Wages rise while pols apply pressure
Wolf, allies move to push pay up
In many parts of Pennsylvania, a shifting balance between employers and workers has pushed pay up at traditionally low-wage jobs. Gov. Tom Wolf and his allies are moving to push it higher — at least in some industries.
In the past few weeks, Wolf has taken steps to bump workers’ pay without support from the Legislature, which has yet to pass a minimum wage hike despite repeated negotiations. Last week, the governor proposed hiking the amount tipped workers must take home before employers are able to cut their hourly rate — a decision that would likely affect a small number of workers.
Under existing rules, workers who get more than $30 per month in tips are eligible for a lower hourly wage, as low as $2.83 in some cases. Wolf would raise the monthly floor to $135.
“They are the only workers whose take-home pay ultimately depends on the generosity of their customers and not the obligation of their employer,” Wolf said.
The administration has recently worked to tweak other pay rules.
Last month, Wolf issued an executive order requiring state grant and aid recipients to pay their employees the minimum wage for state workers and contractors — $13.50 for now, set to rise to $15 in 2024.
It’s not just Wolf’s office that’s pushing up workers’ pay, however.
In some low-wage industries, employers vying for a shrunken pandemic workforce have offered higher starting pay and new incentives. Throughout 2021, restaurant owners reported raising their wages; signs advertising higher pay sprang up at convenience store chains, grocery stores and warehouses alike.
The state unemployment rate has continued to fall as the workforce has slowly grown, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the share of Pennsylvanians working or actively seeking work remains near 10-year lows.
Legislators are moving to hike pay, some in specific industries and others across the board.
Last month, Rep. Pam Snyder, R-Greene, proposed a bill that would require prevailing wage — a dominant rate commonly associated with union workers — on future clean energy projects that get state or federal tax credits. Workers on a newly funded slate of federal infrastructure projects are set to get prevailing wage as well, while federal workers are set for a $15 minimum, according to orders signed by President Joe Biden.
“There is no doubt that the way we do business in the Ccommonwealth will change, but with change comes great opportunity and responsibility,” Snyder said in a message to Harrisburg colleagues. “We have an opportunity to utilize energy-related projects to create jobs and a responsibility to support our existing, local workforce while doing so.”
Meanwhile, Snyder’s Democratic colleagues continue to push for a higher minimum covering the state’s entire workforce — a prospect Republicans had countenanced in the past, but so far haven’t voted for. In recent weeks, Wolf has touted two bills that would hike the minimum to $15 and then peg increases to consumer prices.
With an uneven return to a pre-pandemic labor force, workers could continue to vote with their feet and push pay higher in some industries.
“American workers are demanding better quality jobs,” Wolf said last week.
Audit backers go national
A handful of Pennsylvania lawmakers have joined a far-fetched national push to carry out widespread reviews of what they call the “corrupted” 2020 election, with an eye toward reversing the result.
The quixotic effort comes as the state Senate moves ahead on its own election audit. State lawmakers last week gave a no-bid contract to an Iowa-based consulting firm to review the election, which allies of former president Donald Trump claim was rigged.
No evidence has emerged to support those claims, but a few lawmakers continue to suggest something was amiss.
In an open letter Tuesday, scores of legislators from across the country recommended nationwide audits and a congressional inquiry into the election. Among them were Rep. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams — who has spearheaded the audit fight in Pennsylvania — Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Centre.
If the hoped-for audits reveal that President Joe Biden received fewer votes than he needed to win — an outcome for which there is no evidence — Congress should convene and choose a new winner, the letter says.
While that outcome is unlikely and constitutionally questionable, the open letter demonstrates the continuing presence of a nationwide movement to reject the 2020 election.
State Democrats have rejected the audit, which they say could open voters’ personal data to outside firms with unclear track records. Talking to the Tribune-Review this week, Sen. Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, called it a “Trumpian sideshow.”
Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.