Another Year, Another Budget Impasse

Once again, our fearless leaders have warned us that they may fail to pass a budget this year.  What’s different this time around is that instead of furloughing non-critical state employees, Governor Ed Rendell has assured all of us that we will continue to report to work no matter what happens.  Only, we won’t get paid after June 30th.

There’s an interesting law on the books — one that I’m very familiar with, having used it against a former employer — called the Pennsylvania Wage Payment And Collection Act of 1961.  It’s a very simple law to read, and I suggest everyone (state employee or not) take a look at it.  In short, it states that your employer must pay you on your regular payday, that your employer can not delay payment under any circumstances, and that your employer can not waive your rights by making you sign an agreement.  In other words, if you work, you must get paid.  Period.  The act even goes on to clarify that this explicitly applies to salary, hourly rate, commission, and so on.  It’s a pretty open-and-shut law:  If you work, you must get paid on time.

Read on for some highlights, but my question is this:

Us commonwealth employees are technically employed through the State Civil Service Commission.  Your agency is only a designation; you are technically employed by Pennsylvania.  If the SCSC fails to pay our wages on time, are they on the hook for the criminal and civil penalties prescribed under the Act?

Some excerpts from the law (highlighting is mine):

Every employer shall pay all wages, other than fringe benefits and wage supplements, due to his employes on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer.

No provision of this act shall in any way be contravened or set aside by a private agreement.

Every employer shall keep open to inspection by the secretary or his authorized representative, all payroll records or other records or documents relative to the enforcement of this act. Such inspection may be made by the secretary or his authorized representative at any reasonable time.

Where wages remain unpaid for thirty days beyond the regularly scheduled payday … and no good faith contest or dispute of any wage claim including the good faith assertion of a right of set-off or counter-claim exists accounting for such non-payment, the employe shall be entitled to claim, in addition, as liquidated damages an amount equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the total amount of wages due, or five hundred dollars ($500), whichever is greater.

In addition to any other penalty or punishment otherwise prescribed by law, any employer who violates any provisions of this act shall be guilty of a summary offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars ($300), or by imprisonment up to 90 days, or by both, for each offense. The good faith contest or dispute by any employer of any wage claim or the good faith assertion of a right of set-off or counter-claim shall not be considered a violation of this act: Provided, That the employer has paid all wages due in excess of the amount in dispute or asserted to be subject to a
right of set-off or counter-claim. Nonpayment of wages to, on account of, or for the benefit of each individual employe shall constitute a separate offense.

I am not a lawyer, but I was able to bring a successful claim against a former employer over a $160 underpayment (which, in turn, wound up costing that employer somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, plus a trip from Philadelphia to Harrisburg) under this act.  There is a definite possibility that legislation will be (or has been) passed exempting the SCSC from this Act, or providing a special exclusion for budget failures.

Because, as we all know, passing the budget on time is simply not an option.

5 thoughts on “Another Year, Another Budget Impasse”

  1. As a state worker, I would rather continue to work over being furloughed. It is not that we will not get paid it is that we will get paid at a later time and we continue to receive our benefits. If we were furloughed we wouldn’t get paid for that time and our benefits stop. I know it is a terrible thing that the state workers have been used as pawns in every budget negotiations this administration. I hope my fellow state workers have enough money put aside to see them through one or two missed pay periods. It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of them that something like this may happen based on the track record of this administration.

  2. Fast eddie needs to learn to live on a budget and to play well with others. Last time he did this, he got his ass kicked by the PHILLY newspapers. And here we are again, Eddie is trying to funnel more cash to his buddies in philadelphia and the rest of the state is tired of his blatant theft.

    Budget cuts, spending cuts. And we could maybe learn to start saving money again. Philly could also learn to behave themselves with a checking account too. that’d be nice.

  3. It is great that there will no furloughs but how are people suppose to feed their families and incur the expenses of going to work every day without being paid. The mortgage industy, the tax collectors, and other creditors we all have do not give a crap if we are not being paid. The state budjet has not been passed on time since Rendell took office. This year it especially bothersome. There are approximately 70,000 state workers who need their pay to live. The delay of one or two pay periods would be damaging to a number of people, especially in the middle of a recession. People need to stand up and stop tolerating this kind of politics. This is not “for the people or by the people” Is this what they call Democracy? This is worse than the crooks on wall street

  4. We are trapped and the only option for those of us who live paycheck to paycheck is a loan or don’t pay our bills. We are “owned by the company store” My option is a loan through PSECU with interest and then when I do get a paycheck more taxes will be taken out. I get screwed over and the Pa. legislators don’t feel the impact so they really don’t have an incentive to care.

  5. @pastateworkr, PSECU will be offering zero-interest loans to state employees if the impasse happens. At least that will help take the edge off, as you can pay the loan off in full once the budget unlocks. Still not good by any definition, but …

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