PA Senate Democrats Hold Policy Hearing on OSHA Protections for Public Employees

PA Senate Democrats Hold Policy Hearing on OSHA Protections for Public Employees

Harrisburg – May 20, 2021 – At the request of Senator Tina Tartaglione (D- Philadelphia),  Democratic Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor & Industry, the Pennsylvania Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual public hearing to discuss Senate Bill 310  and OSHA protections for public employees.

“For more than 50 years, America’s private-sector employees and federal employees have benefitted from the safeguards and the peace of mind provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). It is a travesty that Pennsylvania’s public employees don’t have the same protections,” Senator Tartaglione said. “All workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and they have a right to know they won’t face retribution when they speak out about deficient and dangerous conditions. My Senate Bill 310 would extend critical OSHA protections to all Pennsylvania workers.”

Senate Bill 310 would establish the Pennsylvania Occupational Safety and Health Review Board within the Department of Labor and Industry. Currently, Pennsylvania workers at state and local government agencies do not have Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protection. This proposed legislation would extend OSHA safety rules to public employees of the commonwealth, all legal political subdivisions, public schools, public transit systems, and non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania.

“Workers deserve to know that when they come to work, their health and safety is a priority and not an afterthought.  No one should have to accept that life threatening conditions are just part of a job, and workers in every profession and field should have OSHA protections.  I am proud to support Senate Bill 310, and I am so grateful to Senator Tartaglione for championing this bill in the Senate and making workplace protections a priority in our caucus,” Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said.

“According to the AFL-CIO Death on the Job Report, 8.1 million public sector workers lack OSHA protection nationwide. In 2019, their injury and illness rate were 64 percent higher than employees in the private sector,” Mike Maguire, Director of Political & Legislative Affairs at AFSCME Council 13, said. “Since the establishment of OSHA in 1971, more than 627,000 worker’s lives have been saved. Let’s extend those protections to our commonwealth’s public sector workforce.”

In opposition to the Senate Bill 310 were Keith Wentz, Manager of Risk Management & Underwriting at the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), and Stuart Knade, Esq., Chief Legal Officer of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Wentz noted in his testimony that he and his organization do not believe that further OSHA protections are needed for public employees because there are already voluntary safety boards and random inspections of facilities.

Knade said that implementing OSHA protections for public employees in Pennsylvania would be difficult because OSHA was not written with them in mind, creating issues with implementation. He also said that the implementation would be cost prohibitive.

Both Wentz and Knade agreed to continue further conversations with Senator Tartaglione on Senate Bill 310 and public employee protections.

“Costs actually go down when you make your workplace more safe,” Rick Bloomingdale, President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said. Bloomingdale said in his testimony that the same arguments that Wentz and Knade gave today were used in the 1970s when OSHA was first enacted. However, over the years, OSHA has proven to be a draw for employees and employers in the private sector.

Bloomingdale said that there is less employee turnover, higher morale, and less incidents leading to injury and need for workplace compensation because of OSHA regulations in private sector workplaces.

“According to the National AFL-CIO’s Annual Death on the Jobs report, in 2016, state and local public-sector employers reported an injury rate of 4.7 per 100 workers, which is significantly higher than the reported rate of 2.9 per 100 among private-sector workers,” Bloomingdale said.

Jeff Ney, Treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), explained in his testimony that teachers are also excluded from OSHA protections.

“Like me, so many public employees are shocked to learn that these basic protections don’t apply to them or to their place of employment,” Ney said. “The common-sense protections contained in SB 310 will also ensure that our students have a safe and healthy educational environment – which is the most basic and indispensable factor in fostering academic excellence. School employees’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

Maguire, of AFCME said in his testimony that workers are more than just resources, they are human beings and they deserve workplaces that treat them that way.

“This is the most important bill to AFCME,” concluded Maguire.

Below are all who participated in today’s hearing:

  • Keith Wentz, Manager of Risk Management & Underwriting, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) 
  • Stuart Knade, Esq., Chief Legal Officer, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • Rick Bloomingdale, President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
  • Mike Maguire, Director of Political & Legislative Affairs, AFSCME Council 13
  • Jeff Ney, Treasurer, Pennsylvania State Education Association
  • Dr. David Levine, UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny) also attended this hearing, as did Senators Anthony H. Williams (D- Philadelphia/Delaware), Lisa Boscola (D- Lehigh/Northampton), Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny), John Kane (D- Chester/Delaware), and Amanda Cappelletti (D- Delaware/Montgomery).

The full recording of this roundtable, as well as the written testimony from participants, can be found at senatormuth.com/policy. A full recording of this hearing can also be found on the PA Senate Democratic Facebook page.

