Bowhead to lay off 61 employees at Letterkenny

Bowhead Logistics Management LLC will lay off 61 employees at its Letterkenny Army Depot facility starting late next month, it informed the state Department of Labor & Industry.

In its Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing, Bowhead said the layoffs at 1350 Superior Ave., Building 57, Chambersburg, are expected to be permanent.

The cutbacks are due to “unplanned conclusions of maintenance programs and projected reductions in maintenance work” on certain contracts, the WARN notice said.

Jobs will be phased out between Sept. 29 and Nov. 16.

Affected employees at Letterkenny are represented by a union, District Lodge No. 1 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO.

“We apologize that we were unable to provide to you more advance notice of this action,” the WARN letter said. According to the WARN Act, advance notice is supposed to be sent at least 60 days ahead of any layoffs.

“The Army only recently notified Bowhead of its requirements that Bowhead must implement these employee separations and the dates on which the required separations must occur,” the Bowhead WARN letter continued. “Accordingly, after reviewing the Army’s request and identifying those employees who will be impacted by the Army’s directive, including meetings between Bowhead and the union to work together on the layoff plan in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, we are providing this notice to you at the earliest possible time.”

Attempts to reach the Machinists Union and Bowhead for comment were unsuccessful.

Bowhead also laid off 60 employees at Letterkenny early this year.

UIC Government Services LLC and its Bowhead family of companies, including Bowhead Logistics Management LLC, are part of Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corp., an Alaska Native corporation.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Geisinger cited for health plans claims violations 

Danville-based Geisinger is being asked to take corrective action by the state after receiving citations for a series of violations from 2015 through 2018. 

An Affordable Care Act market conduct examination by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PIC) found violations within claims processing primarily involving mental health and substance use disorder services by Geisinger Health Plan and Geisinger Health Options. 

Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys said Wednesday the examinations identified violations within claims processing, including claims being denied when they should have been paid.  

These denied claims were largely processed by behavioral health vendors, until 2019, when the company brought all behavioral health operations in-house, Humphreys said. 

“The Insurance Department’s top priority is consumer protection within the marketplace, and these examinations are an opportunity for the department to ensure that companies are held to high standards and consumers are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled,” said Humphreys. “The results of the exam will see some consumers receiving restitution, as well as expected process improvements within the company.” 

 Humphreys said Geisinger was cooperative during the examination, which covers the period from January 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, and January 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018. A second claims experience period was added because the company indicated that it made several systems changes from 2016 to 2018, including the implementation of a new medical claims processing system. 

Geisinger issued a statement in response to the citation. 

“We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Insurance Department on opportunities to improve, which is very much aligned with Geisinger’s mission to make better health easier for the communities we serve. The review period for this most recent Market Conduct Exam dates back as far as January 2015, and we’re pleased to share that the violations cited in the report have either already been remediated or we are in the process of addressing them.”

The examination also reported additional Unfair Insurance Practices Act violations relating to unclear communications with members, maximum out-of-pocket miscalculations, and incomplete claim files, PID said. 

 In addition, the exam found mental health parity violations, as complete and timely quantitative and nonquantitative treatment limitation (QTL and NQTL) analyses were not available, nor were QTLs and NQTLs applied correctly in some plans. 

Humphrey said Geisinger hired an outside consultant in 2019 to help address mental health parity. 

The department has ordered Geisinger to take corrective action to address the violations. Claims that were incorrectly processed must be reprocessed and accurately paid with applicable interest.  

PID said the company must adjust internal controls to address required claims notifications, accuracy and clarity in its communications with members, and oversight of producer appointments and terminations. 

The company must also reprocess all claims for which incorrect visit limits or cost-sharing were applied and provide restitution to policyholders that were required to pay more than that policy allowed. The company must provide proof of payment, including applicable interest, to the department as claims are reprocessed.  

Geisinger is ordered to pay a $125,000 penalty. 

 To date, approximately 60,000 Pennsylvanian consumers have received $5.87 million in restitution as a result of the department’s ACA market conduct examinations of other major health insurers. 

 The department said it will continue to monitor and verify that Geisinger’s corrective actions have taken place, including through quarterly reporting, as well as through a reexamination process in the future. 

Redeveloped Lower Allen Commons sells final piece

Lower Allen Commons
Lower Allen Commons. PHOTO/PROVIDED

A 17,500-square-foot retail building has sold for $10 million in the final transaction in the redevelopment of Lower Allen Commons, previously anchored by a Bon-Ton department store.

Campbell Commercial Real Estate Inc. and Lower Allen Township Development Authority announced the news Wednesday. Records show the purchase was made by FJH Aramingo LP, based in Moosic, which was first reported by BizNewsPA. The building just sold is now home to Trader Joe’s (the first Trader Joe’s in central Pennsylvania), Sport Clips, Apricot Lane Boutique and The Good Feet Store.

