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Garage workers make poverty wages, go without health insurance, report says

Workers at privately owned garages poverty wages, a report says. A parking executive disputes the findings.

West Philadelphia resident Mike Hardaway speaks about his experience as a parking worker at a City Hall press conference Tuesday.
West Philadelphia resident Mike Hardaway speaks about his experience as a parking worker at a City Hall press conference Tuesday.Read moreLaura Smythe

To make a living wage, the typical employee at a privately owned Philadelphia parking garage would have to work 68 hours a week — make that 115 if the worker has a child, according to a report released on Tuesday by a union and a liberal policy research group that advocates for a higher minimum wage in the state.

The garage industry reported $453 million in revenue last year, said the report, unveiled by SEIU 32BJ and the Keystone Research Center at a news conference, but the estimated median hourly salary for its workers is $9.50. That figure was disputed by Robert Zuritsky, CEO of Parkway Corp., one of the city’s largest garage owners.

The report said providing parking-garage workers — 90 percent of whom are African American or African immigrants — with a living wage could save taxpayers $2.3 million in public assistance costs for Medicaid and food stamps that currently support the industry’s workers.

“Parking workers should not have to work two or three jobs just to get by,” Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker said at the news conference. “All working people in Philadelphia ... deserve to be paid a decent, family-sustaining wage."

Parker introduced a resolution, approved by Council last week, to add a question to the May ballot on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025. Only state government can raise the minimum wage.

Stephen Herzenberg, the report’s author and executive director of the Keystone center, said that a third of the workers, most of whom are valets and lot attendants, don’t have health insurance, while 43 percent hold at least one additional job.

Zuritsky said in response, “I can speak for my company, probably for most of the companies. They pay benefits and they have health care. They offer retirement benefits, and our firm offers dental.” He said “I believe” that Parkway’s starting salary is $12 an hour.

Mike Hardaway of West Philadelphia, who attended the news conference, said that a garage fired him in February because he expressed concern about wages and that he filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.

“Working in the garage is hard work, and you’re out in the heat and cold. The fans and circulation systems do not always work,” said Hardaway.

“A lot of our coworkers are immigrants and are afraid to speak up,” he added. “Many parking workers have families to support and are desperate to hold onto their jobs, or [their] families will literally be out in the streets.”

Daisy Cruz, mid-Atlantic district leader of SEIU 32BJ, said the parking industry exploits those coming to the United States. “Many of these hardworking men and women immigrated from African countries to find the American dream, only to be stuck working grueling jobs for poverty wages,” she said.

“My coworkers and I want to make these good jobs. We do not want a handout,” Hardaway said. “We are fighting to lift ourselves out of poverty; their profits should not depend on our poverty.”