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PA Senate Democrats Joined by PA Sec. of Ag & Second Lady Gisele Fetterman for Policy Hearing on Food Insecurity in Pennsylvania

PA Senate Democrats Joined by PA Sec. of Ag & Second Lady Gisele Fetterman for Policy Hearing on Food Insecurity in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg – April 30, 2021 – At the request of Pennsylvania State Senators Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Tina Tartaglione (D- Philadelphia), and Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual policy hearing to discuss the issue of food insecurity in Pennsylvania.

“The pandemic has exposed many issues over the last year, but perhaps most striking of all is the issue of food insecurity,” Schwank said. “I know few of us will forget seeing the long lines of families waiting for food assistance. Today we learned how our local food banks met the extraordinary challenge of feeding our communities and what we need to consider moving forward as the issue of food insecurity is far from solved.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said that reports compiled by the organization Feeding America show that the number of Pennsylvanians facing food insecurity in 2020 grew substantially to 1.77 million individuals, an increase of 30 percent. The number of children in Pennsylvania facing food insecurity rose to 537,080, an increase of nearly 40 percent in just one year.

“Food Insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for a healthy and active life and at its core equals hunger. Across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is estimated that 11% of the population is food insecure with the highest percentage right here in Philadelphia county,” Dixie James, President and COO of Einstein Healthcare Network, said.

Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Fetterman, also testified at the hearing about her work to address food insecurity through Free Store 15104 and 412 Food Rescue.

“My work exists because of failures in policy,” Fetterman said.

She said that making a state law to prevent perfectly good food from going to waste, as numerous other states have done, would help to address food insecurity by redirecting resources, and also addressing the environmental impact of discarding perfectly good food that could otherwise feed populations.

“We know it is not a lack of food, it is how food gets distributed,” Dr. Kathy Reeves, Senior Associate Dean of Health Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and Director at the Center for Urban Bioethics and Professor of Pediatrics Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, said.

Dr. Reeves also advocated in her testimony to treat food as a prescription to address the overall health of Pennsylvanians.

“Food insecurity is intertwined with so many of Pennsylvania’s chronic ills, problems like poverty and health disparities that have been exacerbated by the lingering coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Tartaglione said. “This thorough conversation is imperative as we seek to make nutrition universally accessible in the Commonwealth.”

Loree Jones, CEO of Philabundance which serves five counties in Pennsylvania, said that 40 percent of the 60 percent increase Philabundance has seen in need this past year were people using the emergency food system for the first time. She said that Feeding America is projecting that nationally more than 42 million people, including 13 million children, may experience food insecurity due to COVID-19.

Secretary Redding said that additional funding to provide food in the pandemic has come from both federal and state resources, providing additional funding for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) foods purchases through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). As of April 17, 2021, food banks in Pennsylvania report having distributed in excess of 2.4 million of these food boxes, weighing more than 51.5 million pounds.

“The lessons learned over this past year have provided us a fresh lens to look at our grant programs to ensure they are equitable and meeting the needs of those we serve. The gaps in the system have been highlighted such as meat processing delays and lack of access to fresh foods. We will continue to enhance our current programs and investigate additional ways to address these needs,” Sec. Redding said. “Additionally, expanding broadband access throughout the commonwealth will assist in providing equal access to resources and e-commerce platforms.”

Scott Cawthern, Acting Deputy Secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance at the PA Dept. of Human Services, also testified about the work that the Dept. of Human Services did in expanding services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how increased and continued investment in these programs will address food insecurity and improve long-term health outcomes for Pennsylvanians.

“On the state level, we would like to see more coordination between all the food 9 systems in the state including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), SNAP, NSLP, and others to ensure that eligible families are receiving all the food assistance for which they qualify and to ensure that children and families receive the nutrition supports as they grow,” Cawthern said.

Jay Worrall, President of Helping Harvest Food Bank, testified to the importance of community partners in the distribution of food and resources to families and how increasing funding for its signature food insecurity programs, the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), and the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), and increase the flexibility for how those funds can be expended would assist even more Pennsylvanians in need.

“Unfortunately, many Pennsylvanians have been and still are struggling to meet their basic needs. Working families across our state face countless situations, such as jobs paying only poverty wages due to wealth inequality and corporate greed, food deserts, unexpected bills for car maintenance or medical treatment, layoffs, and now a global pandemic, all of which cause temporary or permanent financial instability, food insecurity and hunger. Pennsylvania food insecurity rates have increased from 11.1% in 2018 to over 33% as of March 2020.  According to the PA Department of Agriculture, before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1.53 million Pennsylvanians endured chronic hunger every day, including 478,500 older Pennsylvanians and about 437,000 children,” Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said. “Food insecurity makes it impossible to survive let alone thrive.  Every human should have guaranteed access to reliable and nutritious meals.  We need to act urgently to end food insecurity in Pennsylvania and across our nation.”

