A group of Pennsylvania Democratic legislators served chips and salsa at El Fuego, a burrito shop next to Washington Square Park Friday to call attention to two efforts — on the state and federal level — to raise the minimum wage for the first time in almost 10 years, the longest the U.S. has ever gone without increasing it.
What can come of a gimmick that will let seven people who make more than $88,000 a year to try their hand at serving at 4:30 in the afternoon?
Based on Republican-controlled Harrisburg, it’s not promising.
What is significant is that restaurant workers with the workers rights group ROC United showed up to talk about how the tipped minimum wage ($2.83 an hour in Pennsylvania) affects their lives.
Jennifer Oliver, who’s been in the industry for 20 years and most recently worked as a server at a high-end steakhouse, said it’s impossible to plan her life because she never knows how much money she’s going to make during a shift.
“We’re just at the will of our customers,” said Oliver, 40, who added that the fight to eliminate the tipped minimum wage would most affect the lives of workers who don’t work at high-end restaurants.
Worker organizing is largely credited with helping get laws passed — as opposed to a group of policymakers talking about a bill in theoretical terms.
Philadelphia voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to encourage the state to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour at the same time City Council has increasingly started passing pro-worker labor laws. Still, there hasn’t been much local action or recent worker organizing about the issue — not since 2015, when organizers tried and failed to pressure City Council to challenge Harrisburg on minimum-wage law.
Philadelphia is barred from raising its minimum wage, due to a “pre-emption” clause added to the state’s minimum wage law in 2006. Philly is not alone: Twelve cities and counties in states including Alabama, Iowa, and Florida have passed laws raising the minimum wage but could not implement them because of similar pre-emption clauses, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project. The report estimates that nearly 350,000 workers were barred from raises because of similar laws.
The federal “Raise the Wage" act calls for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. It would eliminate, over a period of time, the federal tipped minimum wage ($2.13 an hour, slightly lower than the one in Pennsylvania). Gov. Tom Wolf failed to get support for his minimum-wage hike — that would also raise the wage to $15 by 2025 and also eliminate the tipped wage — in the state’s recent budget deal but talks are expected to resume when lawmakers return in September.
Reports about the effect of the minimum wage have conflicted. A report released Monday from the Congressional Budget Office said a $15 minimum wage would boost pay for 17 million workers but also cut 1.3 million jobs, while another report released last week from economists of the University of California Berkeley said that the measure would not result in job loss and that the hike would affect the poorest households in the rural counties.
New Jersey, Maryland, and New York all have a higher minimum wage. Philly-area hospitals have also raised their minimum wage to $15 over the last year.
Though there hasn’t been much activity in Philly, advocates and workers have been traveling to Harrisburg to call attention to raising the minimum wage.
The six Philly-area legislators who took part of the demonstration that includes a march from the Convention Center to El Fuego are state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Art Haywood, and state Reps. Jordan Harris, Joanna McClinton, Stephen Kinsey, and Chris Rabb. State Rep. Summer Lee of Allegheny County also participated.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.