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Labor Report

More Than Half of PA Counties Now In Green Phase of Process to Reopen

As of 12:01 a.m. today, June 5, all 67 Pennsylvania counties have moved out of the red phase of Governor Wolf’s three-step Process to Reopen Pennsylvania while more than half have moved from the yellow phase into the green phase.

Under a new executive order signed by the Governor and by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, 10 counties moved from red to yellow today, including Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Philadelphia. Those counties are among 33 now in the yellow phase.

In counties under the yellow phase, some restrictions on work and social interaction are eased but other restrictions such as closures of schools, gyms, indoor recreation centers, personal care salons, and entertainment venues remain in effect, as do limitations on large gatherings.

“The purpose of this phase is to begin to power up the economy while keeping a close eye on the public health data to ensure the spread of disease remains contained,” the Governor’s office stated.

While in the yellow phase, businesses must continue to utilize telework where feasible. Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders specific to this phase. Child care facilities may reopen while following guidance. Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place. Schools may provide in-person instruction only in accordance with Department of Education guidance. In-person retail sales are allowable, but curbside pick-up and delivery are preferred. Restaurants and bars may open for outdoor dining, pick-up, and delivery only.

For individuals, the stay-at-home order is lifted for aggressive mitigation, but gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited.

The new executive order added 16 counties to green phase status including Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clinton, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Lycoming, Mercer, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland. There are 34 counties now in the green phase.

“The green phase eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health,” the Governor’s office stated.

Under the green phase, the continuation of telework is strongly encouraged, while businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety guidance specific to this phase. Businesses that operated at 50% occupancy in the yellow phase may increase to 75% occupancy. Congregate care restrictions remain in place, but prison and hospital restrictions are determined by individual facilities. Schools are subject to CDC and Commonwealth guidance. Construction activity may return to full capacity with continued implementation of protocols.

Large gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited under the green phase. Restaurants and bars, personal care services, gyms, indoor recreation facilities, and entertainment venues may operate at 50% occupancy.

Democratic Senators Call for Public Hearing on Sudden PA Turnpike Layoffs

In a letter to Governor Wolf, Democratic members of the Pennsylvania Senate condemned the sudden and “stealthy” decision by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to lay off hundreds of toll collectors and to eliminate their jobs permanently. The legislators also called on the Governor to suspend the terminations pending a public hearing on the matter.

The Commission voted unanimously on June 2 to immediately move to a permanent cashless toll collection system in contradiction with a standing agreement to retain toll collectors through 2021. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, the Turnpike has been operating without toll collectors since March 16. Traffic volume has been below normal levels during this period. In its announcement, the Commission stated approximately 500 workers would lose their jobs. The Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters, which represents affected workers, has said the figure is actually about 700.

“Prior to June 2nd, all parties understood that under the original agreement, the PTC promised to employ these Pennsylvanians until the exits went completely cashless at the end of 2021,” the Democratic Senators wrote.

Affected workers would be able to use their remaining time on the job to apply for other positions within the Commission, seek placement in appropriate jobs elsewhere in Commonwealth, and use a tuition credits for new career development training.

“To our knowledge, none of the above terms of the agreement have been met,” the Senators wrote.

As recently as May 12, Turnpike officials appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee for a hearing to discuss the agencies finances. The officials gave no indication of potential layoffs then, even after Senators raised questions about plans for toll takers.

“This sudden decision to terminate 700 hardworking Turnpike employees violates the agreement we had in place and comes at a time when the Commonwealth should be doing everything it can to curtail the loss of jobs,” said Senator Tartaglione, the Democratic Chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee. “We must insist that all stakeholders have their say in a public forum as part of any decision-making process of this magnitude.”

Rick Bloomingdale, President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO stated: “Any employer who eliminates jobs at a critical time in the recovery of our Commonwealth ensures even more long-term economic hardship.  Instead of laying off (these) workers to embrace automation, we should engage public stakeholders to preserve jobs. This premature and backward decision ignores the economic devastation of hundreds of workers.”

American Workers Not Getting the Message About Recently Adopted Paid Leave Benefits

Only about half of Americans are aware of the new paid leave protections available to as many as 60 million U.S. workers as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that was adopted by Congress and signed into law in March.