Below are all who participated in today’s hearing:

  • Dixie James, President & COO, Einstein Healthcare Network
  • Gisele Fetterman, Second Lady of Pennsylvania
  • Secretary Russell Redding, PA Department of Agriculture
  • Scott Cawthern, Acting Deputy Secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance at the PA Dept. of Human Services
  • Dr. Kathy Reeves, MD. FAAP, Senior Associate Dean, Health Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Director, Center for Urban Bioethics – Professor, Pediatrics Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University 
  • Andy Toy, Development and Communications Director, SEAMAAC
  • Tyler Ray, Neighborhood Community Organizer, Urban Creators
  • Maddy Booth, COO, Vetri Community Partnership
  • Mark Edwards, President & CEO, Food Trust
  • Loree Jones, CEO, Philabundance
  • Jay Worrall, President, Helping Harvest Food Bank

The full recording of this roundtable, as well as the written testimony from participants, can be found at senatormuth.com/policy. A full recording of this hearing can also be found on the PA Senate Democratic Facebook page.

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PA Senate Democrats Hold Hearing on Raising the Minimum Wage for PA in Honor of MLK Day of Service

PA Senate Democrats Hold Hearing on Raising the Minimum Wage for PA in Honor of MLK Day of Service

Harrisburg – January 18, 2021 – At the request of State Senators Art Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia), Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), and John Kane (D- Chester/Delaware) the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual public hearing on raising the minimum wage for Pennsylvanians. The hearing was held on Martin Luther King, Jr’s Day of Service to honor his legacy of fighting for worker’s rights and economic justice.

“It is unacceptable that Pennsylvania continues to allow its minimum wage to be the poverty wage of $7.25 an hour,” Haywood said. “We hold this hearing today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of service to continue the work that Dr. King started demanding dignity and respect for all workers, and that starts by paying workers a living wage.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly last raised the minimum wage in July 2007 to $7.25 per hour. The six states bordering Pennsylvania have enacted minimum wage laws exceeding the $7.25 rate effective in the Commonwealth. Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, and Ohio have enacted higher minimum wages than Pennsylvania’s, which has been stagnate at the federal minimum for more than a decade.

Alissa Barron-Menza, Vice President of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, said that minimum wage was first introduced in 1938 during the Great Depression, and that a livable minimum wage is an essential economic recovery tool.

“This increase is a vital tool for shared recovery that will be good for business, good for customers and good for the economy,” Barron-Menza said.

Morris Pearl, Chairman of the Patriotic Millionaires, also said that a raise to the minimum wage is good for the economy. He said that a strong economy needs people with money to spend in order to maintain it.

“Investors are overwhelmingly in favor of raising the minimum wage,” Pearl said.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, including all states surrounding Pennsylvania.

“The fact that Pennsylvania’s General Assembly hasn’t raised the minimum wage since passing my legislation in 2006 is reprehensible,” Tartaglione said. “While I have continued to sponsor new minimum wage legislation every session since, the majority has failed to take action, leaving the last increase workers have seen to be a 10-cent federal increase in 2009. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage workers deserve better.”

Sen. Tartaglione is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 12. This legislation would immediately raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour for all Pennsylvania workers, with a pathway to $15 an hour by 2027. This bill would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage for Pennsylvania, ensuring all workers are making a living wage that is not dependent on patron generosity or lack thereof.

“I was a union plumber for almost four decades, and I know how important livable, family-sustaining wages were for myself and all of our members,” Kane said. “It’s a big problem that our minimum-wage workers haven’t seen a raise in over a decade — we need to guarantee that all Pennsylvanians are paid a livable wage.”

Gene Barr is President & CEO of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry said that his organization does not believe that a raise to the Pennsylvania minimum wage is the most, “effective way to drive assistance.”

Barr said that a raise to the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, will lead to more automation, and that continued work with the state on reducing barriers to employment and expanding an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are better solutions.

“There is majority business support for raising the minimum wage beyond currently enacted levels – despite what you may hear from the opposition,” Barron-Menza countered to Barr. “For example, a 2016 survey of 1,000 business executives across the country conducted by LuntzGlobal for the Council of State Chambers found that 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state’s minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed.”

“No one should be working a full-time job, or multiple full-time and part time jobs, and still be living in poverty because their employer is not required to pay them a livable wage,” Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said. “All workers deserve the dignity and respect of a livable wage, and we must raise the minimum wage for Pennsylvania.”

William Spriggs, Professor of Economics at Howard University and Chief Economist at AFL-CIO stated in his testimony that raising the minimum wage is also essential in ending the gender and racial wage gaps widely acknowledged to exist by economists.

