State Supreme Court Overturns Ruling on Direct Care Workers
In February 2015, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order that creates an appointed, seven-person panel called the Advisory Group on Participant-Directed Home Care. Essentially, the panel will work to gain information on ways to improve direct care employees' working conditions with the hopes of attracting future staff to ensure that these individuals and services are available in the future for the increasing population of seniors and disabled that need assistance. Unfortunately, the order was met with opposition that felt this was a means to unionize direct care workers.
There are approximately 20,000 direct care workers in the commonwealth who make it possible for many elderly individuals and those with disabilities to stay in their homes and live normal lives by assisting with everyday tasks. Direct care workers are not state employees rather independent contractors that are often relatives of those they provide care for. These home care attendants receive payment for their services with state and federal monies distributed through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). However, the low wages and the everyday stresses of the job have led to high turnover rates for direct care workers. Pennsylvania is facing difficulty attracting enough qualified people to the growing field.
The executive order, which was signed shortly after Governor Wolf took office, calls for an election within that industry to choose a representative for the direct care workers. This individual will join the panel to advise the Governor’s Office and executive branch agencies on ways to improve the quality of care delivered through the Home Care Service Program. Overall, the goal of this initiative is to give homecare workers a voice in the future of the industry. Additionally, the executive order requires that the state create a list of all direct care workers.
Two separate cases were brought against the Wolf Administration regarding the order: The Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm that offers free legal services to those hurt by public employee union officials and the Pennsylvania Homecare Association and United Cerebral Palsy of Pennsylvania. The organizations claim the executive order violates the Pennsylvania constitution because certain domestic care workers, which is what direct care workers are classified as, cannot unionize under state law. The lawsuit also alleges that the order violates the separation of powers and invades the relationship between a home care worker and recipient.
Governor Wolf has been insistent that the order does not grant collective bargaining rights to domestic workers, does not force them to form a union, does not make them state employees, and does not give them a right to enter into a contract with the state. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act explicitly prohibits “domestic workers” from forming a union.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the 2016 Commonwealth Court ruling in Smith v. Wolf and Markham v. Wolf by a 5-2 decision. The justices agreed that Governor Wolf did not exceed his constitutional powers and the order does not legally enforce collective bargaining rights. Rather, the executive order simply provides a process for government officials to have discussions with stakeholders regarding home service care concerns. The Supreme Court did however return the case back to Commonwealth Court in reference to the privacy claims regarding the sharing of the names and addresses of home care workers in the direct care worker list.
I am pleased by the state’s Supreme Court’s decision on this matter. With our aging baby boomer population, Governor Wolf is taking preemptive steps to safeguard the future of the vital services direct care workers provide. State officials making policies on this matter need to have direct contact with representatives from the field to guarantee that we have a plan going forward to recruit the most qualified individuals, retain them, and properly compensate so that the senior population and those with disabilities can continue to live a comfortable life in their homes.
Public Hearings on Proposed PWSA Rate Increase
The PA Public Utility Commission (PUC) has scheduled four hearings to gather public input on the rate increase requests filed by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). The PWSA’s rate increase requests they submitted to the PUC can be viewed by clicking here.
The hearings will be held at the following times and locations:
|Tuesday, September 4, 2018
1 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Allegheny Center Alliance Church
250 East Ohio St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
|Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Kingsley Community Center
6435 Frankstown Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
|Thursday, September 6, 2018
Jeron X. Grayson Community Center
1852 Enoch St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
These public input hearings will be conducted by Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge Mark A. Hoyer.
Attendance at a public input hearing requires no prior action. Interested individuals can simply show up, sign in and offer their comments. For individuals with special needs, the Office of Administrative Law Judge (OALJ) may be able to make reasonable accommodations. Please call the OALJ scheduling office at 717-787-1399 at least five business days prior to the hearing to submit your request.
If you require an interpreter to participate in the hearings, the PUC will make every reasonable effort to have an interpreter present. Please call the scheduling office at least ten business days prior to your hearing to submit your request. Relay Service for those who are hearing-impaired is available by calling 1-800-654-5988.
More information on the PUC ratemaking process is available at www.puc.state.pa.us.
All Senate offices will be closed on Monday, Sept. 3 in observance of Labor Day. My offices will re-open as scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Open House on Addiction
The opioid addiction crisis has swept every corner of Pennsylvania. People struggling with addiction, their families, friends and whole community are invited to attend an Open House on the resources available to beat back addiction and ease the road to recovery.
I am hosting the Open House on Addiction on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the Teamsters Temple, located at 4701 Butler Street in Lawrenceville, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Services that will be discussed include:
- Information about addiction treatment centers
- Counseling services: family counseling and support groups
- Low-cost legal services
- Pathways to Pardons
This event is free and open to the public.
Flu Shot Clinic/Drug Take Back
I will be hosting my annual Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic on Thursday, September 20 from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. in Quinn Hall at the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline. American HealthCare Group will be providing free vaccinations to any senior with the Medicare Part B health insurance card. Make sure to bring your card with you. Light refreshments will be served.
Additionally, this year, Deputy Sheriff Joe Cirigliano will be on hand to collect any unused, unwanted, or expired medications as part of Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen’s Project D.U.M.P. initiative. This program allows residents to bring any unused, unwanted or expired medications so they can be properly disposed. I’m thrilled to have the Sheriff’s Office participating and am grateful for their efforts in combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic and preventing addiction and overdose.
