Note: This is part of a series of posts detailing the 2009 Pennsylvania budget impasse. To see all posts in this series, click here.
Dear The Media,
Where are you?
I know that a lot of you have already run stories on Pennsylvania’s 2009 budget impasse, and that’s good. Thanks. This is a matter of public interest that affects every Pennsylvania taxpayer, and quite possibly 49 other states full of taxpayers as well, so we need to make sure the Spotlight of Competent Journalism is shining brightly on our legislature and governor.
But what I don’t understand is why none of you are investigating the Rendell administration’s claims that the Fair Labor Standards Act has been “overruled” by the Pennsylvania Constitution. You see, the Court did not say what Rendell’s administration says the court said. The Court, in very plain English, said that there was no conflict between the Pennsylvania Constitution and the FLSA:
“This Court concludes that there exists no conflict between the FLSA and Article III, Section 24; the two provisions address different concerns.”
Based on this, the Court correctly answered the question “Does the Fair Labor Standards Act overrule article III, section 24 of the Pennsylvania Constitution?” with a resounding “no”. Had the question been “Does article III, section 24 of the Pennsylvania Constitution overrule the FLSA?”, the answer would also have been “no”. Had the question been “Does Pennsylvania’s 65-MPH speed limit overrule my township’s zoning laws?”, the answer would, again, be “no”.
The problem is what the Rendell administration inferred from the Court’s decision. Rendell incorrectly assumed that if the FLSA does not overrule the PA Constitution, then the PA Constitution must overrule the FLSA. But the reality is that neither overrules the other because they do not conflict.
Granted, the Patriot-News ran one story questioning the governor’s suggestion that the FLSA does not apply to state employees. But that story was a little weak. You asked the governor’s spokesman what he thinks, and asked the AFSCME head what he thinks, and left it at that. I do enjoy the Patriot-News and I think you’re a great newspaper overall (PennLive, on the other hand…), but I have to ask — was that story just an editorial piece? I realize that it would have been inappropriate for the reporter to accuse either party of misspeaking, but don’t you have a legal research department? Couldn’t someone look up the Court’s decision on the matter? Being that the decision was written in plain English, anyone can read and understand the Court’s very clear stance.
And where are the rest of you? The governor and legislature have splintered into several warring factions over the budget. Now is not the time to start taking everyone at their word.
Chuck Ardo, Governor Rendell’s spokesman, is now beginning to admit that a delayed paycheck may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act and may put Pennsylvania taxpayers on the hook for damages. It appears that something has happened to cause the administration to change its tune. If this abrupt reversal does not raise red flags at every media outlet across the state, I can’t imagine what would.
Perhaps if Michael Jackson was somehow involved.
As both a state employee and a taxpayer, I implore you to research this point further. Surely you have a legal research staff that can dig into this matter. If not, a cursory review of federal cases pertaining to the FLSA reveals employers in worse shape than Pennsylvania being found guilty of violations, and a well-maintained court belief that a lack of money is not a defense for violation of the FLSA.
Please do not give the governor, AFSCME, or the legislature a free pass on this issue. Pennsylvania taxpayers are days away from being liable for tens (quite possibly hundreds) of millions of dollars in damages, in addition to back pay, for our government’s failure to follow the law.
I don’t normally ask for much, but I imagine at least one reporter at one outlet is going to eventually break this story. Will it to be you, or your competitor?