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Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

460,000 more workers could get overtime in Pennsylvania

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

The Obama administration’s effort to extend overtime eligibility to millions of workers may have stalled first in the courts and then because, well, Donald Trump. But for workers in at least one state, there’s hope of progress. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed phasing in a higher overtime eligibility threshold in his state:

The first step will raise the salary level to determine overtime eligibility for most workers from the federal minimum of $455 per week, $23,660 annually, to $610 per week, $31,720 annually, on Jan. 1, 2020. The threshold will increase to $39,832 on Jan. 1, 2021, followed by $47,892 in 2022, extending overtime eligibility to 370,000 workers and up to 460,000 in four years.

Starting in 2022, the salary threshold will update automatically every three years so workers are not left behind.  Additionally, the duties for executive, administration and professional workers will be clarified to make it easier for employers to know if a worker qualifies for overtime.

The Economic Policy Institute notes that:

On overtime pay, the governor has authority to act without the state legislature. On another vital measure to improve the lives of working families, raising the minimum wage, legislative action is required—and Pennsylvania still lags its neighboring states. Unlike these six contiguous states, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to increase the minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.

Which is one more reason Pennsylvania’s 2018 elections will matter. A lot.

 This blog was originally published at DailyKos on January 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

After Ruling That McDonald’s Can’t Pay Workers In Bank Cards, The Bank Pays Up

Friday, June 5th, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108Paying employees through prepaid debit cards that incur fees when workers try to withdraw their cash is illegal in Pennsylvania, a judge ruled Tuesday. The lawsuit targeting a McDonald’s franchisee in the eastern-central part of the state has already prompted a powerful Wall Street bank to voluntarily give money back, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told ThinkProgress on Wednesday.

The case began in 2013 after a woman named Natalie Gunshannon sued a couple who own and operate multiple McDonald’s franchises in the state. The owners, Carol and Albert Mueller, had been using payroll debit cards provided by JP Morgan Chase rather than traditional paychecks or direct deposit payroll systems. After Gunshannon filed suit, the couple began offering direct deposit and traditional checks as alternatives to the payroll cards, which had previously been workers’ only option.

Gunshannon and other workers faced a $1.50 charge every time they used an ATM to access their wages, and a $5 charge for withdrawing the money over the counter at a cash register. Where a worker who misplaced a standard paycheck would be able to get a replacement check, the JP Morgan Chase prepaid cards charged a $15 replacement fee if lost or stolen. Paying bills online with the card meant spending an additional 75 cents on bank fees, and merely checking the balance of a card triggered a $1 fee.

The Muellers’ hourly workers were charged such fees nearly 47,000 separate times from the fall of 2010 to the summer of 2014, according to an expert witness in the case. That works out to roughly 20 separate fees per person in the class over a 45-month period.

Store managers, meanwhile, were offered direct deposit forms to receive their pay without facing the card fees.

When Gunshannon’s claim gained class action status earlier this year, all 2,380 hourly workers at the Muellers’ chain were able to join the case. Each of those workers would be entitled to a $500 damages payment plus the reimbursement of all the fees they were charged by the payroll cards, should the Muellers’ appeal of Tuesday’s ruling ultimately fail. In that case, the couple would have to pay out roughly $1.2 million in damages, unless they are able to strike a settlement with the workers’ attorneys.

Because the class action decision raised the stakes so significantly, that May ruling was in some ways a bigger deal than Tuesday’s finding that the Muellers had broken the law. The class status ruling in May certainly got Chase’s attention, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Cefalo told ThinkProgress.

“Our lawfirm became bombarded with telephone calls. All of the class members were getting a form letter from Chase saying, we have decided to refund you all of the fees you have paid Chase,” Cefalo said. “We were shocked.” The voluntary payments from Chase ranged from as little as a penny to as high as $148, the attorney said. A call to the bank’s press office about the payments was not immediately returned.

The checks do little to shield the Muellers from the potentially backbreaking damages payments mandates by Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law. And while the money is nice, Cefalo said, it doesn’t erase what the McDonald’s franchisees and Chase did to his clients.

“Say I come up to you and I have an armed robbery, and then I say ‘I’m sorry, here’s your money back.’ I still committed a robbery,” he said. “You still paid ‘em the wrong way.”

