EDITORIAL: 'Be reasonable' on Pa. minimum wage

York Dispatch Editorial Board

When Gov. Tom Wolf entered office in 2015, among his goals was to more than double Pennsylvania’s measly $7.25 minimum wage to $15 an hour.

By 2018, he offered a plan to raise it to $12 an hour.

This week, he’s fighting to push through a bump to $9.50.

More:Talks on Pennsylvania’s minimum wage heat up before deadline

Clearly, things are not headed in the right direction — for Wolf or, more importantly, for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania’s lowest-paid workers.

Lawmakers are again debating the issue as a Thursday deadline fast approaches. That’s the day a state regulatory commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal by Wolf that would boost overtime pay for more than 140,000 state workers.

But Republican lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, are holding the overtime proposal hostage to the minimum wage hike. If Wolf withdraws the proposal before Thursday’s vote, they intimate — and perhaps offers other concessions such as dropping a bid to raise the state’s insultingly low tipped wage minimum of $2.83 an hour — the minimum wage hike might gain their support.

Wolf should respond with a two-word answer. No, not those two words. We were thinking more along the lines of: Nothing doing!

We understand the thinking of those like Wendell Young IV, president of the Philadelphia-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, who told The Associated Press: “If you have an unmovable conservative bloc that won’t do much or anything, it’s important to get what we can for those workers.” But, as even Young notes, workers deserve more.

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage hasn’t budged in 10 years. And it only went up in 2009 because federal law mandated it.

About twenty people from CASA rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg in support of Governor Wolf's minimum wage hike proposal, Monday, June 17, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

But guess which Pennsylvanians have seen pay raises since then? That’s right: state legislators. Their pay went up this year and last year and the year before that, thanks to a state law that provides automatic cost-of-living adjustments (the kind of automatic increases they’ve been fighting to keep out of any of Wolf’s minimum wage proposals). They’ve been getting these annual increases, which sometimes reach 3%, since 1995, when their constituents’ minimum wage was $4.25 an hour.

In fact, Pennsylvania’s state lawmakers are now the second-highest paid in the country, with base salaries of some $88,600. That’s more than $42 an hour. If you and five of your friends worked minimum-wage jobs, your combined salaries wouldn’t reach the amount your taxes pay to lawmakers like Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. (Actually, the president pro tempore is paid $138,000 a year, so throw in five more minimum-wage friends.)

Scarnati, of course, has been monitoring the minimum wage negotiations.

“If people want to be reasonable,” he said, “we can get something done.”

Yes, let’s be reasonable. Is $7.25 an hour reasonable? Is $290 a week reasonable? Or $1,160 a month? Before taxes? How about less than $3 an hour for waitstaff? Or preventing an $24,000-a-year salaried professional from being paid overtime when working more than 40 hours a week?

None of this reasonable. And the Republican lawmakers who could never subsist on such laughably meager wages (who, in fact, enjoy annual raises without the bother or political imposition of having to vote for them) know it. Or they ought to. 

Pennsylvania’s lowest paid have waited too long for half a loaf. If the governor concedes to GOP demands to secure a still-non-living wage of $9.50 an hour, Republicans will fend off future efforts to revisit overtime pay or tipped wage minimum by arguing “we just raised the minimum wage.” Year after year. Collecting their annual pay hikes all the while.

So, Gov. Wolf, as your team negotiates this week on the long-necessary salary increases, remember those two words.