Spriggs also said that subminimum wage is paying people less in the service industry ($2.83 in Pennsylvania for restaurant workers) or is biased on where they live, and also has, “very racist roots.”

Ashona Denise Osborne joined the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) fight for $15 an hour minimum wage after working minimum wage jobs her whole life, raising her son as a single mother, and realizing that even getting her Associates Degree in childcare is, “still not enough.”

Many other Senators also attended this hearing including Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny), Amanda Cappelletti (D- Delaware/Montgomery), Carolyn Committa (D- Chester), Maria Collett (D- Bucks/ Montgomery), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (D- Montgomery/Philadelphia), Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), Nikil Saval (D- Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Anthony H. Williams (D- Delaware/Philadelphia), and Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny).

Below are all who testified in today’s hearing:

  • Gene Barr, President & CEO of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry
  • Alissa Barron-Menza, Vice President of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage
  • Morris Pearl, Chair of Patriotic Millionaires
  • Manuel Rosaldo, Centre County Wage Justice Coalition, Assistant Professor of Labor Relations, Penn State University
  • Jacqui Rogers, Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition
  • William Spriggs, Professor of Economics, Howard University and Chief Economist, AFL-CIO
  • Kadida Kenner, Director of Campaigns at the PA Budget and Policy Center
  • Ashona Denise Osborne, SEIU Worker from Pittsburgh
  • Lateefah Curtis, Worker from Philadelphia
  • Adesola Ogunleye, Worker from Philadelphia

The full recording of this hearing can be found at senatormuth.com/policy.

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Senate Hearing Focuses on Budget Impasse’s Impact on Schools

Harrisburg – October 28, 2015 – At the request of state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Phila.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on the devastating impact that the state’s 120-day budget impasse is having on schools across the state.

“While many of the budget dispute points remain unresolved, what is clear is that the consequences of this impasse are far-reaching,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee. “This hearing gives lawmakers a sense of how schools are handling the funding shortfall, and what problems they’ll face if this stalemate continues to drag on.”

Hughes added, “A growing number of schools have been cornered into borrowing money and taking out credit lines just to keep their doors open. Hopefully, this hearing’s focus on this worsening statewide financial crisis will encourage greater urgency, cooperation and compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations.”

During the hearing, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified that at least 27 school districts have taken out loans totaling more than $431 million. He projected that interest payments will total $30 million if the stalemate reaches mid-November.

Those who testified decried how the impasse has harmed students, depleted reserves and how taxpayers will be needlessly saddled with paying the interest on the growing number of loans and credit lines that schools are obtaining to keep their doors open.

Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams lamented that his district will need to borrow $30 million just to get through January.

“That’s $114,000 in wasted interest money that could have been used for so many badly needed educational expenses,” Badams said.

Dr. Joseph Roy, who serves as superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District in Northampton County, added that “choices at the state level continue to hammer school districts.” He said the diversion of funds to charter and cyber schools and a “punitive” approach to public education has blown up school expenditures.

Dr. Rula Skezas, who serves as superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District in Allegheny County, noted that even if the district receives its proposed funding it would still fall short of what it received during the 2011 school year. She said McKeesport has taken out a $5 million line of credit to make it to December. She said the district has already eliminated 110 staff positions to try and make ends meet.

Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public, charter and private schools are already reeling from years of being underfunded. He noted that the Philadelphia School District has already borrowed $275 million during the impasse. Fran Burns, who serves as chief operating officer for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that the district has struggled to contend with a “structural deficit.”

Lamenting the impact on local working families who fund schools through property taxes, Boscola pointed toward an educational survey conducted earlier this year showing that nearly 75 percent of districts were planning to impose property tax hikes, 30 percent were planning on making additional program cuts, and 41 percent were making more staff cuts. She said the state has withheld approximately $3 billion in school funds since the budget impasse began in July.

Joining Boscola and Hughes at the Capitol committee hearing were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie),

Those testifying included:

  • The Honorable Eugene DePasquale
    Pennsylvania Auditor General
  • Fran Burns
    Chief Operating Officer, School District of Philadelphia
  • Joseph Gorham
    Superintendent of Schools, Carbondale Area School District
  • Dr. Joseph Roy
    Superintendent of Schools, Bethlehem Area School District
  • Dr. Jay D. Badams
    Superintendent, Erie Public Schools
  • Dr. Rula S. Skezas
    Superintendent, McKeesport Area School District
  • Marjorie Neff
    Chair, School Reform Commission
  • Anthony Pirrello
    CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School of Erie, and Vice President of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools
  • Matt Przywara
    Member, PASBO
    Chief Financial and Operations Officer, School District of Lancaster
  • Bill LaCoff
    President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • Susan Gobreski
    Education Voters of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Pearl English
    School Nurse, School District of Philadelphia

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