The Muellers’ attorneys told Law360 they intend to appeal Tuesday’s ruling. They may yet succeed in persuading a different judge that the payroll cards fit the state’s definition of legal payment. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Thomas Burke himself acknowledged that the relevant state law was written in 1961, and the technological progress in payments technology since then may cloud the case. He also asked the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to issue a formal administrative position on whether or not payroll cards that charge user fees are equivalent to cash or checks. The agency has previously said the cards are legal payment, but only in a non-binding advisory letter, according to Law360. A call to the agency for comment was not returned.

Payroll cards such as those the Muellers used are legal in many states, despite the fees that eat into workers’ wages. A handful of state legislatures are weighing new rules to govern the use of such cards, including Pensylvania itself and Washington state. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on regulations for a wide range of different prepaid debit cards including payroll cards like those in the Mueller case. The agency has warned employers that they must make alternative forms of payment available for any worker who doesn’t want the cards, and is currently soliciting comments on a proposed federal regulation.

With millions of Americans lacking access to banking services, the cards can be an important and beneficial tool for workers so long as they come with the right safeguards, the National Consumer Law Center has argued. Close to 5 million people were paid through such cards in 2012, a number projected to double by 2017. Similar prepaid debit cards are also being used in some cases to pay public benefits such as unemployment insurance. The banks that provide the cards and charge the fees are trying to recoup some of the profit they lost when Dodd-Frank regulations curtailed their old business practices involving fees for standard debit cards.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission .

About the Author: The author’s name is Alan Pyke. Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

Sneak Attack on Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Rights in Pennsylvania

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

mike elk

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is preparing a bill that could stealthily strip teachers’ collective bargaining rights in some of the state’s financially struggling school districts, according to members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania State Senate Education committee passed H.B. 1307, a bill allowing the state to declare school districts financially distressed and subsequently appoint an overseer to approve plans made by the school board. To the dismay of teachers’ unions, the bill would also allow public schools to be turned over to private charter companies and give the receiver the power to null and void any collective bargaining contracts.

The legislation would declare four school districts financially distressed—Chester Upland, Duquesne City, Harrisburg, and York City—and grants the Pennsylvania State Board of Education full discretion to declare any school financially distressed in the future.

As the bill advances, teacher unions see the legislation as a sneak attack against collective bargaining, prompted by fears of union attacks like those in Wisconsin.

“I think they looked at Wisconsin and the outrage that occurred when they tried to take away all collective bargaining rights for public employees at once,” says Mary Willis, a teacher and PSEA member in the Harrisburg School District. “I think they decided that they really didn’t want to have that kind of uprising in a big labor state like Pennsylvania and I think they decided they wanted to go after it piecemeal.”

The move comes against the backdrop of a Pennsylvania schools funding crisis. Under Gov. Corbett, the state cut education funding by $860 million in the budget year 2011-12. According to PSEA, local school districts lost an average of 13.6 percent of state funding from the cuts, or approximately 3.4 percent of their overall funding. Corbett has also proposed to cut an additional $100 million in block grant funding for 2012-13. The funding cuts coincide with property value decreases in some Pennsylvania towns, decreasing the amount of tax revenue available for many local school districts.

At Willis’s district in Harrisburg—which would be declared financially distressed—schools have been forced to eliminate kindergarten classes, pre-K programs, and an emotional support program for troubled students. As of last year, the district cut more than 200 teaching positions and last year’s budget called for cutting another 153.

“There is a serious funding crisis in a growing number of our schools,” says PSEA President Mike Crossey. “But this bill isn’t a solution. The problem was manufactured largely by state underfunding in the first place. This bill is a bureaucratic power grab masquerading as a fix, and it leaves these struggling schools guessing about how to balance their budgets and educate their students.”

PSEA says that giving the state the power to null collective bargaining costs is a wrongheaded approach to fixing the state’s fiscal problems. The union argues that increasing labor costs are not behind the financial revenue shortfalls plaguing many school districts. According to “Sounding the Alarm,” a PSEA report, “Even with projected increases in pension contributions, salary and benefit costs will only increase from 62 percent of district budgets in 2009-10 to 63 percent of district budgets in 2017-18.” Instead, the union argues that the budget crisis is caused by a dramatic revenue shortfall.

In addition to the $850 million state-level budget cuts and decreasing local property taxes, a big part of the revenue shortfall stems from a law forcing local school districts to pay for children that opt into charter schools without any consideration of the cost to the school district. In 2010, Pennsylvania reimbursed school districts a total of $219 million, but in 2011-12, Gov. Corbett eliminated state reimbursement for schools that send students to charter schools. Many school districts are forced to pay for children that opt into charter schools, but since the number of students that leave does not facilitate closing down schools or ending of bus routes—there are often very little savings for the public school districts in sending their kids to charter schools.

