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The Times Leader
By Marcella Kester - December 22, 2014

What if minimum wage workers woke up and found they would be making $10.10 an hour? With backing from state and federal Democrats, including President Barack Obama, could that become a reality?

Katelyn Mooney, 25, of Swoyersville, hopes so, saying it would change her life.

Working at a local daycare center for about $8 per hour, Mooney’s been thinking about how much she makes and where her money goes after recently finding out she’s pregnant.

“Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would change my life,” Mooney said. “I work full time. I just found out I’m pregnant and I still live at my mother’s house. I’m afraid I’ll have to apply for assistance, and I don’t even know if I can apply because of what I make. A $10.10 wage would allow me to get my own apartment and purchase what I’ll need to take care of my child.”

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and $2.13 for tipped employees. Pennsylvania pays $7.25 and $2.83 for tipped employees.

Pennsylvania has the lowest wage out of all its surrounding states and the lowest rate of job growth in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

As for the highest-paying jurisdictions?

Washington, D.C. comes out on top, paying a minimum of $9.50 an hour, followed closely by the state of Washington, which requires $9.32 an hour, and Oregon at $9.10.

Some states, such as Minnesota, Missouri and Montana, have multiple minimum wage amounts based on how much a company grosses in a year. And some states also allow local municipalities to set their personal minimum wages, which is not allowed in Pennsylvania.

Sensitive topic

It’s also a touchy subject.

Reporters made multiple attempts to interview local and corporate business owners and employees for this article. Many employees were afraid of repercussions from their employers, small business owners simply “declined comment,” and large corporations, such as Burger King, told The Times Leader they weren’t allowed to comment on the matter, according to their corporate headquarters.

Although many employees didn’t want to go on the record, many also said just a few more dollars matter.

Mike Danilowicz is a 36 year-old video editor from Shickshinny. He said that raising the minimum wage would help him pay off his college debt and allow him to move to an area that pays better in his career field.

“It was a catch-22 for me-I had to go back to college to learn video production. When I got to the workforce I realized that all of that new training only equals an entry level job. I would love to work someplace like New York City. But until I can pay off some or all of my debts that is unlikely to happen right away. With a little more money it can,” he said.

Legislative action?

Obama has urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage $10.10 per hour earlier this year. A number of Pennsylvania Democrats are backing legislative action.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, and state Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, both have bills to increase wages.

Cartwright is cosponsor of H.R. 1010, The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which not only would raise the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 by three annual 95-cent increases, but also tie the minimum wage to inflation. According to Cartwright, 25 million workers would see a pay increase and up to 6 million people would be lifted out of poverty.

Tartaglione is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1300, a state bill which would gradually increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next two years. Tartaglione also had a bill to raise the wage to $9, but has since been stuck in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee.

Both bills plan to increase tip wages to 70 percent of the minimum wage, as the federal minimum of $2.13 hasn’t been adjusted in over 20 years.

Many GOP leaders are opposed to raising the wage, including outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Both the national Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business are currently against raising the wage.

John Meyerson of Philadelphia is retired from working 28 years with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is a national union with a local base in Pittston. He’s also currently on the Pennsylvania Labor and Industry minimum wage advisory board. Meyerson says that minimum wage increases are a vital part to the state’s job and economic growth.

“In order to have any kind of positive effect on our economy, we need to reach at least $10.10.”

Meyerson stated that while there are a multitude of bills trying to increase the state minimum anywhere from $9 to $15, all proposed bills die on November 30 and will have to be reintroduced next year. He also said that small business owners would actually benefit from an increased wage.

“I believe that based on experience and past history that by putting more money in consumers pockets equals both more and quicker local spending,” Meyerson said. “Labor isn’t the only part of a business’s total overhead. There’s product, utilities, rent — labor is just a very small portion of that.”

Reach Marcella Kester by calling the newsroom at 570-829-7242.

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