Pa. lawmakers, workers link minimum wage fight to MLK’s push for equality

The Pennsylvania state Capitol in winter

The Pennsylvania state Capitol is seen, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The fight to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage brought interfaith leaders, workers, and elected officials together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Their goal is to repeal the Keystone State’s ability to preempt municipalities such as Philadelphia from setting their own minimum wage. Frances Upshaw, of the interfaith group POWER, said Monday that the current minimum of $7.25 is not enough for people to survive in the city. The work of Dr. King continues, she said.

“Just as in 1968, and 100 years before that at the end of slavery, we still find ourselves fighting for better wages for Black, brown, and poor people,” said Upshaw, who sits on POWER’s board.

State Sen. Tina Tartaglione said Senate Bill 12 includes a stepped increase to the wage until it reaches $15 per hour.

“Our minimum wage will be raised starting at $12 an hour and go up 50 cents a year until it hits $15 in the next six years,” said Tartaglione, who represents constituents in Kensington and Lower Northeast Philadelphia.

Tartaglione noted that the proposal will be presented on Feb. 2 by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf as part of his budget.

“This is what the governor feels like we have to do,” she said, referring to the phased implementation.

Nene Diallo is a minimum wage worker who spoke Monday with a reminder of the financial burdens on minimum wage workers who “need to pay rent, utilities, a car loan, and maybe even afford health insurance.”

“I believe this is a life and death issue,” Diallo said. “We need to fight today as Martin Luther King did yesterday to live a free, meaningful life.”

Using a 40-hour workweek, the Pennsylvania minimum wage amounts to $14,500 a year — about $7,000 below the poverty line for a person with two children.

The group issued a call for residents to reach out to their elected representatives in order to ramp up pressure for a minimum wage increase.

State Rep. Kevin Boyle said he will also introduce legislation in the statehouse in an attempt to make the wage increase a reality. The bill would allow local counties to raise the minimum wage as needed since many have argued that the cost of living is lower in rural Pennsylvania than in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan regions.

Boyle, who represents parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, said that for the past 10 years, the lower cost of living contention has kept the legislation from moving forward.

If the preemption is removed, Philadelphia City Council and county governments from across the commonwealth could have the final say on minimum wage in their communities. He said giving families an opportunity to provide a decent lifestyle is important. Working a minimum wage job in Pennsylvania doesn’t do that — and that is “immoral and shameful,” Boyle said.

Boyle added that a higher minimum wage is offered by all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states.

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