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Labor Report

Tartaglione Calls for Nonprofit Relief, Unemployment Benefits Extension in Federal COVID Legislation

Senator Tartaglione has joined U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia in urging Congress to include financial support for nonprofit employers in the next COVID-19 relief legislation.

In a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the lawmakers called for 100% federal reimbursement to self-insured nonprofits for the costs they pay to provide unemployment benefits to laid-off and furloughed employees. Nonprofit organizations employ 16% of Pennsylvania’s workforce, which accounts for more than 807,000 individual workers.

Under Pennsylvania’s current reimbursement system, nonprofits are encouraged to self-insure unemployment benefits. The federal CARES Act adopted in March provides partial reimbursement to nonprofits for self-insured employers. But Without full reimbursement of these costs, struggling nonprofits still do not have the means to overcome the financial obstacles the pandemic has created.

“From a social services and employment standpoint, the viability of nonprofits is essential to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the nation,” Senator Tartaglione said. “These charitable organizations enable millions of Americans to bridge the gap between poverty and dignity, and they bolster the broader economy with critically needed jobs at a time of historic unemployment.”

Due to the pandemic, the services provided by nonprofits such as food banks, shelters, childcare centers, health clinics, houses of worship, and many others are needed now more than ever to mitigate the negative impacts of the national emergency.

“From food banks to health clinics, nonprofits in Philadelphia and across the nation have strengthened our communities by providing critical services throughout this pandemic,” Congressman Boyle said. “We must look to support our local partners and make it easier, not harder, for them to survive this challenging time.”

The needs of individuals receiving unemployment and their families are expected to grow as a result of the expiration of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program on July 25. That program provided an additional $600 per week in benefits to each unemployed American.

Heroes ActCongress continues to negotiate the details of the next COVID-19 relief package, including the possible extension, reduction, or elimination of FPUC, as well as liability protections for businesses where employees or patrons contract the virus. The latest U.S. Senate Republican proposal would reduce FPUC to $200 per week. In May, the U.S. House adopted the HEROES Act that would extend the $600 per week benefits, but the legislation awaits consideration in the Senate.

Initial Period of Federal Benefits Helped Mitigate Economic Fallout of Pandemic

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – the federal program that was paying an extra $600 per week to unemployed people – was accounting for about 15% of the nation’s total wages before the program expired on July 25.

With the Republican-led U.S. Senate continuing to negotiate over the extension, reduction, or elimination of the program as part of forthcoming COVID-relief legislation, detailed many of the key outcomes of the program so far, including some that may surprise.

It has been widely reported that many businesses claim the payments have made it harder for them to re-hire employees because the workers would earn less money in wages than they could by staying at home to collect unemployment benefits.

However, data show that unemployment benefits have been fueling a major portion of the U.S. economy “because unemployed people are spending more than they did before the pandemic, while those who have jobs are spending less,” NPR reported.

“At a time when coronavirus cases in the U.S. have crossed 4 million and more people are losing jobs, many worry that taking the (FPUC) payments away would have a devastating effect on households and the economy.”

Although states like Pennsylvania have instituted bans on evictions and foreclosures due to the pandemic, outstanding rent and mortgage payments have not been waived or forgiven indefinitely. Evidence shows that FPUC has played a major role in helping people keep their homes.

What’s more, studies have shown that the nation’s poverty rate hasn’t worsened significantly despite the historically high unemployment rate and the “worst recession since the Great Depression,” NPR reported. Enhanced unemployment benefits can be credited for helping to keep the poverty rate in check and can help make the case for a closer examination of universal basic income.

“This additional payment is keeping many low-income families afloat and is even allowing them to spend a little more than they normally would,” NPR reported. “Economists say the spending exposes the large numbers of people living paycheck to paycheck and that it is time to examine policies to help with better distribution of wealth in this country.”

With COVID Mitigation Requirements Still in Place, Pennsylvanians Can Report Suspected Violations

With mask-wearing and social distancing requirements still in effect for businesses and public facilities throughout Pennsylvania, individuals may report suspected violations to local and state authorities.

This week, Governor Wolf issued a reminder that COVID-19 mitigation protocols reduce the spread of the virus and protect the safety of business owners, employees, patrons, their families, and their communities. The virus has claimed more than 7,100 lives in the Commonwealth. All individuals are advised to wear a mask whenever leaving home.

“We have been largely successful in our fight against COVID-19 thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of every Pennsylvanian,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “But with a recent and ongoing rise in cases, we must remain vigilant, continue to listen to healthcare professionals and each do our part to prevent this dangerous virus from spreading through our communities.”

Per the Secretary of Health’s April 19 order, businesses must require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of such goods.

There are limited exceptions to the mask order, which include those who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition, those for whom wearing a mask would create an unsafe condition, individuals who would be unable to remove a mask without assistance, children under the age of two, and individuals who are communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

Mask upThe current mitigation orders in place include Worker SafetyBuilding Safety, required mask-wearing, and the July 15 targeted mitigation orders. Along with a focus on voluntary compliance, several state and local agencies are responsible for enforcing these important health and safety mandates. Pennsylvanians can play a role by appropriately reporting suspected violations of these orders put in place to keep people safe.

