A plaque in Riverfront Park’s Labor Grove in Harrisburg, reads “We came here to work, not to die” (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).
Labor leaders and state officials gathered in Harrisburg on Monday to remember workers who have lost their lives on the job, and to call on the General Assembly to approve two pieces of legislation that would extend federal workplace safety protections to public-sector employees across the commonwealth.
In 24 states, including Pennsylvania, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections do not extend to public-sector workers. The decades-old standards, one state official said, continue to leave public-sector employees vulnerable.
“For 50 years, Pennsylvania’s public sector has been without workplace safety standards that protect our colleagues in the private sector,” Scott Weiant, deputy secretary for compensation and insurance at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry said Monday.
“The status quo amounts to a gap in health and safety protections for public sector teachers, maintenance workers, wastewater treatment plant operators, police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, health care professionals, child welfare caseworkers, office workers and so many more public servants,” Weiant said.
Two proposals currently before the Legislature aim to address the gap in workplace safety protections for public-sector workers.
Those bills, SB 310 and HB 1976, which were respectively introduced in 2021 by state Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, and state Rep. Patrick Harkins, D-Erie, would extend federal OSHA standards to public-sector workers across the commonwealth, and establish the Pennsylvania OSHA review board to carry out workplace inspections and impose penalties for violations.
“Pennsylvania workers report to work sites in every industry across the commonwealth to earn a paycheck and support their families – not to suffer serious injury or death,” David Gash, president of the Harrisburg Region Central Labor Council, said.
Mike Pries, the chairperson of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners, echoed Gash’s comments, saying “Not one more family should suffer the indignity and horror of losing a loved one while they’re at work earning a good day’s wage.”
Both bills, which are currently before their respective chambers’ Labor & Industry committees, have yet to see a vote.
State Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, who joined labor leaders on Monday, called on his colleagues in the Legislature to move the bills, calling it “an easy thing.”
“This is all about something that we as politicians need to come together and get done today,” Mehaffie said to applause from the crowd.
Gov. Tom Wolf has previously asked state lawmakers to support the two bills, but has also directed his administration to find ways to advance worker protections at the executive level.
In April, Wolf announced a partnership with Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) to conduct a feasibility study, analyzing the costs and benefits of extending OSHA standards to public workplaces.
“We’re hopeful this feasibility study will give us a roadmap to making these workplace protections universal to all Pennsylvania workers,” Weiant said of the study.
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