The workforce continues to be a central conversation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pa. officials and labor leaders met today to discuss the future of the Pa. workforce.
Today, the state General Assembly was called upon to pass bills — S.B. 12 or H.B. 345 — that would raise Pa.'s minimum wage to $12 per hour, effective immediately, and to eventually reach $15 per hour by July 2024 — per a 2018 executive order from Governor Wolf. The proposed bills would also remove local preemption, which means the administered wage falls on state law, not local government ordinances.
At present, twenty-nine states have a higher minimum wage than Pennsylvania, according to research from the Department of Labor. Since the last change in minimum wage in 2008, the purchasing power of Pa.'s state minimum wage has dropped by nearly 17 percent, and the minimum wage has lost nearly 31 percent of its value compared to 50 years ago, according to today's Pa. government press release.
As also mentioned today, three legislators are backing legislation that would improve workplace safety laws. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards would serve as protection for all public employees, according to the proposed bill, S.B. 310.
State leaders also discussed minimum wage requirements for pandemic-relief businesses. According to the Pa. government press release, any business currently receiving an offer of assistance must provide paid sick leave with a minimum wage value of state employees — $13.50 an hour. This change will be monitored by the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), as mandated by Governor Wolf's executive order today.
An estimated 400,000 Pennsylvania workers lack paid sick leave, according to the release.
Two other bills under discussion, H.B. 1035 and S.B. 13, would also provide paid sick leave to workers in Pennsylvania. S.B. 13 would require state-wide employer-paid sick leave. H.B. 1035 would provide emergency leave for COVID-19 health concerns.
Many legislators reflected on the role of the pandemic in altering the worker environment for the long-term. As Sec. Davin of DCED put it, “Investing only in businesses that embody the core values of Pennsylvania’s economy, including paid sick leave and minimum wage requirements, means we will also enhance the well-being of our workforce and our economy."
These bills are part of an ongoing discussion, but COVID-19 is likely to shape their outcomes in the legislature.