Councilmember Kendra Brooks Convened Colleagues, Union Leadership to call for $1.2 Million Increase in Department’s Budget
PHILADELPHIA – Today, Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large) led a group of labor leaders, Council colleagues, and workers in calling for an additional $1.2 million for the Philadelphia Department of Labor’s Office of Worker Protections. The call comes in the wake of a proposed $38,000 cut to the Department in Mayor Kenney’s budget. Brooks’s push to fully fund the Office is backed by a majority of her Council Colleagues in addition to the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, AFSCME DC 47, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Referring to local labor laws like Wage Theft, Paid Sick Leave, and Fair Workweek, Councilmember Brooks said: “When these laws passed, they were historic victories for working families in Philadelphia. But these victories mean very little unless we have the tools to make them a reality in workers’ day-to-day lives. We want every single worker in Philadelphia to know their rights. We want every single worker in Philadelphia to know that if their wages are being stolen, we will have their back. If they are being sexually harassed at work, we will have their back. If their boss is threatening them with dismissal for taking sick time, we will have their back.”
Councilmember Brooks emphasized her “surprise and disappointment” about the proposed cut to the office in a budget hearing last month, saying, “this is a time to set a legacy around worker’s rights, and right now this new office’s success is a part of that.” Philadelphia has one of the worst ratios of worker protection staff per population across cities in the US. Cities like Denver and Seattle, despite being half the size of Philadelphia, have three times as many full time staff dedicated to worker protections.
“These laws affect over 740,000 Philadelphia workers,” said Romain Paumard, who works in the Office of Worker Protections and is a member of AFSCME DC 47, Local 2187. “And the Office of Worker Protections is the only agency tasked with enforcing them. If the City can afford to reduce the taxes on businesses for a 4th year running, then surely we can afford to appropriately fund the Office that makes sure these same businesses are paying workers what they are owed.”
The $1.2 million in funding would support seven additional positions for the Office to reduce wait time on complaints and to expand outreach efforts. The Philadelphia Department of Labor has recovered over a million dollars for workers since 2019, and often serves as the first point-of-contact for workers whose rights are violated at work. Over the past year, the Office of Worker Protections has simplified their complaint process, expanded language access for complaint processing, and launched the Community Outreach and Education Fund, which educates workers about their rights under Philadelphia law.
“In the years since the Labor Department was created, Philadelphia has become a safer city for workers,” said Danny Bauder, President of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO. “Despite its already limited budget, the Department of Labor leads the way in protecting workers on the job. This department is on the frontline of protecting low-income and marginalized workers. Fully funding it is not just an economic issue, it’s an issue of equity and justice, too.”
“As domestic workers, we suffer different abuses in our workplaces,” said Rufina Rodriguez, a member and leader of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Pennsylvania Chapter, who has been cleaning houses in Philadelphia for ten years. “We work all day without a break; we’re given more work for the same pay; we’re canceled when we arrive at work; there is so much wage theft; there are sexual, physical, and emotional assaults; threats and abuse for our immigration status and because of the language we speak; discrimination and racism; a lot of workplace accidents that create physical harm and we don’t have health insurance and can’t cover the medical costs of going to the hospital.”
“We have to make examples of some of these folks out there that are taking advantage of our workers,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st District). “The only way to do that is to add money to the budget. The $1.2 million that’s being requested needs to be a priority of every member of Council.”
“Philadelphia’s Department of Labor plays a vital role in securing workplace and wage protections — especially our most vulnerable residents,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large). “In order to best protect Philadelphians from wage theft and union busting practices, we must fully fund our Department of Labor. Failing to do so will put the countless working-class families who keep our City moving in jeopardy.”
“We cannot expect to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Philadelphia with less-than-adequate resources,” said Councilmember Sharon Vaughn (At-Large). “As the famous blue-collar city that we are, it is unfathomable that not only do we remain the poorest large U.S. city, but we also are falling behind cities significantly smaller than ours, like Seattle and Denver, with regard to ratios of city population to worker protections staffing.”
“Worker protections are a critical part of our comprehensive anti-poverty strategy,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District). With a team that’s a fraction of the size of those in other major cities, Philadelphia’s Department of Labor has already recovered over a million dollars unjustly withheld from low-income employees. By expanding departmental staff and the Community Outreach and Education Fund, we are investing in the wellbeing of workers across Philadelphia! Thank you to Councilmember Brooks for her leadership on this issue and never being afraid to take a stand for workers’ rights!”
“Budgets are reflections of our values and Philadelphia values workers,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “The Department of Labor is an important office that helps enforce worker protections, investigate issues such as wage theft, and overall support workers. We need to fully fund these offices so they can operate at full capacity on behalf of hardworking Philadelphians.”
“This City Labor Department funding will help ensure workers understand their rights,” said Councilmember Mike Driscoll (6th District). “It will help prevent and investigate incidents of wage theft and better protect workers in our important service, retail, and hospitality industries through Fair Workweek.”
“The Department of Labor is an essential city office and one of the only city agencies that can properly enforce labor laws,” said Councilmember Jim Harrity (At-Large). “As we’ve seen what happened in 2020 it is important to have a strong labor department that is capable of protecting working people’s rights.”
Community Legal Services also issued a statement of support for the funding request: “These laws make Philadelphia a leader in promoting economic stability and equity, but they only work if they can be enforced. OWP provides vital enforcement to prevent workers from being exploited and to ensure they receive the wages they have earned. Additional funding is needed to ensure that OWP has the resources to respond quickly to complaints, take action against employers who violate the law, and expand outreach to workers through community partnerships.”