Subscribe to E-Update here.
Labor Report

New Minimum Wage Package Unveiled

CheckAs promised, I unveiled my new proposals to increase Pennsylvania's minimum and tipped-minimum wages -- and add an annual cost-of-living adjustment so we don't have to address this issue anymore.

What I didn't expect was who would reveal their support for increasing Pennsylvania's pathetic minimum wage.

My proposals, Senate Bills 195 through 199, would address wage and enforcement issues that have been plaguing the hard-working employees of this commonwealth for far too long. SB 195would increase the regular minimum wage to $8.67 by July 2015 and to $10.10 by January 2016. SB 196 would move the tipped minimum to $3.95 by July 2015 and then raise it to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage rate in January 2016.

More than 87,000 Pennsylvanians receive just $7.25 for each 60 minutes they work. It's hard for many minimum wage workers to buy the things their employers are selling because they don't have the money to pay for other important things, like electricity.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that has not listened to the cries of tens of thousands of hardworking residents who are suffering because prices have increased but their paychecks have not for six long years.

We must agree to require businesses to pay workers higher wages not because other states have done it; we must agree to fairer wages because it is the right thing to do for employees, for taxpayers, and for the economy.

The other proposals in my five-bill package include:

  • Senate Bill 197, which would provide annual, automatic cost-of-living increases to the minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index,
  • Senate Bill 198, which would modernize the state's Wage Payment and Collection Law to increase recordkeeping requirements and penalties for employers and to increase investigative and enforcement duties for the PA Department of Labor & Industry. It would also allow employees to receive back wages owed, along with two times those wages in damages, and
  • Senate Bill 199, which would prohibit employers from deducting bank fees or charges from employee tips when a customer pays their bill with a credit card.

The unexpected thing that happened this week was Republican York County Sen. Scott Wagner announced he also is introducing legislation to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour in three years.

I think Wagner's idea is good news in that it means he recognizes the plight of minimum wage workers.

I am concerned about his proposal because it does not include an annual cost-of-living adjustment, and the hourly increases end after three years. The bottom line, however, is Sen. Wagner's proposal isn’t enough for the Pennsylvanians who are forced to work two or three jobs to help make ends meet.

Even if it is approved and PA's minimum wage moves from $7.25 to $7.75, it would still be much less than our neighboring states.

  • Delaware's minimum will be $8.25 this June,
  • Maryland's minimum will be $8.25 this July and $10.10 in 2018 (when Wagner's proposal would be $8.75),
  • New Jersey is at $8.38, but has already approved an annual increase with the rate of inflation,
  • New York moves to $9 at the end of this year and Gov. Cuomo is already talking about raising it to $10.50 an hour, which would make the Empire State the highest-paying minimum wage state, and
  • Ohio is adjusting annually for inflation with a minimum wage that is currently at $8.10.

Pennsylvania must value its workers like other states, and that means increasing the minimum wage to a level that helps workers who receive it.

There’s been much talk about how the state’s economy is benefitting from lower gas prices because consumers have more to spend on other essentials. Think of the multiplier effect if minimum wage workers get a $2.85 an hour raise!

Also, as the Economic Policy Institute said this past October: “In failing to adequately raise the minimum wage, or to adopt policies to raise wages more generally, policymakers have allowed, if not encouraged, a steady renegotiation of the social contract that has benefited employers at the expense of workers and taxpayers.”

That's right; a very low minimum wage costs you in extra social safety net program funding. Here’s the proof: the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The number of children receiving food stamps remains higher than it was before the start of the Great Recession in 2007," the federal agency said this week.

Even from a business perspective, the Political Economy Research Institute released a study earlier this month that said the fast-food industry could even afford a $15 an hour minimum wage.

“We find that the fast-food industry could fully absorb these wage bill increases through a combination of turnover reductions; trend increases in sales growth; and modest annual price increases over the four-year period,” PERI said in its report.

Senate Bills 195-199 are the way to go for Pennsylvania. Let's get them to the governor before summer's arrival.

Sobering Wage News That's Not Minimum

dollarIf you’re not feeling good about your income, you’re probably feeling like most people who don’t belong to the 1 percent.

The Keystone Research Center issued the findings of a new study this week that said earnings for Pennsylvania’s 99 percent were minus 1.1 percent between 2009 and 2012.

“Because the income of the bottom 99 percent fell, the top 1 percent accounted for more than 100% of overall income growth (124.4% to be precise). The current expansion through 2012 is the worst on record measured by the inequality of income growth skewed towards the top 1 percent of Pennsylvania earners,” KRC’s executive summary reads.

Even if you’re lucky enough to be in the 1 percent, this can’t be the world you imagined. It’s soberingly sad.

PA Unemployment

Help WantedWe quickly shared last week that PA’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent. Here are some behind-the-number numbers:

  • 4.8 percent is the lowest jobless number since March 2008
  • Unemployment rolls decreased by 13,767 to 308,753
  • PA’s total labor force remains down by 57,000 individuals year-over-year, and still stands below the level it was when Governor Corbett took office in January 2011
  • The commonwealth gained 198,000 new private sector jobs during the Corbett administration. However, PA still ranks behind a majority of its surrounding states for percentage private sector employment gains since January 2011, and
  • Had PA simply kept pace with national growth over this period it would have created 413,000 jobs.

And, when it comes to the minimum wage, Pennsylvania is last in the net change for job growth.

Fair Wage Business of the Week

RhizaIn this age of smartphones and tablets, sometimes we think we are living on the cutting edge of technology, but often we are only using a fraction of the tools available to us. Without the necessary manpower and knowledge, how can companies harness the power of technology in order to ensure they are working smarter, not harder? By employing the services of Rhiza, a technology-related company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, now every business can operate more efficiently. Not only is Rhiza at the top of its game within the marketing analytics industry, but also, it is a supporter of the higher minimum wage campaign that has taken this nation by storm recently.

Rhiza enables businesses to maximize their marketing potential and profits by analyzing consumer data and presenting it to decision-makers in a meaningful way. In this way, facts and figures are no longer abstract concepts understood only by the I.T. department, but, instead, they can serve as the main driver of sales and marketing strategies for companies. Through impactful presentations, data collecting, mapping and sharing and advocacy for fair wages, Rhiza is innovating companies from the East to the West Coast, making technology more user-friendly, and employers more worker-friendly, one business at-a-time.