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U.S. Labor Secretary Says Employment Rates, Workforce Protections ‘Still Have A Ways To Go’

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Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh expects the economy to rebuild post-pandemic and improve with an emphasis on domestic production and expanding child care; the state senator first in charge of leading a forensic audit of November’s election has been reassigned and replaced, a move that highlights the power legislative leaders have in Pennsylvania; and a look at how one Pennsylvania city is operating a system of regular rental inspections, a process some in Pittsburgh hope to adopt.

Unemployment rates still down from pre-pandemic
(0:00 - 8:11)

Since April of 2020, the national unemployment rate has declined from its high of 14.8%, but it still remains nearly two percentage points higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5% in February of 2020.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh says there’s a reluctance to reenter the workforce caused by a few factors.

“We're seeing higher rates of the delta variant in certain parts of this country, and we’ve seen, up until this point, a lack of child care,” says Walsh. “If we can continue to get people vaccinated, hopefully, we'll have a really good fall as we get into the new year, but we still have a ways to go.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Walsh says, workers have acquired more rights for themselves. Wages are up roughly 4% and unionization is reportedly at its most popular since 1965. That’s a sign, he says, that employment is going to continue growing in the coming years.

“The president is putting a big emphasis on building American, buying American,” says Walsh. “I think what we'll see over the course of the next couple of years is our economy actually change and our dependence on foreign goods and services will go down a bit.”

Legislative policy changes, Walsh says, will also play an important role.

“There's two infrastructure bills right now that are going back and forth between the House and the Senate, the Build Back Better Agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” he says. “I think if we are able to pass this two-piece legislation and get these investments, ... these will be transformative.”

PA senator removed from overseeing election audit
(8:13 - 17:39) 

In late August, Sen. Doug Mastriano was removed as the point person for a forensic audit of November’s presidential election in Pennsylvania.

Spotlight PA reporter Angela Couloumbis says Mastriano has been a longtime supporter of an election audit and was pulled from the effort as he was preparing to subpoena three different counties in Pennsylvania.

Couloumbis says Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman removed Mastriano without giving a detailed reason, replacing him with Sen. Cris Dush of Cameron County.

“There are some theories out there that Sen. Corman maybe felt that Sen. Mastriano was very difficult to control,” says Couloumbis. “In the past, when these types of staff shuffles would occur, … usually it was because that specific legislator, not in leadership, was considered as not falling in line politically or ideologically with leadership.”

This may be a sign, she says, of a system of power that leads to fewer bipartisan efforts.

“In theory, the Capitol has become less political, and so these types of maneuvers don't happen quite as much,” she says. “But when they do, they're very noticeable and they send the unequivocal message, ‘Don't forge out on your own too far, because if you do, we're going to rein you back in, in the most kind of punitive way.’”

Couloumbis says these sort of removals have become far less common than in the 1980s and 1990s, but do still happen, such as with the high-profile case of former House Speaker Bill DeWeese in 2005.

“Leaders since then have really kind of shied away from doing it,” she says. “This is really kind of the first time that we've seen it burst into public view.”

Allentown does regular rental inspections, a policy some in Pittsburgh want to adopt
(17:40 - 22:30)

Pittsburgh city officials have been in court for more than a decade, fighting to be able to register and inspect rental housing. Advocates say the city’s proposal would offer better protection for low-income renters.

But while there’s pushback in Pittsburgh, another large Pennsylvania city has already implemented such a program. Landlords pay annual registration fees, and inspectors aim to regularly check every rental property for health and safety risks.

90.5 WESA’s Kate Giammarise has this look at what's happening in Allentown.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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