By Sen. Devlin Robinson
Pennsylvania’s construction workers are some of the hardest working citizens in the nation.
An excellent example came this summer when a stretch of I-95 collapsed in Philadelphia. In just 12 days, approximately 200 workers with the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council had it repaired.
For such an impressive workforce, our laws to protect that workforce need to be just as impressive. That is why I sponsored legislation that went into effect earlier this year – Act 141 of 2022, also known as the Public Works Employment Verification Act.
The Public Works Employment Verification Act was first passed in 2012 with the best intentions. By requiring contractors and subcontractors on public projects to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm the employment eligibility of new hires, Pennsylvania was taking initiative to eliminate bad actors from the construction industry and protect good-paying jobs for Pennsylvania residents.
However, after 10 years, it was obvious that the legislation needed to go further to protect the state’s construction industry.
The law’s weakness ultimately came down to its lack of enforcement and weak penalties. Before Act 141, a maximum $250 fine was the price that a company had to pay for not enrolling in E-Verify. That’s pocket change for companies that already skirt the law and hire cheap labor to cut costs.
Those fines don’t generate sufficient funds for the Department of General Services (DGS) to hire staff and investigate complaints. Our workers pay the price.
To strengthen the law and level the playing field, we made E-Verify part of the bidding process so that companies that don’t enroll can’t win contracts. Penalties will range between $2,500 and $25,000.
Act 141 also created a new penalty – debarment – which prohibits a contractor from bidding on public works jobs for as little as 60 days to a maximum of three years.
These amendments have delivered results after just a few months. DGS has completed audits for 42 out of 47 complaints made this year, in contrast to only auditing 29 out of 200 complaints made in the prior two years. Just under half of the 42 completed audits found violations.
I am confident that this strengthened effort will only grow in success over the coming years and ultimately provide the protections our workers deserve.
While it was very important to me to sponsor this legislation, the fact that Act 141 won support by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and Senate says a lot about the law’s importance to the commonwealth.
Act 141 united both parties because we all want what’s in Pennsylvania’s best interest. Construction contributes more than $33 billion to our economy, and with our updated E-Verify law, contractors can compete fairly and workers are better protected.
Sen. Devlin Robinson represents Pennsylvania’s 37th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Allegheny County.