Two school districts that would be declared financially distressed under the legislation—York City and Chester Upland—have been hard hit by the requirement to pay students to go to charter schools. Both school districts had already lost 7.5 percent of their budget from state budgets cuts. On top of that, Chester Upland paid 20 percent of its budget and York City paid 9.3 percent to reimburse charter schools, according to a report put out by PSEA.

Instead of implementing the draconian financially distressed school legislation, PSEA says the state is underutilizing potential sources of tax revenue to fund schools, like taxing profits produced by fracking in the Marcellus shale, closing a loophole that allows companies to incorporate in Delaware to avoid paying taxes in Pennsylvania, and implementing a tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco. In addition, PSEA says Gov. Corbett could roll back the $475 million in tax credits and cuts in his budget proposal.

“It’s amazing—I have been a teacher in Pennsylvania for 27 years, I have never seen anything so devious in my life,” says Mary Willis. “This budget crisis is a manufactured crisis being used to go after collective bargaining and expand charter schools.”

Willis fears that if the legislation advances, it would be used to launch a witch hunt against teachers unions.

“Instead of a collective bargaining agreement, where people are laid off in a fair and equitable matter, this legislation would allow them to lay off anyone. They would go after the union leaders. I am two years from retirement and I’m at the top of the retirement schedule. Who do you think they are going to go after first?” says Willis.

PSEA spokeswoman Lauri Lebo says that at this point, the “bill could go either way,” which is why PSEA is launching a mobilization effort to defeat it. Lebo stresses more than just public education could be at stake, pointing to the fact that Corbett’s largest campaign donor is for-profit Charter School Management Company owner Vahan Gureghian.

“Corbett is trying to privatize education,” Lebo says. “This is why there is this slow strangling of teachers unions. This is what these education cuts are about. He is trying to privatize education.”

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on May 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). Currently, he works at the Campaign for America’s Future in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he has worked as a staffer on the Obama-Biden Campaign and conducted research on worker owned cooperatives at the Instituto Marques de Salamanca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When Mike is not reading twenty blogs at a time, he enjoys jazz, golden retrievers, and playing horseshoes.

Congress Hears Demands for Health Care Reform in Town Hall Meetings

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Members of Congress met in town hall sessions Thursday with constituents who were on Capitol Hill to rally and demand health care reform. Read dispatches from some of the meetings.

—————–

Ohio Weighs In

After the rally, more than 250 activists from Ohio met at the Columbus Club at Union Station to plan for an afternoon of lobbying and hear from members of Congress about health care reform.

“Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.”

The session was introduced by Tim Burga of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who decried the “free market run amok” in the current health care system and affirmed that we must have a serious public health insurance option.

He introduced Hattie Wilkins, who made one of the most moving speeches of the event.

Her situation illustrates the deep problems working families have with the way the current system operates. Hattie is a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union who worked for 35 years for Brentwood Originals, a pillow factory in Youngstown, Ohio. The USW struck Brentwood Originals in 2008, and more than three-quarters of the workforce has been laid off. She was fired because of her strong support for the union, Hattie said. She has been collecting $887 a month in unemployment since then. She has COBRA coverage, and now pays $275 per month—31 percent of earnings from unemployment—for her health insurance. She pays another $450 per month for her mortgage payment, leaving her only $162 each month for food, utilities, transportation and all her other expenses. Now her unemployment payments are ending and she doesn’t know what she is going to do.

At 58 years of age, Hattie is searching for another job at places like McDonald’s but has to compete with applicants much younger than she is. She gave us her cell phone number, though she wasn’t sure how much longer she would have it. Hattie came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the rally and make sure her elected representatives heard her voice on this critical issue.

Sen. Arlen Specter says health care is a right.

The Latest on Pennsylvania Town Hall

Sen. Specter has arrived, and compliments the crowd on its tenacity and commitment. Specter says he agrees that health care is a right and believes health care legislation will pass and will include a public option component. Of course, in a room full of union members, the Employee Free Choice Act came up. Specter says he is working hard to find an answer for early union certification and gaining first contracts.

Pennsylvania Update

The folks at Capitol City Brewing Co. are waiting for Sen. Arlen Specter to arrive. We hear reports he’s been at the White House.

