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Harkins joins labor officials at state Capitol to push for public worker protections

State Rep. Pat Harkins joined labor officials at the state Capitol today as the state announced plans to study the feasibility of extending Occupational Safety and Health Act protections to Pennsylvania’s public-sector workers and urged support for Harkins’ legislation to put those protections in place.

Harkins, D-Erie, said he hopes the study will move the state closer to passing H.B. 1976, which would bring long-overdue protections to the more than 600,000 Pennsylvanians employed by state and local government.

“For years, Pennsylvania’s public-sector workers – from first responders, transit workers and bus mechanics, to maintenance workers, equipment operators and water treatment plant workers – have been clocking into workplaces that are less safe than the ones run by private employers,” Harkins said. “That’s because OHSA regulations apply only to private businesses – they don’t protect public-sector workers.

“These public-sector workers are the same ones who keep our families protected, our buses running, our roads repaired and our water safe. They face the same dangers – and in some cases, even greater ones – than private-sector workers. Surely, they deserve the same protections.

“The feasibility study announced today will examine the benefits and costs of extending OSHA protections to public-sector workers – and that’s a step in the right direction. But we already know the human cost of doing nothing – more preventable deaths and injuries.”

Harkins has been fighting to bring greater protections to the public-sector workforce for years and first introduced his legislation – also known as the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill – in 2015. The bill is named for the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority mechanic who died at 48 after the workplace equipment he was using malfunctioned.

In October, the governor signed an executive order encouraging lawmakers to pass the bill.

The feasibility study – which will be conducted by the Department of Labor and Industry and the Office of Administration in partnership with Indiana University of Pennsylvania – is expected to be completed in fall 2022.

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