Philadelphia voters will get to decide in the June 2 primary election whether the city should create a Department of Labor.
Such a department would enforce the city’s growing slate of worker protection laws — such as the Fair Workweek scheduling law for retail and fast-food workers — handle sexual harassment and discrimination claims from city workers, and manage contract negotiations with municipal unions.
Most other big U.S. cities already have permanent offices that handle this type of enforcement, said Janice Fine, a Rutgers University professor who studies local labor law enforcement.
Currently, the Mayor’s Office of Labor, created under the Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, handles most of these functions. But advocates fear that a future mayor with different priorities could scrap the office altogether. Creating a Department of Labor would give the office more staying power. It’s a symbolic move, too, as where a city allocates its resources suggests where its priorities lie.
The push for a permanent Department of Labor has been led by the same worker advocates and organizers who have been fighting for new progressive labor laws, such as Fair Workweek and the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, as well as stronger enforcement of them.
Advocates have framed these laws and their enforcement as antipoverty measures in the poorest big city in the country.
The business community has decried the city’s new labor laws as government overreach that is anti-business.