Harrisburg – July 22, 2020 – At the request of state Senators Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny) and state Representatives Elizabeth Fiedler (D- Philadelphia), Patrick Harkins (D- Erie) the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a joint virtual public hearing with the House Democratic Policy Committee on worker protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Lisa Boscola, who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee stated, “Today we heard from expert panelists on how to best protect all workers who are serving their communities and providing for their families. We are all working to figure out how to make this ‘new normal’ as safe as possible for those continuing their vital frontline jobs, and those who are returning to work as we find the best ways to reopen our communities. It is incumbent upon state and local officials continue to work together in the coming weeks and months to determine how to keep our workers and loved ones safe.”

Lawmakers and testifiers discussed ways the legislature can protect workers as they continue to serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “It is imperative that worker protections are secured as businesses reopen.  Many workers were left without proper protections because of inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of this pandemic, and the supply chain is still not yet secured,” Muth said. “With increasing cases spiking up across the nation, we have to all work together to keep each other safe and all levels of government have a role in securing and enforcing protections for essential workers who’ve been putting their health and safety on the lines for months now.”

Muth has introduced Senate Bill 1221 to ensure sufficient Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies for workers and business as Pennsylvania reopens and continues to combat the virus. Muth has also introduced co-sponsorship memoranda for “A Just Transition Committee” for workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus began impacting Pennsylvania in mid-March. The pandemic lead to a statewide emergency declaration by Governor Tom Wolf to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, an estimated 100,000 people in Pennsylvania have contracted COVID-19, and there have been almost 7,000 deaths.

Governor Wolf initially shutdown all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania, and the state began red, yellow, green reopening phases. All 67 Pennsylvania counties are now in the green phase, with many workers returning to jobs and joining frontline and essential workers.

“We applaud the Governor’s swift action at the beginning of this crisis.  The right decision is not always popular nor easy.  But there is nothing more important than protecting the health and safety of our communities and our loved ones. If the Governor had not acted decisively in March or adopted a measured reopening strategy, then Pennsylvania would have suffered an even more overwhelming spike of COVID-19,” Richard Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO said.

“The health and safety of every worker should be the priority of our legislature. Making sure that people can safely return to their jobs is an essential aspect of the recovery from COVID-19,” Williams said.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, Williams has advocated for legislation to ensure adequate childcare is available for families and that frontline workers are protected. She has also been an advocate for workers who have unjustly lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sadly, this virus did hit our membership hard. Our union has identified 831 members who have contracted Covid-19. These are the cases we know of, and surely there are more. Tragically, 7 of our members have passed away from this virus,” Chris Naylor, Legislative and Political Director, United Food and Commercial Workers 1776 Keystone State said.

Naylor said that the policies that Governor Tom Wolf, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, and legislature implemented for COVID-19 workplace safety was very helpful, and so is the hazard pay program for workers being distributed through the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). However, Naylor said that more enforceable mask mandates are essential to the health of workers currently on the frontlines.

Senate Democrats have released a detailed plan and complete legislative package for a Just Recovery for Pennsylvania as the state continues to fight COVID-19. The full Just Recovery plan is available at pasenate.com/covid19

“Our family members and neighbors who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing facilities and other essential businesses are putting their lives at risk every day when they go to work. Even during the worst of the pandemic thus far, they spent their days and nights in what can only be described as hazardous conditions, risking their lives and the lives of their family members just to complete their work,” Fiedler said. “Many serious health and safety concerns already existed for workers and their unions before the pandemic. Along with Rep. Mullins, I have introduced legislation to institute hazard pay for essential workers employed by large businesses. We need that to be the standard. And we need to make sure every worker, and every person in Pennsylvania, has quality healthcare, housing and safe working conditions.”

Sun Strait, Nursing Home Campaign Director at SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said, “Workers who are getting COVID are being forced to go unpaid or use whatever paid leave they have accrued. Some COVID positive healthcare workers have qualified for workers compensation, but without a presumptive eligibility it can be up to the worker – in the midst of a significant illness – to prove they contracted COVID at work. We need to pass Public Health Emergency Leave legislation that will cover all frontline workers so our healthcare heroes and all workers who are putting their bodies on the line during this crisis are able to stay home when they fall ill to the COVID virus.”

Fiedler and her colleagues in the house have also been advocates for adequate childcare during this pandemic, as well as fighting for hazard pay for frontline workers, and making sure that people do not lose their homes and apartments during the pandemic.

“It is imperative that the safety of our workers is, first and foremost, constant, but even more so now in these current conditions. We must remain vigilant to make sure all workers are afforded every tool available to keep them safe,” said Harkins.

Arthur Steinberg, President of American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, said that the reopening of schools in just under a month comes with serious issues that need to be dealt with first.

“We only have one chance to get reopening schools right. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is deadly,” Steinberg said. “However, before we can even consider reopening schools, there are dangers to mitigate and public health benchmarks to hit in order to protect the educators and workers who occupy those buildings every single day.”

 The House Democratic Policy Committee chair Mike Sturla stated, “With the pandemic still ongoing, we must continue to do everything we can to ensure protections for all workers, especially those on the front lines.”

 The following testified at today’s hearing:

  • Chris Naylor, Legislative and Political Director, United Food and Commercial Workers 1776 Keystone State
  • Rick Bloomingdale, President, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
  • Tom Lipko, Assistant to the Executive Director, AFSCME Council 13
  • Sun Strait, Nursing Home Campaign Director, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania
  • Maureen May, RN, President, Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals
  • Arthur Steinberg, President, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania
  • Jerry Roseman, Industrial Hygienist, Director of Environmental Sciences for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund

Boscola thanked all those who testified about what our frontline workers are facing and for the guidance on how the legislature can further provide support and resources, “This hearing has opened my eyes even further to the realities that our grocery store workers, healthcare workers, and teachers all face as we continue to battle this virus.”

Senators who attended this hearing include Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Art Haywood (D- Philadelphia/Montgomery), Pam Iovino (D- Allegheny/Washington), Maria Collett (D- Bucks/Montgomery), Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), and Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia.

Representatives who attended include Mark Longietti (D- Mercer), Chris Sainato (D- Lawrence), Bill Kortz (D- Allegheny), Tom Caltagirone (D- Berks), Mary Isaacson (D- Philadelphia), Joe Ciresi (D- Montgomery), Kevin Boyle (D- Philadelphia County/Montgomery), and Mary Jo Daley (D- Montgomery).

The Senate and House Democratic Policy Committees have hosted a number of hearings related to COVID-19, including the impact on nursing and veterans homes, food supply chain disruptions, the disproportionate effect on the African American Community, pandemic-related funding for childcare centers, reopening of schools, and assuring that protective equipment and other support is accessible for all frontline workers.

A full recording of this hearing, and links to all previous hearings, is available at senatorboscola.com/policy.