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Democrats talk raising the minimum wage at hearing in Philadelphia

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John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 6, 2024

At a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on Wednesday, workers testified about the challenges of working in a state where the minimum wage hasn’t budged since 2009.

“This is more of a call of action,” state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), committee chairperson, said at the hearing, held at SEIU Local 668 in Philadelphia. “We’ve been talking about this issue for many years.”

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which is the lowest rate allowed under current federal law and the lowest of all of the Keystone State’s neighbors.

In June 2023, the Pennsylvania House passed legislation by a 103-100 vote which would have gradually raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next three years, with further annual increases tied to the consumer price index. 

The GOP-controlled state Senate did not advance the legislation. 

Karim Jones, a home healthcare worker in Philadelphia and a member of Pennsylvania Service Employees International Union (SEIU) testified that he provides home care for his brother, but only earns $13-$14 an hour and doesn’t have benefits like sick time, health insurance, or family leave.

“Home care is important to me, because taking care of my brother is important to me,” Jones said. “I feel as though I’m at my best when I’m taking care of him and have gotten much closer to him due to caretaking.” He became emotional speaking about his brother, who Jones wants to make sure “lives out a full and comfortable life.” 

Jones said he has to supplement his income by picking up part time work like delivering for Instacart and children’s party services, which adds to the challenges of taking care of his brother. 

State Rep. Paul Friel (D-Chester) said Jones provides a great counterargument to Republicans who claim those making near the minimum wage are just teenagers working a side job after high school. Friel said there’s also an economic argument. 

“I argue that I think it’s a good investment that actually is better for taxpayers,” Friel added. “And will cost us a lot less than in the long run in improved care and improved circumstances and taking care of our families and our kids.”

Bri Golphin is a 32 year-old barista who has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 18 years old. She makes $12.50 an hour, is on Medicaid, and has another part-time job doing harm reduction work. 

“I’ve been part of this workers’ right fight for at least a decade,” she said. “Ten years ago, we wanted the minimum wage to be $15 an hour. That’s no longer doable. It needs to be $18.” 

State Rep. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) is sponsoring legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $18 an hour and described the current minimum wage as a travesty. 

“The Republicans feel as though $11 is all that we are worth,” Green said. “And we say no, we’re worth much more than $11.”

Golphin added that that the tipping system commonly used in the restaurant industry needs to go away, so workers don’t have to rely on tips that they don’t always receive.

State Rep. Nancy Guenst (D-Montgomery), who once worked in the restaurant industry as a single mother, agreed.  “It was like pulling hair out every day just to get a decent tip,” Guenst said.

Marc Stier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, a progressive think tank in Harrisburg, said he was a bellhop for his first job in 1968 when the minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. 

“$1.60 in 1968, if adjusted for inflation, would be $31.60 today,” Stier said. “That’s about where the minimum wage should be.”

Even more importantly, Stier said, is for Pennsylvania to repeal the preemption law that prevents local governments from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

“We should definitely allow counties to experiment with higher minimum wages to adjust for local conditions,” Stier said. 

“My guess if the state were to do this, what we would see is that counties and certain regions would all move together and raise the minimum wage,” he added. 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.