[USA-Pennsylvania] Minimum Wage Discussion Gets Heated Before Deadline

Discussions about the first increase to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage since 2009 are getting heated. One issue in contention is a push for Governor Tom Wolf to halt efforts to extend overtime pay eligibility to cover tens of thousands of extra workers, NBC Philadelphia reports.

On Thursday, a state rule-making board is scheduled to vote on an overtime regulation Governor Wolf proposed. This deadline make time tight for negotiators

If the Democratic Governor wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to agree to the minimum wage raise he will need to make concessions. Among them, rescinding the overtime proposal.

The increase currently being negotiated is more modest than Governor Wolf’s January proposal in which he reportedly sought a multi-year increase, rising to $15 an hour in 2025.

The discussion today focuses on increasing the minimum wage in steps over 18 months to around $9.50 per hour 18 months. Gov. Wolf would need to abandon elements of his January proposal include the elimination of Pennsylvania’s tipped wage minimum - which currently stands at $2.83 - and an annual boost to the rate from 2026 to keep it in pace with inflation.

These concessions could prove unpopular among Democratic lawmakers and labour unions.

“I think workers deserve more, I think that people that work for a living deserve better from our government,” Wendell Young IV - President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, based in suburban Philadelphia - said. He admitted, “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 that doesn’t mean that it’s enough.”

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is a key player in the discussions. Like most Republican lawmakers it has long stood in opposition to a minimum wage increase. But it thinks of a minimum wage increase putting Pennsylvania in the mid-range of state rates as the lesser of two evils. It says Governor Wolf’s overtime proposal would pass unsustainable cost increases to businesses, nonprofits and colleges.

The Governor’s office would comment only that talks were ongoing when approached on Friday. Leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority said negotiators must compromise for a bill to pass the chamber.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said, “If people want to be reasonable, we can get something done.” 

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, referred to the governor dropping the overtime regulation as a “tradeable item” making Thursday’s vote on it an important deadline.

Mr Corman added that failure to persuade Governor Wolf to rescind the overtime regulation before Thursday would scuttle negotiations, for a while at least. He said, “If that is no longer a possibility, something else would have to replace it and I don’t know what that would be.”

The last federal minimum wage increase was in 2009 when it rose to $7.25 an hour. At present Pennsylvania numbers among the 21 states whose minimum wage is set at the federal minimum. Half of the 50 states have already authorized an automatic future wage increase. 

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, around 385,000 Pennsylvania workers have a job paying between $7.25 and $9.50 per hour.

Pennsylvania's total nonfarm payrolls are just above $6million. The proposed overtime rule would expand eligibility for overtime pay to 82,000 workers earning above a new federal threshold.  Wolf’s administration has said the threshold will rise to just under $36,000 on January 1.

The increase would be phased in over three years and include a requirement that salaried workers earning up to $45,500 a year receive time-and-a-half pay for any time worked above 40 hours in a week, in 2022.

The federal baseline of $23,660 is the current threshold in Pennsylvania. The administration said 61,000 workers in the state will be newly eligible for overtime pay as a result of the rising federal threshold. The current threshold has been in place since 2004.

Source: NBC Philadelphia