From the North Carolina Meeting

Sen. Kay Hagan just arrived. She says the fight for health care reform is the “most important thing going on in our country.” Everyone in America must have health care coverage, she says, and patients with pre-existing conditions should be able to get health insurance.

About a public health insurance option plan, Hagan says some critics are getting caught up in nuance about language used in the debate. “I don’t care what you call it as long as it provides affordability accessibility and covers pre-existing conditions,” she says. We’d heard earlier reports that her staff told union leaders Hagan believes if health care reform passes, it will include a public option. The senator herself did not specifically say she supports the public option.

I think the key is if you have health insurance, you keep it. We don’t want to dismantle what exists.

More Pennsylvania Town Hall

Rep. Sestak arrived and talked about his daughter’s brain tumor and his health care plan to help keep her alive. Everybody deserves health care for themselves and their families, as well, he said. Sestak says his support for health care reform is “payback” to the country that provided health care for him and his family when he was in the Navy.

Everybody must be covered under health care reform, according to Sestak, and a public health insurance plan must be an option.

Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.

Pennsylvania Town Hall

Hundreds of union members from Pennsylvania have packed a hall just a block from the U.S. Capitol to hear from their elected officials on the status of real health care reform. As they wait for Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to appear, the chanting is in full force:

Congress, This is our demand. The option of a public plan.

What do we want? HEALTH CARE!

When do we want it? NOW!

Congress, This is our demand, the option of a public plan!

We are waiting for Specter and Sestak so we can spring that on them.

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) did not attend. A staff member is delivering her talking points.

Health care reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care reform must be passed.

We must ensure that patients’ choices are protected.

Maryland Town Hall

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. John Sarbanes and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speak to hundreds of Maryland workers and all support public option.

Rep. Blumenauer at Town Hall on Small Business

At a town hall focused on small business issues this morning at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) advocated a public insurance option plan, guaranteed coverage and a “pay or play” system that would require businesses to provide health care coverage for their employees or pay into a fund. These reforms would level the playing field and reduce cost burdens on small businesses, he said.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now. Re-printed with permission by the author.


Signing a Card to Join a Group? What a Novel Idea.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

If you have any interest in politics you have heard by now the big news about Senator Arlen Specter switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. From what I can gather, the actual process to switch parties merely requires some paperwork. That’s it!

Sen. Specter does not want to join the ranks of the 434,000 people unemployed in Pennsylvania and made a strategic decision to sign-up to be a Democrat. Now, as a new member of an affiliation working to protect his job, President Obama has pledged to campaign for him and the fundraising juggernaut, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), already lists Specter as a Democrat to support in the 2010 political cycle.

In Senator Specter’s statement about switching parties, he noted his continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. He stated,

“My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.”

Despite Sen. Specter’s betrayal by flip flopping his position on the Employee Free Choice Act last month, leaders and spokespeople within the labor movement have expressed subdued exuberance at the prospect of Sen. Specter joining the ranks of the Democrats. Sen. Specter’s party switch may indicate a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, and therefore, with Sen. Specter’s support, the bill could be closer to achieving the 60 votes needed for cloture.

I do not carry the heavy burden of a leader representing millions of members, so I can afford to be more skeptical and indignant. But the fact remains that Sen. Specter stated just one month ago that he would not support the bill and, as noted above, made a point of reiterating his position in his statement about switching parties. This is after he was on record for years as supporting the bill. He supported it when it was only theoretical since it didn’t have the votes to pass with Republicans holding the majority in Congress and President Bush in office vowing to veto it if it should ever come across his desk. And as a supporter of the theoretical bill, Sen. Specter enjoyed a great deal of support from unions.

Now, in 2009, with a Democratic President and majority in Congress the theoretical bill has become very real. Now is the time a person’s word and support means something. And Sen. Specter changed his position. His reasoning? He claims he cannot support legislation that would make it easier for working people to gain the protection and support of an organization that will bargain for wages, benefits and terms of employment until, wait for it – the economy improves. Well, he has a point. In a time of economic uncertainty, rampant layoffs, corporations asking employees for major givebacks while its managers award themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and travel by corporate jet – that’s certainly no time for workers to have some semblance of checks and balances looking out for their best interests.

So the question begs to be asked: Senator Specter – You signed a form and now belong to a group that will fight for your job and will represent your interests exactly at the time you really needed it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL have that option?

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