A day before Philadelphia City Council is set to vote on a permanent Department of Labor, Philadelphia workers march. Photo: Nigel Thompson
The crowd gathered at 17th and Market streets before heading to the southeast corner of City Hall. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DIA News

Workers march ahead of Philadelphia City council vote on permanent Department of Labor

A day before key vote for creating an independent Department of Labor, Philadelphia workers march at City Hall alongside City Council allies


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A day before Philadelphia City Council is set to vote on whether or not to have a permanent Department of Labor, restaurant, retail, and domestic workers were outside City Hall demanding its passage, along with further enforcement for their previous legislative victories —which include the Fair Work Week, Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, Wage Theft and paid Sick Leave Ordinances. 

For Lucy Bravo — who has been a domestic worker for the last 12 years, legislation like the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights are well received, but “not enough, if there is no voice inside City Hall.” 

“There is a lot of discrimination and mistreatment. This department will provide a place where we can tell people what we are going through, and they can give us the protections we need,” said Bravo.  

Likewise, retail worker and full-time student Madison believes the implementation of this entity will make it so their “long and hard battle” can achieve the expected outcome.

As things stand, she said, “the majority of the workforce don’t know that they have these rights, nor they are being implemented in the workplace.”

The numbers seem to support both Bravo and Madison’s concerns. 

In 2015, Philadelphia had 128,476 minimum wage violations, 105,458 overtime violations and 83,344 off the clock violations, according to a study by the Sheller Center for Social Justice.

2019 wasn’t much different. Despite new ordinances being approved, 31% of workers experienced wage theft, 45%  dealt with paid sick leave violations, and 18% reported being discriminated against because of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.  

The persistent problems prompted workers to march from 17th and Market streets to City Hall to ask for funding for labor enforcement from the Mayor’s 2020-21 budget, an independent Department of Labor through the aforementioned pending legislation and an April ballot initiative, a Worker Oversight Board and whistleblower protections. They’re also asking for wall-to-wall enforcement and a $175,000 dollar community grant for worker outreach. 

The petitions are being supported by councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, Bobby Henon, Cherelle Parker, and Isaiah Thomas.

For Councilmember Brooks, the creation of a permanent Department of Labor will ensure that workers have a place designated for their needs in order for City Council to “properly support them.”

A sentiment shared by Councilmember Helen Gym, who thinks the key is for every Philadelphian to know the rights they uphold. 

“Even though we can pass laws, we need to make sure that laws are meaningful when people exercise them,” says Gym. 

“This will mean a pretty significant change for the Department of Labor, who previously mostly inforced things on city contracts or city agencies, but now we are looking at private employers and making sure that private employers and their employees know the rights and responsibilities that they have according to the cities current laws,” she added. 

City Council is expected to vote on Feb. 13,  if it favors a permanent Department of Labor and the creation of a Board of Labor Standards that will enforce new and existing labor laws. 

Including investigating complaints, enforcing penalties for violations, and educating workers on their rights and employers on their responsibilities. However, the law will still require voters to approve a charter change on the April 28 ballot. 


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