminding Pennsylvanians that the state's Child Labor Law limits working hours and the types of work that may be performed by minors. Oleksiak is also urging businesses hiring minors to continue following social distancing and virus mitigation recommendations to ensure their health and safety.

“Summer employment offers Pennsylvania's young people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, earn a paycheck, and potentially start a path toward full-time employment,” Oleksiak said in an L&I news release. “Businesses that employ young people, especially during this unprecedented time, must still follow the laws in place and take precautions to protect younger workers to ensure they have a safe, positive experience.”

Governor Tom Wolf's Process to Reopen Pennsylvania outlines restrictions for counties in yellow or green phases of reopening. Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders.

Pennsylvania's Child Labor Law protects the health, safety, and welfare of employees under 18 in the Commonwealth by restricting employment in certain establishments, the hours of work, work conditions, and occupations involved.

The law covers three age groups: less than 14 years of age, 14- and 15-year-olds, and 16- and 17-year-olds. All minors under 16 must have a written statement by the minor's parent or guardian acknowledging the duties and hours of employment and granting permission to work.

Information about regulations for each age group is available by calling L&I's Bureau of Labor Law Compliance toll-free at 800-932-0665, or by visiting the bureau's website.

Absent Two-Fifths of its Proscribed Membership, NLRB Again Rules Against Unions

The shorthanded and Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board has ruled unanimously to allow companies to penalize employees who speak about labor unions during their work shifts, even if their conversations do not interfere with their job performance.

In a case known as Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, the casino operator disciplined an employee for discussing an upcoming union election with another on-duty employee in a conversation that lasted several minutes. The company had a standing policy prohibiting employees from soliciting union support while on the clock. The three sitting members of the five-seat NLRB held that the discipline issued by the employer was lawful.

In its precedent-setting decision, the Board stated that employers need not justify disciplinary measures by demonstrating that the conversation interfered with the employee’s work.

“Board and court precedent regarding no-solicitation policies is based on the principle that union solicitation is likely to disrupt work,” the Board wrote. “As a result, a rule prohibiting solicitation during working time is presumed valid, and employers may lawfully discipline an employee who violates such a rule, even if the employee has not interrupted work. In our view, a requirement that there be a significant interruption, or indeed any interruption, of work to constitute prohibited solicitation interferes with the balance between employees’ right to organize and the equally undisputed right of employers to maintain discipline in their establishments.”

Labor411 noted that the Board reversed prior NLRB precedent that minimal on-duty discussions about union organizing were not sufficient to constitute “solicitation.”
The Wynn case is the latest in a series of pro-employer decisions issued by the Board, which has two vacant seats that typically would be filled by members of the Democratic party during a Republican presidential administration. The three current members are all Republicans. Board member terms are five years.

The Board was reduced to four sitting members on Aug. 27, 2018, with the expiration of Obama-era Chairman Mark Pearce’s term. On Dec. 16, 2019, another Obama nominee, Lauren McFerran, left the Board when her term expired. The administration has not nominated replacements.

Three is the minimum number of members the Board must have to issue any decision. Customarily, the Board has overruled existing precedent only if at least there are four sitting members, three of whom rule in favor of the reversal, according to a labor law blog published by Fox Rothschild.

Mail Carriers Deliver Millions of Signatures to Capitol Hill in Fight to #SaveThePostOffice

Members of the American Postal Workers Union and their supporters delivered petitions containing more than 2 million signatures to Congress on June 23 as they continue to seek federal funding to save the United States Postal Service from looming financial collapse and possible privatization.

In concert with a caravan of vehicles that proceeded from the Washington Navy Yard to the U.S. Capitol, USPS employees and supporters gathered for rallies in cities across the nation including Philadelphia and Detroit. In addition, the APWU has led a #SaveThePostOffice campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. A primary objective is to persuade Congress, particularly Senate Republicans, to approve $25 billion in one-time funding for the postal service as part of the proposed HEROES Act. The U.S. House adopted the $3 trillion omnibus legislation in May.

“The post office is literally under threat of running out of money,” APWU President John Dimondstein said. “The CARES Act generated over $500 billion for private corporations, but nothing for the post office.”

The USPS, which employs almost 500,000 people, has been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic due to reduced mail volume. The USPS was initially due to receive a $13 billion grant in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, but that earmark was removed from the final stimulus package after President Trump threatened to veto the legislation. The USPS is self-funded and receives no federal dollars for operating expenses.

Postal workers have continued to serve their routes throughout the pandemic. Almost 70 postal worker deaths had been attributed to the coronavirus, while 2,800 had tested positive and 1,200 others were presumed positive as of early this month.

