Harkins applauds governor’s executive order urging passage of worker safety bill

ERIE, Oct. 21 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, issued the following statement today in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive action urging passage of H.B. 1976, Harkins’ workplace safety legislation, also known as the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill.

“I was encouraged to hear Governor Wolf call on lawmakers to pass my worker safety bill and eliminate a gaping hole in protections for our state’s public workers. The men and women who make up Pennsylvania’s workforce give it their all – whether they work for public or private employers – to support their families and keep our communities running.

“But shockingly, although they do the same work, only some of them are safe from workplace dangers. That’s because basic safety protections exist for private-sector workers only. Public employees – from police to corrections officers to public transit workers – are left to fend for themselves.

“My bill is named for Jake Schwab, a public transit mechanic who died just days before Thanksgiving because the equipment he needed was unavailable at his job site, leading to an explosion. Unlike mechanics in private garages, Jake was not protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Pennsylvania has no state plan imposing comparable standards to protect public employees.

“It’s my hope that with renewed attention focused on this critically needed piece of legislation, the families of PA’s public workers won’t have to keep wondering if each day will be their last because they lacked the basic protections they needed to stay safe.

“Jake Schwab never made it home for Thanksgiving that day in 2014. But if the legislature acts soon, maybe we can stop this from happening again. It’s time to quit talking about it and act to protect PA’s public employees.”

Harkins has introduced the legislation in prior sessions and said he is optimistic that it will gain additional support in the current session.

The governor announced the executive order at a news conference today in Pittsburgh. In addition to urging passage of Harkins’ legislation, the governor’s executive order requires companies that receive grants from the Governors’ Action Team to provide paid employee sick leave; calls on legislators to pass legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave for all PA workers; and calls on lawmakers to pass legislation that would raise the minimum wage.