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Pennsylvania workers better protected this Labor Day (opinion)

For more than a decade, Pennsylvania law required contractors employed on public works projects to use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether their employees are authorized to work in the United States.

This system, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, determines the eligibility of employees — U.S. and foreign citizens — to work in America. The Public Works Employment Verification Act already requires all public construction contractors, and their subcontractors, to use the federal E-Verify system to verify the legal employment eligibility of new hires. However, despite these requirements, the practice of hiring unauthorized workers continued throughout Pennsylvania.

The law simply didn’t work. The fines were so low — $250 for first-time violators — that many unscrupulous contractors saw it simply as the cost of doing business. That left law-abiding contractors at a disadvantage. Businesses that hired Pennsylvanians and paid them fairly were undercut by low bids from contractors who evaded the law.

As we celebrate Labor Day and recognize the workers whose toil builds America and fuels our economy, we can feel confident that Pennsylvania has taken bold steps to protect its hard-working citizens.

Last year, Sen. Devlin Robinson and I championed The Public Works Employment Verification Act (Act 141), which added something critical that the 2010 law lacked: enforcement.

As I said when the legislation passed, the law needed some teeth to actually deter companies from breaking the law. And we added some sharp teeth with this legislation that hits them where it hurts. Act 141 increases fines tenfold — to $2,500 for a first-time violator and up to $25,000 for repeat violations — as well as suspension the employer’s licenses after multiple findings of noncompliance.

Employers who hire people unauthorized to work in the United States often take advantage of such workers’ precarious immigration status, knowing that they won’t report below-market wages, a lack of benefits and unsafe worksites. This behavior undermines fair competition and drives down wages for everyone. Their artificially low bids steal contracts away from legitimate businesses who pay market wages, offer benefits and choose to play by the rules, essentially depriving Pennsylvanians of good paying, family supporting jobs.

Act 141 was backed by a bipartisan coalition that recognized the need for more enforcement and accountability. The law took effect in January 2023. Already we are seeing a difference. This law’s message is simple: Pennsylvania will no longer tolerate these underhanded tactics. Contractors who violate the law will pay dearly.

In the months since Act 141 took effect, DGS already has audited 47 contracts. Compare that with only 29 audits in the two years before Act 141. Ultimately, the law is strengthening our construction industry for the businesses that are bidding on public contracts and hiring the local workers to deliver on those contracts.

Our legislation has helped to level the playing field for contractors who follow our state laws and guarantee that only workers who are legally authorized to work in the United States are employed on these construction jobs. When everyone plays by the rules, all Pennsylvanians benefit.

Sen. Chris Gebhard represents the 48th District, which includes all of Lebanon County and portions of Berks and Lancaster counties.

State Sen. Chris Gebhard
State Sen. Chris Gebhard


Source: Berkshire mont

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