(WHTM) — To make sure employees get the workplace dignity and respect they deserve, Governor Josh Shapiro is asking for more labor law compliance investigators.
But some are concerned that more bureaucrats will lead employers to be harassed and disrespected.
“Misclassification is just really at a crisis level,” said Acting Secretary Nancy Walker of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Officially, it’s called misclassification. Unofficially, it’s theft, because it allows employers to underpay wages, benefits, and taxes.
“Wage theft can take many forms. It can be misclassifying workers and paying them under the table, not appropriately. It can be not paying workers their last paycheck. It can be not paying workers overtime,” Walker said.
And violations aren’t just fiscal.
“What we’re seeing recently is a real uptick in child labor violations. We’re seeing like young kids on roofs,” Walker added.
To crack down on bad actors, the Department of Labor and Industry is asking for $1.3 million to add eight workplace investigators. So far, Democrats support it.
“Workers that experienced worker wage theft. We’re losing about 15 percent of their weekly pay, which added up to about $32 million annually for Pennsylvania workers,” said Rep. Josh Siegel (D-Lehigh County).
Republicans, however, are wary.
“While I respect the need to enforce current law, I am concerned your agency may get a little overzealous when it comes to enforcement,” said Rep. Thomas Kutz (R-Cumberland County).
“I don’t hear about wage theft. I hear about small businesses who run mom-and-pop shops who have 1099 employees that get harassed by the department to begin with,” Republican Appropriations Chairman Rep. Seth Grove.
Governor Josh Shapiro anticipated blowback when he asked for more money for more labor investigators in his budget address.
“Those employers who choose to lobby against this funding. I’ve got a simple question for you. What are you afraid we might find when we investigate?” Shapiro said.
But Grove accuses the governor of playing politics, suggesting the new investigators will make things uncomfortable for big business to the delight of big labor.
“He’s using a department to placate one special interest group, and it shouldn’t be that,” Grove said.
What is that special interest group? Trade unions and unions in general.
Other critics say with a backlog of 30,000 unemployment compensation claims, the Department of Labor and Industry should handle that with its resources before looking for new things to investigate.