The development authority purchased the tract when Bon-Ton went bankrupt in 2019, and created a land condominium that included the existing Bonefish Grill and Texas Roadhouse restaurants.

The redevelopment did not use tax dollars, although completing the project during COVID-19 shutdowns and supply chain issues “was not an easy task,” a release said.

Off Route 15, the Cumberland County shopping center project was a collaboration among the development authority; Campbell Commercial; the Lower Allen Township Board of Commissioners; Third Mountain Consulting LLC; KD3 design Studio Inc.; Eastern PCM; BL Cos.; York Excavating; Wagman Construction; Ames Construction; Leer Electrical; and F&M Trust.

Lower Allen Commons also includes a SpringHill Suites by Marriott, opened in October by Springwood Development. In addition, a Chick-fil-A restaurant under construction is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2023.

And a 10,980-square-foot retail building is proposed for Unit 1, the last 1-acre parcel, which sold in October.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Progress seen in modernizing education for $132.5 billion ag industry

State Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding tours Conrad Weiser High School’s agriculture program facilities – PHOTO/PROVIDED

Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of young agriculture producers in the nation, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistic Service. 

To celebrate the 2,598 producers under age 35 and the progress in modernizing agriculture education, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty and Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence Executive Director Stephon Fitzpatrick joined student leaders and educators Monday at Conrad Weiser High School in Robesonia, Berks County, to tour its cutting-edge facilities and student projects. 

“The agriculture industry cannot continue to feed the world without feeding the minds of our youth,” Redding said. “The innovative programs we’re seeing today are representative of an education that exposes students to the possibilities in agriculture, sparking their imaginations for how their curiosity, passions, and interests can be put to work in our industry.” 

Redding said programs across the state are preparing an increasingly more diverse group of students who will be agile in adopting technology and solving the complex challenges that come with climate change.  

“From hydroponics to animal care, urban gardens to FFA, agriculture education opens up endless opportunities for students to engage in learning that will lead to meaningful, family-sustaining careers,” said Hagarty. “The departments of Education and Agriculture, along with the Pennsylvania Commission for Agriculture Education, are committed to ensuring that learners across the commonwealth can take advantage of high-quality, engaging ag ed curriculum and programming in their school, no matter which city or town they call home.” 

The programs create relevant, hands-on learning experiences that prepare students for careers in agriculture, a $132.5 billion statewide industry that provides more than 593,000 jobs across the state. The 2.4% increase in the agriculture workforce since 2018 shows that jobs will be in demand when students graduate, Redding said. 

Jobs range from farm managers to high-tech equipment mechanics, and from field biologists to entomologists to veterinarians. All must be equipped to adapt to changing technology and climate challenges, he said. 

The Wolf Administration, in coordination with the General Assembly, created the 15-member Commission for Agricultural Education Excellence in 2017 to help create and implement a statewide plan to align educational programming with increasingly technological needs of today’s employers. The commission’s third biennial report was released during today’s event, outlining progress made on the commission’s recommendations. 

Highlighted commission accomplishments include: 

  • Growth in the number of approved secondary ag education programs statewide from 131 to 178 since the commission’s inception, with five more pending approval. 
  •  Hiring a dedicated, specialized commission staff with expertise in agriculture-focused career and technical education and diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  •  Assessing the state’s ag education Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) and implementing a strategic plan to address gaps, which has led to New Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) chapters in four urban high schools and Delaware Valley University. 
  •  Strengthened or renewed partnerships with Rodale Institute, the Food Policy Advisory Council, and other non-governmental entities specializing in urban and organic agriculture. 
  •  Built ties with the Franklin Institute to help build student connections to ag careers in their initiatives. 

US jobless claims at the highest level since November

A day after the federal government reported that the country added a higher-than-expected 528,000 jobs in July, the Labor Department announced Thursday that the number of Americans who signed up for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since November.

Applications for jobless aid climbed by 14,000 to 262,000 and have risen five out of the last six weeks. Initial claims for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania jumped from 6,785 to 7,101.

The four-week average for U.S. claims increased by 4,500 to 252,000, also the highest since November.

And the number of Americans collecting traditional unemployment benefits increased by 8,000 the week that ended July 30 to 1.43 million, the most since early April.

As the Associated Press noted, “unemployment applications are a proxy for layoffs and are often seen as an early indicator of where the job market is headed.”

However, hiring in the country remains strong, despite rising interest rates and weak economic growth.

The July unemployment rate of 3.5% tied a 50-year low reached just before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the U.S. economy in early 2020.

