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Raising the Minimum Wage Floor

Our work to increase Pennsylvania’s paltry $7.25-an-hour minimum wage took a new form this week when I unveiled a new bill to hike it to $10.10 an hour by 2016.

As you know, my initial proposal asked state lawmakers to jump the rate to $9 an hour by 2015, but too much time had passed since I introduced Senate Bill 858. Since then, President Obama has increased the federal contractor minimum to $10.10, other states have approved increases in the base hourly rate, and many major corporations have decided the minimum was an unfair wage.

So, Senate Bill 1300 would incrementally increase Pennsylvania’s minimum to $10.10 over the next two years, starting with an increase to $8.40 an hour this July. Once we hit $10.10, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation and adjusted accordingly and without debate.

The bill would also allow local governments to increase their minimum wage rates to match their local economies. Philadelphia or Pittsburgh’s minimum wage, for example, might be higher than Erie’s or York’s.

Our minimum wage act has become archaic and ineffective, allowing employers to act unlawfully in setting their own wage rules and fearing little to no consequence for being caught violating the law.

My latest proposal would increase the fines and penalties for companies that violate the new law, once adopted. It would address wage theft by providing heightened penalties for employers who do not pay employees the wages they are owed. It would also increase enforcement of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage law.

Other states and many companies are passing us by. The men and women who are working long hours in two or three jobs just so they can barely get by remain hopeful that we will act soon. This is not an issue that is best addressed by the federal government. It is best addressed by us.

Reich On!

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote an insightful column this week about paying people what they are worth and how this argument doesn’t work when it comes to minimum wage increases.

Please take the time to read it so you better understand all of what he is arguing. Here is what I really liked about his piece:

“America’s low-wage workers don’t have privileged positions. They work very hard — many holding down two or more jobs. But they can’t afford to make major campaign contributions and they have no political clout,” Reich wrote. “According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the $26.7 billion of bonuses Wall Street banks paid out last year would be enough to more than double the pay of every one of America’s 1,085,000 full-time minimum wage workers.

“The remainder of the $83 billion of hidden subsidy going to those same banks would almost be enough to double what the government now provides low-wage workers in the form of wage subsidies under the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

Don’t tell me there’s not enough money to help minimum wage workers. It’s not a cash deficit that’s afflicting us; it is a scarcity of fairness and morality.

Unemployment Rate Analysis

Did you exhale when you learned Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate had dropped to 6.4 percent in January? Breathing easier now that February’s rate has been reported at 6.2 percent? It does seem like a good sign … until you examine the numbers.

The state’s count of jobless workers fell 23,000 during January, which is good. What is bad is about a third of those workers – or 8,200 people – represent the speed at which Pennsylvania’s labor force shrunk that month.

Pennsylvania is now 39th in year-over-year job growth, having only added 500 new positions in January.

Even worse, PA currently ranks dead last among all of its neighbors for percentage employment growth since January 2011, and we fair no better when compared to the 10 largest states in the nation for percentage employment growth since January 2011, also coming in dead last.

So, unfortunately, we are not doing as well as Governor Corbett claims. Employment has only increased by 1.7 percent since he moved to the Governor’s Residence three years ago. That is well below national employment growth of 5.1 percent. Had Pennsylvania enjoyed a similar growth rate, we would have created 289,000 jobs, or 195,000 more than the 94,000 actually created.

And, one of the really bad unemployment storylines involves teenagers.

Every year since Corbett has been governor, Pennsylvania’s teen jobless rate has increased. It was 15.7 percent at the end of 2011, 16.8 percent in 2012, and 22 percent this past year.

I think the downward pressure of the bad economy has forced older workers into the jobs normally held by teenagers, and many of these positions are minimum wage. It’s a bad cycle that Pennsylvania’s leading public officials need to act on now to reverse.

Human Services Spillover

It might be a consideration to keep Pennsylvania’s minimum wage where it is if the Corbett administration was doing everything else right to make sure people-in-need had the social safety net they should have. But as the United Way pointed out this week in excruciating detail, human services in the state are suffering because of Corbett budget cuts.

According to a survey of 500 nonprofit organizations, one third of them have suffered budget cuts over the past five years and 13 percent of them have had their state funding decreased by at least $50,000.

There’s no better proof than this that the governor has balanced his bad budgets on the backs of the working poor.

These cuts to human service organizations throughout the commonwealth have forced layoffs, wiped out programs, reduced hours of service and have grown waiting lists. So, as the need for services increase, funds are decreasing and creating another bad cycle.

Made in PA

Ever wonder how the words and images on your clothes were made?  Thanks to a form of art that dates back to the 20th Century, called printmaking, these designs are often made through screen printing—a graphic art technique in which ink is pushed through a screen stencil to create an image. While computers have made printmaking a faster, more convenient process in recent years, digital printing it is merely another tool for graphic artists to use; it is not a replacement for screen printing, as both have unique applications.

Since 1999, a business that has been employing experts in image design, screen printing and embroidery is Ink and Essence, located in Pottstown. Their employees, many of whom belong to UNITE HERE, Local 1148A, provide logo design services and art mediums that help make their customers’ dreams a reality.  Through its employees’ experience and skill, as well as their passion for excellence in graphic art and customer satisfaction, Ink and Essence has become a top one-stop-shop for customized printing services in Pennsylvania.





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