Two weeks ago, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor & Industry Kathy Manderino announced she was leaving her post to begin a new job at the state Gaming Control Board.
The announcement came just three months after a performance audit revealed how nearly 180 million taxpayer dollars had been squandered under her oversight on a botched unemployment system upgrade.
At this crossroads for one of the state’s most dysfunctional and mismanaged agencies, Gov. Wolf had the opportunity to nominate a new secretary who could not only clean up the operational mess left by their predecessor, but also begin the difficult job of overhauling the department’s badly damaged reputation.
Instead, he nominated one of his closest political associates, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) union President Jerry Oleksiak.
Oleksiak, who was a Philadelphia-area school teacher and local union representative for most of his career, currently serves as president of the well-funded and powerful PSEA teachers’ union — the very same union which has spent over $1 million (and countless more in membership dues) to support Wolf and his pro-union policies. Campaign finance records show Oleksiak has personally donated to the Wolf campaign as well.
Secretary Manderino’s departure from Labor &Industry was certainly a step in the right direction, but Wolf’s nomination of Oleksiak is troubling for multiple reasons.
First, it smacks of the very political quid-pro-quo Wolf disavowed when he promised Pennsylvania voters he’d be a “different type of governor.” Rather than being transformational, Wolf’s appointment of Oleksiak appears to be transactional.
Second, it is not obvious from his resume that Oleksiak has the credentials or experience to correct the problems facing the department he has been nominated to lead. Not only is the department mired in operational deficiencies, Pennsylvania now has the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the nation at 5 percent.
He may have been a teacher and union boss, but does Oleksiak have the operations experience to hold agency management accountable for results and improve service quality for taxpayers?
At PSEA, Oleksiak strongly opposed commonsense public pension reform and advocated in favor of Wolf’s proposals to increase taxes on Pennsylvania families and businesses.
Will he bring these same anti-growth policy perspectives with him to the Department of Labor & Industry? If not, what initiatives will he propose to put Pennsylvanians back to work?
Fortunately, Oleksiak will have the opportunity to answer these questions and more during his Senate confirmation process.
Without satisfactory responses, we owe it to the people of Pennsylvania to deny his confirmation. Perhaps only then will Gov. Wolf put politics aside and nominate a candidate who is qualified and deserving of a cabinet-level appointment.
Sen. Mike Regan (R-31)
Sen. Scott Wagner (R-28)
Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-25)
Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-37)
Sen. Rich Alloway (R-33)
Sen. John DiSanto (R-15)
Sen. Scott Martin (R-13)
Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-35)
Sen. Don White (R-41)