All local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania can enforce the Worker Health and Safety Measures, Building Safety, mask-wearing and July 15 targeted mitigation orders. The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) has issued 52 warnings related to orders to date.

The State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement conducts hundreds of compliance checks each day at licensed liquor establishments to ensure licensees are complying with masking, social distancing and other requirements, in particular the July 15 targeted mitigation orders. Regular updates are posted at

Workers are encouraged to first communicate with their employer if they feel they are not being appropriately protected in their workplace. If that does not produce the desired result, a worker can reach out directly to local law enforcement via a non-emergency number, or to the Department of Health and fill out a COVID-19 complaint form.

Absence of Federal Workplace Safety Requirements Undermines Virus-Related OSHA Complaints

From March through July 12, employees at 63 Pittsburgh-area companies filed 100 complaints related to COVID-19 concerns with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to the Post-Gazette, which cited data reported by the federal agency.

As many as 5,857 workers may have been exposed to the virus due to the alleged violations, which included one workplace where COVID-positive employees continued to work on site, a COVID testing lab that was not cleaned sufficiently, and a company where thousands of employees were required to touch an un-sanitized palm scanner for entry.

The complaints triggered inspections of the workplaces named in the complaints, but employers faced no potential fines because OSHA’s COVID guidelines are merely recommendations. The agency has declined to issue a formal emergency temporary standard, which would cause the workplace guidelines to become requirements.

Organized labor has pushed for OSHA to adopt a formal standard. In May, the AFL-CIO petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to compel the agency to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect U.S. workers against the virus. Previously, the AFL-CIO joined with 23 national unions in petitioning OSHA directly, but the agency has not acted on the request.

Please Wait HereIn the early weeks of the pandemic emergency, many of the Pittsburgh-area complaints involved healthcare facilities where employees claimed they were not provided with personal protective equipment. More recently, many of the complaints have involved the reopening of businesses that had been idled, such as retail stores, manufacturing plants, and restaurants.

On a state level, Senator Tartaglione has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 464, that would extend workers’ rights and workplace safety protections to state, county, and municipal employees, including school district and transportation agency employees. SB 464 would grant these workers the same rights and protections that cover the nation’s federal and private-sector workers through the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This is the same act that created OSHA. SB 464 awaits action in the Pennsylvania Senate Labor and Industry Committee.

As Restaurants Reopen, Employees Organize to Advocate for Pay Equality, Better Working Conditions

Using their March pandemic-related layoffs and their employer’s subsequent $450,000 paycheck protection loan as springboards, workers at two affiliated Philadelphia restaurants have organized to demand that owners address their complaints about working conditions, pay disparities, and workplace culture.

“The situation highlights a new hazard for restaurant owners, long used to navigating conversations about humane and sustainable foods,” the Inquirer reported. “Now, they’re struggling to address questions about their treatment of staff in an industry fraught with racial, gender, and class inequities. And now that returning to work poses a serious health risk – in an industry where only 14% of workers receive health insurance – many workers are no longer willing to accept the status quo.”

“Long-standing industry conditions, and the current moment of uprising and protest, have spurred a wave of organization among workers laid off from restaurants across the city.”

ServerThe leader of the national One Fair Wage campaign told the newspaper that the movement has been referred to as “the great awakening,” with “hundreds of thousands” of restaurant workers unwilling to return to work for “meager” wages, and many restaurants responding with a willingness to eliminate the tipped wage system and pay tipped workers on scale with other employees.

“That would be a radical shift for an industry that’s been marked by pay disparities, which left kitchen workers, many undocumented, toiling for long hours and low wages. Servers often fared better, but about 60% of them discovered that their low hourly base wage was too little to qualify for unemployment,” the Inquirer reported.

The example cited by the newspaper occurred at Vedge and V Street, two Philadelphia vegetarian restaurants. In a June message to laid-off employees acknowledging the local and national demonstrations over systematic racism, the restaurant owners pivoted from the issue of human rights to animal rights. They noted that their business “was born out of compassion” for animals.

Yet, former employees told the newspaper that they had received little communication since their March layoffs without the paid sick leave that was owed to them under Philadelphia labor law. Soon, they learned that the ownership of the restaurants was awarded up to $450,000 in paycheck protection loans.

According to the Inquirer, their situation is not unique. The pandemic left about 80% of Pennsylvania’s restaurant workforce unemployed. That’s about 332,000 people.

Philadelphia Magazine reported that another Philadelphia bar/restaurant – Martha in the city’s Kensington section – has eliminated tipping and raised hourly wages for formerly tipped employees. A new service charge will allow the employer to offer health insurance and other benefits to workers. The venue reopened for outdoor dining on June 15.