HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Pennsylvania lawmakers finalized the $45.2 billion state budget in early July which included historic investments for education, health care, and much more. Even with the historic investments, the commonwealth still has a bountiful surplus and rainy-day fund.
Now, roughly two months later, Democrats are looking to make additional investments for Pennsylvania workers. At a rally this morning, House Democrats said it’s time to put that money to work for the working class.
“Pennsylvanians don’t need the money to just sit there, but they need us, as a legislature, to invest those dollars in everyday working Pennsylvanians,” said Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia).
Rep. Harris, the House Democratic Whip, says even though both parties are celebrating the historic budget, there was a lot left on the table.
“There’s still so much work left undone,” said Harris.
Democratic lawmakers say investments for workers like family leave, child care, higher wages and protections for those in the public sector are among their top priorities.
“Public sector workers aren’t covered by OSHA protections,” said Rep. Pat Harkins (D-Erie).
Unlike the private sector, public sector employees are not covered under Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections. House Bill 1976, sponsored by Rep. Harkins, seeks to change that.
“There’s no reason that the public sector should not be afforded the same opportunities,” said Harkins, who first sponsored the bill after a 2014 public sector workplace tragedy in Erie. “The bill started when an unfortunate accident happened in Erie with Jake Schwab. He was given the wrong equipment to use and a bus fell on him,” said Harkins.
Legislation targeting worker misclassification is another top priority Democrats discussed this morning.
“Right now, there’s worker misclassification, meaning there’s people working 60 hours a week, being paid as a part-time employee with no benefits. We need to fix that. We can do that legislatively,” said Rep. Bob Merski (D-Erie).
Additional bills include House Bill 1200: the Family Care Act, which would establish a statewide Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, and House Bill 2156: the Keystone Saves Program, which would create a voluntary employee retirement savings program for the more than two million Pennsylvania workers who currently lack access to any retirement plan at work.
With the conclusion of the legislative session quickly approaching, Democrats are urging Republican leadership to take action on the bills, many of which have been stuck in committee for over a year, according to Democrats.
“We certainly know here in Pennsylvania that we’ve got more to do to support our workers. We have proposals that have bipartisan support. We have proposals that have the majority of Pennsylvanians support. We have proposals that have been stalled in committee for some time,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware). “With seven legislative session days, there is still time to ensure that we support our workers,” McClinton added.
But House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Jason Gottesman says things like wages and benefits should be left to the market, not to the government.
“They have an ability to seek a higher starting wage than has ever been done before and all of that has occurred naturally through the market,” said Gottesman. “This is really about getting government out of the way to help create jobs,” he added.