Politico reported that a poll conducted last month by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that more than half of Americans were unaware of the new paid leave benefits or believed they personally were not eligible for them. Another poll released by Paid Leave for All this week found that just 53 percent of voters have heard “a great deal” or “some” about the provisions of the Families First Act.

“(The Department of Labor) says it is educating workers on their rights to the emergency paid leave to the best of its ability, including by fielding phone calls and hosting what it says is hundreds of outreach events,” Politico reported. “But Democrats and worker advocates say the agency could be doing more and may even be purposely keeping employees in the dark in an attempt to ‘run the clock’ before the provisions expire in December.”

The Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which investigates complaints of violations of the Act, employed 756 investigators as of April 30. It has concluded 700 investigations related to the legislation and is working on “hundreds more,” a Department official told the news agency.

The Act generally requires employers to provide up to two weeks of paid leave at the employee’s regular rate to employees who experience COVID-19 symptoms or who have been quarantined. Employers must also provide two weeks of paid leave at two-thirds the regular pay rate to employees who cannot work while caring for a quarantined family member. Employers must provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds the regular pay rate to employees who must stay home to care for a child whose school or daycare program has closed due to COVID-19.

Yet, the legislation in its final form exempts businesses with more than 500 employees from providing paid leave and exempts businesses with less than 50 employees that claim that providing paid leave would jeopardize the viability of the business.

May 2020 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate fell to 13.3% in May 2020, unexpectedly declining 1.4% from 14.7% in April, which was its highest level in the history of the seasonally adjusted series (dating back to 1948 - prior to this time, unemployment was estimated to have hit roughly 25% during the Great Depression of the 1930s). This and the other changes to data noted in this update reflect the progression of the national employment situation through the coronavirus pandemic (please see the **footnote). Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by 2.093 million individuals, lowering total unemployment to just under 21 million. However, as was the case in March and April 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that unemployment figures would likely have been higher if survey respondents had been properly classified as unemployed on temporary layoff.

Even with the decrease in the unemployment rate in May 2020, it was still nearly 10% higher than its level of 3.5% in February 2020 (which matched the 50 year low seen in 2019) with total unemployment standing 15.198 million higher than the February 2020 level of 5.787 million individuals. For context, the unemployment rate had declined 1.2% with total unemployment down by 1.731 million individuals over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 20,985,000
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   2,093,000
  • Change Over 3 Months –   UP   15,198,000
  • Change Over Year –   UP   15,047,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   UP   13,467,000
  • Rate Change Over Month –   DOWN   1.4%
  • Rate Change Over 3 Months –   UP   9.8%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   UP   9.7%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –    UP   8.6%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   DOWN   3.3%

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 total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. In May 2020, the national labor force rebounded with growth of 1.746 million individuals over the month, a combination of total employment* rising by 3,839,000 individuals and total unemployment down by 2,093,000 individuals as noted above, raising its total to 158,227,000.

Despite the month-to-month increase, the national labor force was still down by 6,319,000 individuals (unemployment +15,198,000 & employment -21,517,000) from its level of 164,546,000 in February 2020. For context, the national labor force had grown by 4.899 million individuals (unemployment -1,731,000 & employment +6,630,000) over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 158,227,000
  • Change Over Month –   UP   1,746,000
  • Change Over 3 Months –   DOWN   6,319,000
  • Change Over Year -   DOWN   4,555,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1,420,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   3,884,000

Non-farm* job rolls rebounded with growth of 2.5 million in May 2020, following staggering losses over the prior two months. In March 2020, non-farm jobs fell by 1.373 million, and subsequently experienced a record loss of 20.687 million in April. As such, even with the growth in May 2020, the total non-farm employment level of 132.912 million still stands nearly 20 million, or 13%, lower than its February 2020 level of 152.463 million. For context, non-farm employment had grown by 6.836 million over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 132,912,000
  • Change Over Month –   UP   2,509,000
  • Change Over 3 Months –   DOWN   19,551,000
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   17,665,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   12,715,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   10,364,000

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