The economy contracted in the first half of the year, which usually signifies the onset of a recession, the AP said. But the job market’s strength and resilience so far in 2022 runs counter to that, so the data is mixed.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Final stretch of 14-mile Northwest River Trail dedicated

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Mike Walsh helped cut the ribbon Wednesday on the final section of the 14-mile Northwest River Trail that spans five municipalities in Lancaster County.

Development of the trail has produced significant reinvestment in and creation of local businesses that support outdoor recreation, a release from the department said.

The trail provides access to the Susquehanna River Water Trail for walking, pedaling and paddling. It links the river towns and villages of Marietta, Wrightsville, Columbia, Bainbridge and Falmouth, and provides wayfinding signage to users identifying local businesses.

“We started our outfitting business in Columbia because we bought into the vision of local leaders that the river is a resource that should be protected yet capitalized on to bring people to town and expand the economy through ecotourism,” said Jim Cox, owner of Chiques Rock Outfitters.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources supported the project with more than $3 million in Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants.

“Trails connect places,” Walsh said. “They connect people to the outdoors. They bring visitors to communities to help keep economies vibrant, and in the case of the Northwest River Trail also connect people to the river. So, it’s a great day when we can celebrate a trail being complete, moving us closer to our goal of a trail within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian.”

The trail, which has industrial archaeological remains such as abandoned canal locks and iron furnaces, follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and uses some of the original towpath. The Northwest River Trail is in the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, the Susquehanna National Heritage Area and in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

State to hold online auction of surplus heavy equipment

The state Department of General Services will hold an online public auction of more than 280 pieces of surplus heavy equipment from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, starting at noon June 20 and ending at 10 a.m. July 5.

Up for bid are air compressors, snowplow trucks and snowplows, anti-icing trucks, motor graders, excavators, wheel and backhoe loaders, asphalt equipment, single-, tandem- and tri-axle dump trucks, spreaders, skid steers and more.

Interested bidders can view the list of items, currently being updated, on govplanet.com/penndot. In order to bid, they must register using the “Register Now” button.

The auction offers the public “quality … heavy equipment no longer being used by PennDOT at a fair price,” a release explained. “With the recent increased demand and limited supply of these types of items, the online heavy equipment auction is an ideal opportunity for members of the public to add this type of equipment to their operations.”

The Department of General Services’ State Surplus Property Program is responsible for coordinating these auctions for PennDOT.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer.

State insurance consumers received over $15 million in restitution payments in 2021  

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department reclaimed over $15 million last year for more than 41,000 consumers who had funds stolen, payments improperly processed or other forms of restitution or credit as a result of errors or unethical conduct. 

State Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys announced the returned money last week, noting that 41,032 consumers around Pennsylvania received some form of restitution payment or credit. 

Examples include restoration of stolen funds when an agent collected payment from a consumer for a policy or annuity but did not send that money to the insurance company or refunding or overcharged premiums when an insurance company was found to be charging premiums above the Insurance Department’s approved rate. 

“Pennsylvania consumers’ rights and protections are guaranteed to them through state law and the Insurance Department works diligently to hold the businesses we regulate accountable,” said Humphreys. “We protect consumers by holding these businesses to the highest standards.” 

In some cases, the department’s findings can result in additional penalties, such as suspension or revocation of a license, being assessed against the offending party. 

In 2021, the department issued more than $512,000 in enforcement penalties for violations of Pennsylvania’s insurance laws. 

Changes to tipped worker rules awaits regulatory approval 

An update to Pennsylvania’s rules regarding how employers pay tipped workers will be voted on by the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission during a meeting next month. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) announced this week that it submitted its final-form regulations to update Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act. 

The changes would modernize guardrails to protect tipped workers and ensure consistency for employers, said L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier. 

“The world of work has changed significantly since these regulations first went into effect in 1977, but tipped workers remain a sizeable and critical segment of Pennsylvania’s workforce,” said Berrier. “They are the only workers whose take-home pay ultimately depends on the generosity of their customers and not the obligation of their employer.” 

The final-form regulation covers five areas for tipped workers, including: 

  • An increase to the amount in tips an employee must receive monthly from $30 to $135 before an employer can reduce their hourly pay from $7.25 per hour to as low as $2.83 per hour. 
  • A tip credit given to employers under certain conditions, including that the employee spends at least 80% of their time on duties that directly generate tips. 
  • Tip pooling among employees that would exclude managers, supervisors and business owners in most cases. 
  • A prohibition on employers deducting credit card and other non-cash payment processing transaction fees from an employee’s tip left with a credit card or other non-cash method of payment. 
  • A requirement for employers to clarify that automatic service charges are not gratuities for tipped employees. 

If the IRRC approves the regulation during its March 21st meeting, it will then be submitted to the Office of Attorney General. Upon its approval by the office, it will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. 

