In the upcoming June 2 primary, Philadelphia voters will see two proposed charter amendments on the ballot.
Question 1: Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create a Department of Labor, headed by a Cabinet-level Director, to enforce City laws that protect Philadelphia workers; to oversee labor relations, such as collective bargaining, with the City’s unionized workforce; to investigate compliance with worker protections set forth in City contracts; and to manage programs concerning City employees; and to create a Board of Labor Standards to review and adjudicate matters arising from such work?
As ballot questions go, this one is both the best and worst timed. It’s badly timed because it adds a new department — and employees — to the city payroll at a time when the cost of city government has mushroomed by $1 billion in four short years.
On the other hand, there may be no better-timed ballot question, as the COVID-19 crisis has pushed workers’ rights, workplace equity, and other labor issues, including safety, to the forefront.
In recent years, City Council has passed a string of workers’ rights laws such as paid sick leave, protections against stolen wages, and more. This office — which now operates as the Mayor’s Office of Labor with a $2.4 million budget — would help enforce those and other city labor laws.
The coronavirus will continue to shape the workplace in ways no one can predict. This office can help workers and the city navigate this new reality. We recommend a YES vote.
Question 2: Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise rules pertaining to prohibited activities of appointed City officers and employees, to generally allow such officers and employees to volunteer for state and federal political campaigns outside of work time and without using City resources; to continue to prohibit participation in any political campaign for a City office or Philadelphia-based state office; and to revise penalty provisions pertaining to such restrictions and prohibited activities generally?
Philadelphia has one of the nation’s strictest bans on employee participation in political activities. City employees are forbidden from working or volunteering on any political campaigns. A proposed charter amendment would allow most city employees to volunteer on state and federal campaigns in their free time. Employees of some departments, like the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and police, would be excluded.
Opponents of the amendment argue that it opens the door to corruption. City employees could feel pressured by supervisors to volunteer on political campaigns or retaliated against for working on campaigns their bosses don’t support.
These arguments correctly identify the need for labor protections for employees and more safeguards against corruption, not against political engagement and free speech.
City government should attract young, idealistic future leaders — often the same people that want to be involved in political campaigns. Instead of demonizing political engagement as synonymous with corruption, Philadelphia should promote engagement while enforcing ethical guidelines. Good governance groups like the Committee of Seventy and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics support the amendment. We recommend a YES vote.