In addition to choosing candidates on June 2 (or earlier, if you’re casting your vote via mail), voters will also vote on two proposed charter changes. To help voters make up their minds, The Inquirer asked four locals to share why they’re voting yes or no on these ballot questions.
As a longtime retail and fast-food worker at big companies like Burger King, Wawa, and Target, and as a member of One Pennsylvania, a statewide grassroots community organization dedicated to change in social and economic justice, I know firsthand the need for a permanent Department of Labor in Philadelphia. Time and time again, workers like me see our employers violating our rights but do not know where to turn. We know that reporting the issue to corporate will yield dismissive responses at best or retaliation in the form of cut hours or job loss at worst. Turning the Mayor’s Office of Labor into a permanent Department of Labor will ensure it has the resources and stability to more powerfully enforce the important labor laws that groups like One Pennsylvania have fought for and won.
For example, the Target store I worked at until recently did not consistently follow the Fair Workweek law after it went into effect April 1. Two of my coworkers were given brand-new schedules with less than 24 hours’ notice even though the law requires two weeks. I took the violation to a higher-up, who acknowledged that HR was indeed in the wrong and promised to follow up. But that never happened; the situation was never mentioned again. Moments like this can leave an employee feeling defeated and alone.
A fully resourced Department of Labor would provide a place to turn to address these situations that are too common for so many of us. Many companies claim to be “retaliation free,” but their actions confirm otherwise. Workers should not fear for their jobs when they ask their employers to simply follow the law. The Department of Labor will protect the rights of Philadelphia workers, keeping us healthy, properly paid, and safe at work. This is what the people of Philadelphia need. Vote yes on Ballot Question 1.
Binta Keita is a member of One Pennsylvania and has been a retail and fast-food worker for the last five years.
Philadelphians should vote a resounding no on this question.
First, City Council has been plagued with corruption the past few years with several of its members being federally indicted. Bobby Henon, a sponsor of this legislation, is one such person. One of the cosponsors of the bill, Kenyatta Johnson, is another. It should be obvious, but officials under federal indictment for corruption should not be leading the charge on enforcing laws that involve financial determinations of city unionized employees — especially since one of the crafters of the legislation is under federal indictment for allegedly weaponizing city agencies and city unionized employees, and squeezing Children’s Hospital for financial gain.
Second, the director of the office would have an annual salary of close to $180,000. This does not include the salaries of a yet-to-be-determined number of employees for the office. Given the current economy, an expanding city bureaucracy should be avoided at all costs.
Finally, consider the condition of the city’s overall financial health. While the city did register a $438.6 million surplus in the 2019 fiscal year, the city’s financial strategies are in dire need of help. For example, while the Government Financial Offices Association suggests a fund balance of 17%, last year, Philadelphia’s was only 9% of its general funding. Moreover, the city’s fund balance as a percentage of revenues was ranked 24th out of the top 25 largest cities. Additionally, there are concerns over looming pension obligations, rising deficits for the School District of Philadelphia, high poverty rate, large fixed costs, and weak tax base.
In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic ramifications, in a city plagued with corruption among its highest government officials and serious economic concerns, expanding the Philadelphia bureaucracy is a disastrous idea.
Chris Tremoglie is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He is chairman of the Penn Political Union’s Conservative Caucus and vice president of the UPenn Statesman.
I had big plans for after I retired from city government. Quarantining was not among them. Political volunteering was.
With limited exceptions, the city’s nearly 30,000 nonelected employees are prohibited by the 1951 Philadelphia Home Rule Charter from volunteering in the campaign of any candidate for federal, state, or local office.
Nearly 70 years later, it is time to allow employees to exercise what I personally believe is their constitutional right as private citizens. That’s why I urge city voters to approve Ballot Question #2.
Would permitting off-duty volunteering open the floodgates for political influence and coercion inside City Hall?
I am confident it will not. In my four years as chief integrity officer, I encountered thousands of city employees deeply committed to serving the public with integrity and with no regard to partisan politics. They obey political activity rules that are more restrictive than in most other cities.
But for those who remain skeptical, the proposed charter amendment strikes a fair and reasonable balance. No volunteering would be permitted for candidates for city office or for state legislative seats that represent any part of Philadelphia; during working hours, using city equipment or city titles, or in a city building; by employees whose jobs could involve elections-related work; or to engage in any political fund-raising besides personal contributions.
The Board of Ethics can be counted on to rigorously enforce the rules and punish violators with newly increased monetary penalties. Significantly, the board supports Ballot Question #2.
In these perilous times, as federal and state officials make critical decisions on issues such as COVID-19 relief and public education funding, I am grateful I can freely volunteer for non-local candidates who share my values and priorities. I wish the same for my former colleagues.
Ellen Mattleman Kaplan was chief integrity officer with jurisdiction over executive-branch employees until her retirement in February.
To put it as simply as possible: Political activity and city government should never mix. Period. That’s why every Philadelphian should vote no on the ballot question that would allow city workers to take part in political activity.
First, it is unfair to workers. No employees should ever be put in a position where they believe their jobs could be at risk, or they could be passed over for promotion, if they don’t participate in politics – especially if they might not agree with whom or what they are being asked to support. A no vote makes sure they will never face this pressure.
Second, it opens up the door to political corruption – something our city, sadly, already has issues with. How can citizens be guaranteed that workers aren’t playing politics on their dime? How can we know decisions aren’t being made with an eye toward helping one politician or another? We can’t – so we must vote no.
Third, it creates an environment where city government might not hire the best person for a job, but simply the most politically active. What we will have then is a government that works best for the politicians, but worse for taxpayers. That is another reason we must vote no.
Protecting workers. Preventing corruption. Ensuring the best government for taxpayers. If those are the types of things you believe our city should be doing, you must vote no on allowing political activity by city workers.
Martina White is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 170th District and was elected in 2015. She is chairwoman of the Philadelphia Republican Party.