Election 2020

Early Philly ballot questions: Dept. of Labor and relaxed campaign laws likely

Final results might not be available for a week, but these measures rarely fail.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Ballot questions rarely fail in Philadelphia. Despite being in the throes of health and existential crises during the May 2020 primary, city voters did not break trend tonight, although only about 15% of the tally has been counted thanks to mail-in ballots.

Final results might not be available for a week, thanks to Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency extension for mail-in voting in several Pa. counties, including Philly, through June 9. (Though primary candidate races are restricted to party members only, all registered voters are allowed to weigh in on proposed changes to the Philadelphia City Charter, even independents.)

As of now, there’s a solid chance the city will emerge with the green light for a permanent Department of Labor, and allowing some city employees to volunteer on statewide political campaigns.

Close to 81% of in-person voters said yes to ballot question No. 1, creating a Philly DOL.

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

Meanwhile, City Council under Kenney has passed a robust slate of protections for workers, including fair workweek scheduling and the domestic workers’ bill of rights. The problem: 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. The DOL would elevate awareness and promote fairness, said Councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon.

On ballot question No. 2, about 66% of in-person votes were for the measure, which allows city officials and municipal employees to volunteer for campaigns in non-local races.

As it stands, city workers can’t volunteer for any partisan campaign in their free time — not state, not local, not federal. They can express support for a candidate publicly, but can’t leverage their job status as a volunteer or adviser.

Pat Christmas, policy director at good government group Committee of 70, said major strides in transparency have been made under the last two mayors. His watchdog group supports relaxing the rules around some political work.

“This is a striking example of the fact that Philadelphia is one of the most challenged cities in the country in terms of public corruption, but we’ve made incredible strides in the last 70 years since the charter went into place,” Christmas told Billy Penn in May.

There are some exceptions to the people allowed by the measure, if ultimately approved. City Commissioners, police, DAO, sheriff and Board of Ethics staff are still barred from volunteering their time.

We’ll update this post with mail-in results or other updates as available.

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