Election 2020

Ballot question: Should Philly create a permanent labor department to protect workers’ rights?

The idea has been successful in other U.S. cities.

A speaker at a 'Fair Workweek' rally in February

A speaker at a 'Fair Workweek' rally in February

Twitter / @fairworkweekPHL
michaelawinberg-2020-2

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Riding the wave of recent workers’ rights reforms in Philly, this ballot question seeks to establish a permanent Department of Labor in the city. If passed, advocates say it would help enforce the protections created in the last few years.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create a Department of Labor, headed by a Cabinet-level Director, to enforce City laws that protect Philadelphia workers; to oversee labor relations, such as collective bargaining, with the City’s unionized workforce; to investigate compliance with worker protections set forth in City contracts; and to manage programs concerning City employees; and to create a Board of Labor Standards to review and adjudicate matters arising from such work?

What’s it mean?

Philly legislators have passed a slate of protections for workers in recent years, like paid sick leave, fair workweek scheduling and the domestic workers’ bill of rights. But many of the very workers who stand to benefit have said they didn’t know these laws existed — and they still fear retaliation if they report violations.

Councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon say the city should create a permanent Department of Labor to enforce these laws and keep workers informed of their rights.

Right now, the rights of Philly’s workers are protected by the Mayor’s Office of Labor, which was created under the Kenney administration. After the second-term mayor leaves office in 2023, It could easily be eliminated by a future chief executive.

So for posterity’s sake, this ballot question would amend the home rule charter and guarantee a permanent Department of Labor. It would be staffed by a director, who would likely earn ballpark ~$170k per year, and would include a seven-member board.

The idea has seen success in other cities like Seattle, where the Office of Labor Standards won $6 million in settlements for 10,000 workers in its first four years. Mayor Kenney has received some criticism from the business community.


👉 Our Procrastinator’s Guide has everything else you need to know about the 2020 primary in Philadelphia

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