Attendees can also visit with Duquesne University’s Mylan School of Pharmacy at their “Ask the Pharmacist” table and have questions answered on medications and receive blood pressure screenings. The following terrific organizations are scheduled to participate at this year’s event: Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging; AARP; PA Attorney General’s Office; Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; ACCESS; Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; Office of the Consumer Advocate; Duquesne Light; OASIS; PA APPRISE; and the Public Utility Commission.
Upcoming Job Fair
On Thursday, Sept. 27, with Rep. Dan Deasy and Rep. Anita Kulik, and in partnership with Building Bridges for Business and U.S. Probation & Pre Trial Services, we will be hosting a Job Fair for any interested job seekers. The Job Fair is being held at the VFW VESLE Post 418, located at 1242 Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks.
The Job Fair will feature local companies looking to fill positions now. There will also be representatives in attendance to talk about apprenticeships and other technical training programs to help individuals gain information on acquiring new skills to become gainfully employed.
Many job seekers face barriers to employment like issues related to a past criminal record, a suspended driver’s license, lack of high school diploma or necessary job skills. Therefore, the Job Fair will include three breakout sessions that address these barriers. From 4:30-5 p.m., attendees can join a breakout session to learn more about the driver’s license restoration process. From 5:30-6 p.m., a session on pardons and record expungement will take place. Anyone wishing to learn more about improving job skills and short-term training programs can attend the session from 6:30-7 p.m.
If you are looking for work or have difficulty because of any of the barriers listed above, please consider attending this Job Fair. If you have family or friends who may be interested, please share this information with them.
REMINDER - Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Benefit Program Ends Friday
I want to remind eligible veterans who served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations from Aug. 2, 1990 to Aug. 31, 1991, that applications for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Bonus are due this Friday.
The bonus program, administered by the PA Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA), pays $75 per month for qualifying, active-duty service members, up to a $525 maximum. For personnel whose death was related to illness or injury received in the line of duty in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, there is an additional $5,000 available to the surviving family. Service members who were declared prisoners of war may also be eligible for an additional $5,000.
To be eligible for the bonus, a service member must have:
- Served with the U.S. Armed Forces, a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces or the Pennsylvania National Guard
- Served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations during the period from Aug. 2, 1990 to Aug. 31, 1991
- Received the Southwest Asia Service Medal
- Been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of active duty service
- Been discharged from active duty under honorable conditions, if not currently on active duty
For detailed instructions on how to apply, visit www.persiangulfbonus.pa.gov.
Families Encouraged to Contribute to PA 529 Plan Prior to Tuitions Increasing
The Pennsylvania Treasury Department and State Treasurer Joe Torsella want to remind Pennsylvania families to make a contribution to their PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP), before most institutions of higher learning increase tuition rates on Sept. 1.
The PA 529 GSP gives families in Pennsylvania the ability to save for a future college or career education at today’s tuition rate. When a contribution is made, a tuition credit is earned at the tuition level that is selected at the time of enrollment. Tuition levels include a number of average tuition levels such as the Community College Average, the State System of Higher Education Average, the State-Related Universities Average, as well as tuition levels for specific schools. When a tuition credit rate increases, account owners are assured that tuition credits grow in value to match the increase. Tuition credits are usable at any school that is eligible to receive federal financial student aid in any state.
This year, Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh froze their tuition rates for the 2018-19 school year. As a result, Treasurer Torsella has decided to refund premiums for families saving at Penn State, Pitt, and the state-related university average tuition level for the 2017-18 school year. Additionally, Treasury will waive premiums for the 2018-19 school year for families saving at those tuition levels.
For 25 years, Pennsylvania families have been saving for higher education using the PA 529 College Savings Program. PA 529 sponsors two plans – the PA 529 GSP and the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), which allows account owners to choose how contributions are invested from a list of 16 options. PA 529 IP returns are based on financial market performance, whereas PA 529 GSP returns are based on tuition increases.
Did You Know…
Did you know that current and future college students in Pennsylvania have over $4.7 billion saved for higher education, between both PA 529 College Savings Plans?
School Bus Safety
As the school year has begun for many students, I want to remind parents and students to visit www.justdrivepa.org to view tips offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for kids to stay safe while riding the bus. I also would like to remind motorists of the state’s School Bus Stopping Law and that anyone convicted of violating the School Bus Stopping Law can face penalties including a $250 fine, five points on your driving record, and a 60-day license suspension. Below are important items to remember when driving. If you are driving in areas with a high concentration of students waiting for the bus, please slow down and be careful.
- Motorists must stop when meeting a school bus with red signal lights flashing and stop arm extended.
- Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from school buses.
- Motorists must wait until the red lights have stopped flashing and the stop arm has been withdrawn before moving.
- Do not proceed until all children have reached a place of safety.
- Motorists approaching an intersection where a school bus is stopped with red signal lights flashing and stop arm extended must stop whether on the same street or the cross street.
- Motorists do not have to stop on a highway with clearly defined dividing sections or physical barriers providing separate roadways. This only applies when the school bus is on the opposite side of the road.
In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed an act that established Labor Day as a federal holiday.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol |
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216