The regulation changes fall in line with Gov. Tom Wolf’s broader work protection agenda, which has seen the governor push legislation to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, paid sick leave and more. 

PA Insurance Commissioner Altman to resign from role 

Jessica Altman – Submitted

Pennsylvania Insurance Department Commissioner Jessica Altman is set to resign from her position with the state on Friday, Feb. 25. 

Altman leaves the role to take up a new position as CEO for Covered California- California’s health insurance marketplace. 

Altman began her career with the Commonwealth as chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department in 2015. In that time, she oversaw policy initiatives for the agency and coordinated with other state agencies and external groups. 

She became acting insurance commissioner in 2017 and was confirmed to continue as insurance commissioner in 2018. 

As insurance commissioner, Altman was responsible for regulating Pennsylvania’s insurance marketplace, overseeing licensed agents and insurance professionals, monitoring the financial landscape of companies doing business in Pennsylvania, and more. 

“Commissioner Altman has been a steadfast leader for Pennsylvanians throughout her tenure in state government including protecting access to high-quality, affordable health care by holding insurance companies accountable, ensuring adequate consumer protections and education is available and easily digestible, and overseeing the creation of the commonwealth’s very own state-based exchange, Pennie,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “Thank you, Commissioner Altman, for your dedication to the commonwealth. Your commitment to Pennsylvanians will be missed.” 

Altman’s work establishing Pennie, her experience with the Affordable Care Act and her regulation of Pennsylvania’s insurance market, were all listed as key accomplishments that led Covered California’s Board of Directors to choose her in its national leadership search, the marketplace wrote in a press release. 

“I could not be more honored to accept the position as Covered California’s next CEO,” said Altman. “Under Peter’s leadership, Covered California became a national model for the Affordable Care Act always putting consumers first and maximizing the role of the marketplace to transform health care. I will miss Pennsylvania and am proud of all that we have accomplished together in the Commonwealth. I am also eager to return home, to get rooted with Covered California and its great team, and to help build on its achievements over the last decade.” 

Mike Humphreys, the current chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, will serve as acting insurance commissioner. 

Manufacturers’ Association expands pre-apprenticeship program, adds coordinator 

The Manufacturers’ Association will expand its manufacturing pre-apprenticeship program with the hiring of a pre-apprenticeship coordinator. 

Miranda Martz, a recent graduate for the York-based association’s state certified apprenticeship machinist program, took the lead in growing the program in southcentral Pennsylvania earlier this month. 

The Manufacturers’ Association’s pre-apprenticeship initiative is a two-year program for mostly high school juniors and seniors. It started in 2018 and has grown from a focus on York County schools to include Lancaster and Perry counties. 

Students taking the program learn and practice the skills needed to enter full time registered apprenticeship programs sponsored by local manufacturing companies. 

The program received a $189,147 grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to expand the program to meet a growing need for workers among Pennsylvania’s 2,500 manufacturing companies. Martz’s hiring coincides with those new dollars, said Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association. 

“It gave us the push to really grow the program. We could have stuck with maybe Perry and York counties but with these resources we could expand into more counties,” said Palisin. “Someone needed to be the point person on that. This was way too important for the future workforce to not have someone on this.” 

Martz is the first female machinist journeyman graduate from the association’s apprenticeship machinist program. She joins her new role after six years as a lead of the CNC milling machining department of a local manufacturing firm. 

The new grant funding, couple with Martz’s hiring, will allow the program to have 60 students by the end of the year—compared to 15 in 2018. 

Pa. Dept. of Health acting secretary to step down in January


 Alison Beam, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, will resign at the end of the year. She is expected to be replaced by Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter. 

The change was announced by Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday. 

Beam, who previously served Wolf’s deputy chief of staff, took the role of acting secretary following the departure of Rachel Levine earlier this year. 

“I am proud to have worked with Acting Secretary Beam over the past several years, and the commonwealth has been fortunate to have had the benefit of her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic – especially as the Department of Health oversaw a massive vaccine roll-out over the course of the past year,” said Wolf.  

During her tenure with the Wolf Administration, Beam helped coordinate the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response, the rollout of state health insurance marketplace, known as Pennie, and the administration’s health care reform plan. 

“Serving as acting secretary during such a critical time in public health has been the most humbling honor of my career,” said Beam. “Under the governor’s leadership the administration has made critical strides in ensuring access to health care for all Pennsylvanians and in turn created a healthier, more equitable commonwealth for generations to come.” 

Wolf said he plans to name Klinepeter to the role in January. 

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the tremendous employees at the Department of Health and ensuring public health remains a top priority throughout the commonwealth,” said Klinepeter. “I am honored for the opportunity to lead public health efforts during this critical time and to serve my fellow Pennsylvanians.”