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Allegheny

Pittsburgh raised minimum wage for its workers, but $15 an hour is years away

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, July 6, 2017, 3:18 p.m.
The city skyline from Mt. Washington on Thursday, May 26, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The city skyline from Mt. Washington on Thursday, May 26, 2016.

Pittsburgh this year boosted minimum hourly wages for city employees to $12.50 in the first phase of a ramp-up to $15 per hour, and officials on Thursday called on state lawmakers to follow suit.

City Council pledged unanimous — though symbolic — support for legislation sponsored by state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, that would push the state's hourly minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15 by 2024.

Council members were joined by Mayor's Office staff, union officials and labor activists in urging passage of the bill. A resolution approved by council will be sent to state lawmakers.

“Any of the things that make a better life, our families can't afford because we haven't touched the minimum wage in this country in a decade,” said Councilman Dan Gilman of Squirrel Hill who sponsored the resolution along with Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak of Carrick. “Every state around us has stepped up to the plate. Ohio, West Virginia, New York, Maryland, they've raised the wage. Pennsylvania's done nothing. We aren't competitive. It stifles innovation. It hurts small business and it hurts the core of our communities.”

Economists have studied the issue and come up with mixed results.

A group at the University of Washington found that some employers cut payrolls, laid off workers and reduced employee hours after Seattle officials voted three years ago for a $15 minimum wage, according to the Washington Post.

But a 1994 study comparing fast food restaurants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey found that New Jersey establishments increased hiring after the state raised its minimum wage.

Mayor Bill Peduto in 2015 issued an executive order that would gradually raise the pay of about 300 city employees to $15 per hour by 2021. The 2017 raises will cost the city about $150,000.

“For us ... it's more about strengthening our neighborhoods and trying to cut off the systemic poverty that plagues a quarter of this city that still lives below the federal poverty limit,” Gilman said.

Minimum wages in 29 states exceed a $7.25 per hour minimum set by the federal government, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Two states — California and New York — have passed laws increasing minimum wage to $15 in coming years. Cities including New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle have passed similar legislation.

But Missouri lawmakers reversed course by nullifying all local minimum wage laws, including one in St. Louis that would have increased the rate to $11 per hour. Gov. Eric Greitens last week said he would allow the law to pass without his signature.

Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled General Assembly has been reluctant to boost minimum wages despite lobbying by unions and support from state Democrats. That's unlikely to change, but supporters said they haven't lost hope.

The Associated Press contributed. Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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