Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania

Meagan Gemperlein, 25, is a part-time tipped worker at Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey. Wigle owners say they pay each of the workers at least twice the tipped minimum wage of $2.83.

By Molly Duerig
Beaver County Times

Sept 1, 2015 – PITTSBURGH — Cori Shetter is a college graduate and aspiring actress who’s worked minimum-wage jobs for 15 years.

“It’s like swinging from Tarzan vine to Tarzan vine. One vine’s about to end and break, so you just grab the next one, but you’re never really putting your feet on solid ground,” said the 31-year-old Pittsburgh resident.

Living in her Lawrenceville home is only possible because her parents own it, and Shetter pays them as much of the mortgage and other expenses as she can.

The one major thing she could do to further her career goals — auditioning — has fallen by the wayside as she invests most of her time in serving jobs for small, but reliable, paychecks. She supplements that by cutting hair for up to 10 clients a month at home.

Many servers, like Shetter, earn Pennsylvania’s tipped minimum wage of $2.83 per hour. The standard minimum wage, both state and federal, is $7.25.

Many believe the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with the times, and movements to raise it are being led by grassroots groups and governments in communities across the nation. In June, Los Angeles became the biggest city in the country to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Nineteen U.S. cities and counties experienced mandated wage increases this year; 29 states and Washington, D.C., already require employers to pay workers more than $7.25.

Pennsylvania isn’t part of this group – yet.

There are five bills pending in the state Legislature proposing to raise the minimum wage, with different methods and standards ranging from $8.75 to $15. Some politicians and business owners said they worry that putting this mandate on employers could mean fewer job openings and other cutbacks in the business community.

“If minimum wage is hiked, many of these jobs will vanish, or work hours will be drastically cut,” state Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, wrote in an email. “Employers simply find less costly alternatives, either through automation, technology or other means.”

Even economists, who also have opinions, disagree about the impact. Although some studies indicate a minimum-wage increase would cause job losses, other studies show just the opposite, said Sean Flaherty, the economics chair at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“There’s just no strong consensus evidence that this is a significant problem when you have a modest increase in the minimum wage, done in stepwise fashion,” Flaherty said.

The proposals

The federal wage hasn’t increased since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25. In 2008, it rose from $5.85.

Several states, counties and cities are taking the matter into their own hands.

In Pennsylvania, the most ambitious proposed bill is from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, Montgomery. His “One Fair Wage” bill would raise the wage to $15 an hour and tie it to inflation across the board, for regular and tipped employees.

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