Harkins bill would set safety rules for public employers

Legislation prompted by death of Erie worker

HARRISBURG, April 26 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, held a Capitol news conference this afternoon to announce the reintroduction of legislation he authored in direct response to the workplace accident and death of a Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority employee in 2014.


House Bill 1082, the Jake Schwab Worker's Safety Bill, was first introduced in 2015 in memory of Erie resident Jake Schwab, a mechanic with EMTA who lost his life due to a workplace incident in November 2014. As a public transit authority, EMTA is exempted from OSHA regulations, so the details regarding the incident and any safety concerns that would have been raised through an OSHA review have been hard to track.


Harkins pointed out that following the accident, Schwab’s family, and especially his widow, Tiffany, had to battle to receive any information on the accident, because under current law, "the insurance industry controls the investigation. Tiffany has been a real inspiration to me," he said.


William Dando, legislative director, AFSCME Council 13, Harrisburg, highlighted the five states that have established OSHA-like protection for their public employees: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey and New York.


"Creating an OSHA state plan for public employees is the right thing to do," Dando said. "We need to stop treating public employees like second-class citizens."


Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL/CIO, explained that, "The name of the employer is the only reason some workers have protection while others don’t."

He added that the public employers would benefit as the bill would drive down absenteeism and increase productivity.


"Employees should expect that their workplace is safe," said Dolores McCracken, vice president, Pennsylvania State Education Association.


While offering his support for the bill, Gabe Morgan, vice president and PA/DE state director, SEIU 32BJ, highlighted a Philadelphia school boiler explosion in January 2016 that claimed the life of Christopher Trakimas, and called the Harkins bill, "An issue of life or death."


The Harkins bill would provide on-the-job safety protection to public employees by establishing Occupational Safety and Health Administration-equivalent safety rules for public employers, including the commonwealth, all legal political subdivisions, public schools, transit systems and any nonprofit organizations currently exempt from the OSHA standards.


Harkins, the other speakers and union members were joined onstage by state Reps. John Galloway, Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, Bryan Barbin, Scott Conklin, Eddie Day Pashinski and fellow Erie colleague Ryan Bizzarro. 


Galloway pledged to push the bill when it gets assigned to the Labor and Industry Committee.