Harkins joins workers, advocates to rally on behalf of safety bill

HARRISBURG, Sept. 11 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, joined union leaders, legislators and workers’ rights advocates at Philadelphia’s City Hall today to rally on behalf of his legislation that would guarantee Pennsylvania’s public employees the same workplace safety protections afforded private sector workers.

Harkins’ H.B. 1082 – the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill – would provide a state safety plan to protect Pennsylvania’s 570,000 public sector workers, who, unlike their counterparts in private industry, are not covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. The bill is named for the 48-year-old Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority worker who died after equipment he was using malfunctioned. 

“It’s hard to fathom that our state’s public employees – including front-line rescue workers who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us in an emergency – are denied the same basic safety protections afforded private sector employees because Pennsylvania has yet to pass a workplace safety law protecting them,” Harkins said. “Jake Schwab should have gone home to his wife that evening. Instead, he has become a symbol in the fight for equal protection for public workers.”

Harkins has been fighting to bring equal safety protections to the state’s public workers for nearly five years. He first introduced the bill the year after Jake Schwab’s death, in 2015, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled House Labor and Industry Committee. He then reintroduced the bill in 2017, where it again stalled in committee.   
Harkins vows not to quit until the state’s public sector employees are protected.

“Our public sector workers – our firefighters and police officers, our utility and transit workers, our teachers – all of them go to work each day with the same level of dedication and commitment as private sector employees,” Harkins said. “They give us their best. Why are they less deserving of protection? When will Pennsylvania lawmakers step up to the plate to protect them?”

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act applies to private-sector employers and their employees only. For public-sector employees to be protected, states must enact their own OSHA-approved state plans. To date, at least 28 U.S. states or territories, including Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, have adopted some form of OSHA-approved state plan.