Harkins stands with governor on critical worker safety issue

Pushes to give Pa.’s public workers the same protections as private workers

ERIE, Nov. 4 – State Rep. Pat Harkins joined Gov. Tom Wolf in Erie today as the lawmakers pushed for passage of Harkins’ legislation to repair a critical safety issue that leaves Pennsylvania’s public employees unprotected in the workplace.

Harkins, D-Erie, said he is encouraged by renewed attention generated by the governor’s recent executive order, which urges lawmakers to pass
H.B. 1976. Also known as the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill, the legislation would give Pennsylvania’s public employees the same protections enjoyed by the state’s private-sector workers.

“Pennsylvania’s public employees – police, firefighters, teachers, corrections officers, transportation workers and others – are every bit as committed to doing their jobs and providing for their families as the state’s private-sector employees,” Harkins said. “But there is one glaring difference: unlike private-sector employees, who are protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the state’s public employees are left to fend for themselves because there are no regulations in place to keep them safe.

“That lack of protection killed public transit mechanic Jake Schwab just days before Thanksgiving 2014, when the equipment he needed was unavailable at his job site, leading to a fatal explosion. It was seven years ago that Jake’s death spurred me to put this legislation in motion. During those seven years the bill has stalled, more public workers have died.

“I stand with Governor Wolf in urging every lawmaker in this state to move this legislation to the finish line. Families of public employees should not have to face an empty seat at the table this Thanksgiving, like Jake’s family did, when a simple change to the law could keep their loved ones safe.”

Wolf first announced the executive order at an Oct. 21 news conference in Pittsburgh. In addition to urging passage of Harkins’ bill, the governor’s executive order requires companies that receive grants from the Governor’s 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 state minimum wage.

Harkins’ bill is now with the House Labor and Industry Committee.