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Supporters of the bill to create an independent Department of Labor applaud after the bill was unanimously approved on 13 February. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA Noticias.
Supporters of the bill to create an independent Department of Labor applaud after the bill was unanimously approved on 13 February. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA Noticias.

Philadelphia City Council votes to make the Department of Labor permanent, expand its powers

The independent department will provide much-needed oversight for the new slate of labor laws enacted in the last couple years.

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On Feb.12, a group of Philly domestic workers gathered outside City Hall to make sure the city’s legislators inside knew what they were voting for the next day.

For the last couple of years, this same group battled for a slew of legislative victories. They include Fair Workweek regulations, a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and wage theft and paid-sick leave ordinances.

But outside City Hall, they were now calling for the enforcement of that legislation, and those in City Hall listened.

On Feb. 13, Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed new legislation to change the city charter and create a permanent Department of Labor within city government to help enforce some of the previously mentioned legislation.

The bill was introduced by councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon, and co-sponsored by councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, Cindy Bass and Kenyatta Johnson.

“We intend to be a city that really, truly upholds the rights of all people,” said Gym before moving to adopt the bill.

In addition to enforcement, the permanent Department of Labor within city government will also be charged with investigating complaints, and educating workers about their rights and employers of their responsibilities to employees.

It will also be the chief negotiator for the city in collective bargaining agreements with city employees.

The bill’s passage through city council was a big, penultimate step, but since the department’s establishment requires a change to the city charter, voters will have the final say with a ballot question on April 28.

That day is also Pennsylvania’s presidential primary. While the day could overshadow the charter change on the ballot, Gym said the next step is to take advantage of the upped anticipation to also push local issues.

“One of the things that’s really important is for us to be talking about the reasons why we go to the polls,” she said. “And one of them is that even at the municipal level in difficult economic times, strength in labor rights and worker protections.”  

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