Harrisburg billboard urges passage of Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill.
His name is already attached to legislation that would strengthen safety standards for Pennsylvania’s public employees.
Now the late Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority bus mechanic’s image appears on a billboard in downtown Harrisburg that indirectly calls for the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill’s passage.
On Nov. 9, 2014, Jake Schwab, 48, was killed on the job when the bus safety airbag he was working on exploded. Schwab, who served as a mechanic for EMTA for 27 years, was working on a bus from another agency and using the wrong tools because the proper equipment wasn’t available at the time the deadly accident occurred.
House Bill 1082 would, among other things, require public workplaces to be held to the same health and safety standards as private businesses are through the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A second hearing on the legislation will be held Dec. 4 before the Pennsylvania House of Representative’s Labor and Industry Committee.
Ahead of the hearing, the Amalgamated Transit Union is running a billboard in downtown Harrisburg that says “Jake Schwab won’t be home with his family for Thanksgiving.” The billboard directs people to the website www.missingjake.com, which asks people to contact their state legislators to urge passage of the bill.
After Thanksgiving, the billboard, which will be up until the end of the year, will be changed to say “Jake Schwab won’t be home with his family for the holidays.”
Tiffany Schwab, 50, has spent the past two years pushing for passage of the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill, sponsored by state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-1st Dist. She will testify at the hearing.
“Shortly after he died I got the feeling like ‘not now, not this way,'” Tiffany Schwab said. “That’s part of my speech, that it just wasn’t right that it happened that way when he was only 48 years old.
“Why are some workers protected more than others?” she added.
Had OSHA been overseeing the EMTA, Tiffany Schwab and others say the accident might not have occurred.
Furthermore, any investigation into the causes of Schwab’s death has been kept confidential by EMTA’s insurer. Not even Tiffany Schwab has been told what led to the accident.
Harkins hopes to change that.
“It mirrors OSHA standards in other states,” he said. “There have been a lot of people saying, ‘If they can do it in the private sector, why can’t they do it in the public sector?'”
Harkins said the bill has “gained momentum,” especially among public-sector employees. Other deadly workplace accidents have brought more attention to the bill.
However, some public agencies have expressed concern that the bill would result in costly upgrades to buildings, vehicles and equipment they cannot afford.
“It’s not my intention to financially whack someone over the head with this,” Harkins said. “It’s to provide safe work environments for people, so if that means slowly implementing it and giving a grace period for purchasing new equipment or putting new guards on drills and saws, lawn mowers and things like that, so be it.”
In a statement, John Renwick, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 568, of which Jake Schwab was a member, said the bill would have prevented Schwab’s death had it been law in 2014.
“He would be home safe celebrating with his family,” Renwick said. “Unfortunately, Jake’s story is one that could happen again unless this bill is passed.
“The deafening silence coming from Pennsylvania legislators about Jake’s death for the past two years speaks volumes about their disregard and lack of concern for public workers,” Renwick’s statement said. “The least we can do to honor the memory of Jake Schwab is get this bill passed to prevent future tragedies and ensure that public workers will be home with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving, other holidays and milestones.”
Tiffany Schwab said she hopes the billboard is successful at getting the union’s message out to as many people as possible. She called it “blunt” and “effective.”
She hopes the bill gives her closure, honors her late husband’s memory and prevents such accidents from happening to someone else.
“It was just the third anniversary of his death on Nov. 9,” she said. “Here we are again. I was getting my stuff out for Christmas and I still have the ornament that says ‘Our first Christmas together.’ People don’t understand that it is over and over and over again. You can try to move on and things get a little easier, but you just …”
“My goal is to, hopefully, finally, get this legislation passed during this session because, to be honest, it is tiresome and wearisome,” she continued. “I’m committed 100 percent into seeing this through. But it is hard to repeat and fight for this and re-live it over and over again.”
Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ETNrink.