Acme Markets Parent Plans to Cut Worker Pay as Shareholders Pocket Billions

In a new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the parent company of Acme Markets and several other major supermarket chains has reported that it will repeal the $4 in raises it gave to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, while it will seek to raise $1.5 billion cash for shareholders by selling off a portion of the company.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported details of the June 18 SEC filing by Idaho-based Albertsons Companies Inc., which operates about 2,200 supermarkets across the country, including Safeway stores.

The privately held parent company plans to sell about one-sixth of its value through an initial public offering. Shares will be sold at $20 each and amount to $1.5 billion in revenue. Shareholders will pocket all of the cash. The current ownership group paid about $100 million for the entire company seven years ago while assuming $3.2 million in debt from the prior ownership, the Inquirer reported.

Moving forward, the company plans to pay shareholders $228 million a year in dividends, a figure that amounts to almost half of its $466 million profit last year, according to the SEC filing.

The current CEO, who arrived at Albertsons last year after leaving PepsiCo, owns $38 million worth of company stock at the projected $20 per share sale price. He collected $29 million in salary and other compensation last year.

In contrast to the huge windfalls that the owners and top executives are expected to reap, frontline workers will see pay reductions under the company’s plans.

In March, they were awarded a $2 raise as the coronavirus spread rapidly across the country. At the time, supermarket sales soared and Albertsons hired 40,000 new employees. Earlier this month, the company awarded frontline workers a second $2 raise. In the SEC filing, the company stated it would repeal both raises.

The Inquirer further reported that the CEO has said he hopes to cut costs and raise profits by increasing the use of online ordering and self-checkout aisles, changes that could lead to manpower reductions.

Major Albertsons shareholders include Philadelphia’s Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds, which manages investments for the retirement plans of Pennsylvania’s state workers and teachers.

May 2020 PA Jobs Update

Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 13.1% in May 2020, down three percentage points from its revised record high in the seasonally adjusted series of 16.1% in April 2020 (dates back to 1976), and below the national rate of 13.3% in May 2020. The decrease in May 2020 follows on the heels of growth of 11.4% in the commonwealth’s rate over the previous two months. This and the other changes to data noted in this update reflect the progression of Pennsylvania’s employment situation through the coronavirus pandemic (please see the *footnote below).

Over the month, unemployment rolls fell by 188,045 individuals, with total unemployment decreasing to 849,042. However, it should be noted that estimates in the household survey for both unemployment and employment (see **footnote below) were again affected to varying degrees among states by misclassification from respondents in May 2020 (i.e. workers who should have been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff).

As of May 2020, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate stood 8.4% higher than its level of 4.7% in February 2020, with total unemployment standing 540,014 above its total of 309,028 individuals in February 2020. For context, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate had declined 0.7% over both of Governor Wolf’s terms as of February 2020, with total unemployment down by 35,408. State unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 849,042
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   188,045
  • Change Over 3 Months –   UP   540,014
  • Change Over Year –   UP   578,752
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –   UP   504,606
  • Rate Change Over Month –   DOWN   3.0%
  • Rate Change Over 3 Months –   UP   8.4%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   UP   8.9%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –    UP   7.7%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the number of employed individuals combined with the number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Labor force growth can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. From April to May 2020, PA’s labor force rebounded with growth of 22,873 individuals, a combination of total employment** up by 210,918 and unemployment down by 188,045 as noted above, after a dramatic decline of 110,942 individuals over the previous two months.

As of May 2020, PA’s labor force is down by 88,069 individuals (unemployment +540,014 & employment -628,083) from its record high of 6,558,419 in February 2020. For context, PA’s labor force had grown by 159,267 individuals (unemployment -35,408 & employment +194,675) over both of Governor Wolf’s terms as of February 2020. State labor force statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Labor Force – 6,470,350
  • Change Over Month –   UP   22,873
  • Change Over 3 Months –   DOWN   88,069
  • Change Over Year –   UP   16,114
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –   UP   71,198

PA Non-farm** job rolls also rebounded with growth of 198,300 from April to May 2020, following a staggering loss of 1,116,500 over the previous two months (bringing non-farm employment in April 2020 to its lowest level on record in the seasonally adjusted series – dates back to 1990). As of May 2020, non-farm job rolls are down by 918,200 (please see the attached spreadsheet for comparison to other states), from a record high of 6,109,600 in February 2020. For context, non-farm employment had grown by 295,700 over both of Governor Wolf’s terms as of February 2020. State non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 5,191,400
  • Change Over Month –   UP   198,300
  • Change Over 3 Months –   DOWN   918,200
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   863,800
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –    DOWN   622,500

*Survey periods for data are as of the first half of the month, meaning changes occurring beyond this time are not captured for the month.
**Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only