Pa. tipped wage workers rally behind Wolf’s proposed minimum wage hike

Orange barriers enclose chairs and tables that will be used for dining along Sixth Street between Liberty and Penn avenues

Orange barriers enclose chairs and tables that will be used for dining along Sixth Street between Liberty and Penn avenues on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 in downtown Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

During a pandemic recession that has hammered the service industry, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is attempting to sell its minimum wage proposal by focusing on tipped workers.

In Pennsylvania, the tipped minimum wage is $2.83 cents an hour, an amount set in 1998.

As a part of his annual budget, Wolf proposed raising the minimum wage for the seventh consecutive year. That plan calls for raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour on July 1, and then gradually raising it every year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2027. That proposal would also eliminate the existence of a separate, lower tipped wage, something long sought by the group “One Fair Wage.”

Restaurant workers spoke in favor of that proposal on Monday and described how depending on tips can force them to choose between putting up with sexual harassment, or other abuse, and making enough money.

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“My wage should not have to be a reflection on how good other people think I do … it could be discriminatory or they just don’t want to,” said Nour Qutyan, a bartender and server in Philadelphia.

Nearly three-quarters of tipped wage workers in the commonwealth are women, according to the Restaurant Opportunity Center of Pennsylvania, a restaurant worker advocacy group.

Employers are supposed to bring up wages to the overall minimum of $7.25 an hour if tips do not make up that gap, but workers said enforcement is lacking.

Jim Conway spent four decades in the restaurant industry, most recently spending a 16-year stint at Olive Garden. He retired during the pandemic, and said he has very little to show for his years of work because his wages were so low.

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“I am on Social Security and having a tough time making ends meet,” he said.

Seven states have eliminated a separate tipped wage, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 16 set the amount at the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 an hour.

Pennsylvania has long resisted sweeping changes to minimum pay. With businesses struggling during the pandemic, many in the state GOP see putting another hefty cost on their balance sheets as untenable.

However, raising the minimum wage is popular in the commonwealth, with two-thirds of respondents in a recent Franklin & Marshall survey saying they are in favor of a hike to $12 an hour.

There are some indications a compromise measure could be reached. State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) also announced his own plan to raise the overall minimum wage to $10 an hour, and the tipped wage to $5 an hour. In 2019, the state senate passed a bill to move the number up to $9.50.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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