December 26, 2015 – By John Lattimer
Group blames Rep. Mauree Gingrich for blocking vote on minimum wage increase
A coalition representing organized labor, workers’ rights and faith-based organizations held a rally in support of raising the minimum wage outside the Lebanon Municipal Building on Tuesday.
Joined by about a dozen members holding placards with slogans like “Raise The Wage Now” and “Low Pay is Not OK!”, leaders of Raise the Minimum Wage PA spent about 20 minutes rattling off statistics and making statements in support of legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and tie it to inflation.
Such an increase would raise the income of 1.2 million Pennsylvanians, including more than 13,000 residents of Lebanon County, most of whom are adults working full-time, said spokesman John Dodds, executive director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
“This is not just teenagers,” he said. “In fact, 83 percent of the people that would get a raise are over 20 years old and 60 percent of them are full-time workers. We are talking about people working full-time for wages of $10 or below.”
The organization’s primary target during Tuesday’s rally was state Rep. Mauree Gingrich, the Palmyra Republican who is chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee. Last month, it held a similar rally in Luzerne County to put pressure on Sen. Lisa Baker, Gingrich’s counterpart in the state Senate.
Playing off the similarity of her name and the Scrooge-like Dr. Seuss character, the organization gave Gingrich its 2015 Grinch of the Year Award for bottling up a vote on legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
“I am pleased to be here today to be part of the call to Rep. Mauree Gingrich to grow her heart from about two-sizes too small and stop holding legislation to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania hostage,” said Rev. Sandra Strauss, director of policy for the Pennsylvania Counsel of Churches.
The issue is not only an economic one but a moral one, said Strauss, who noted that the federal minimum wage and Pennsylvania’s minimum wage are both $7.25 an hour. That equates to a full-time income of $14,500, which is $4,500 less than the poverty level for a family of three, she said.
The minimum wage is a poverty wage,” said Strauss. “It is not capable of supporting a family. We believe the most essential component to end poverty is to increase the minimum wage.”
Strauss went a step further, invoking scripture and the “Golden Rule,” in urging Gingrich to move minimum wage legislation forward.
“This is a principle that should naturally extend to wages: pay others fairly for the work they do, as you would like to be paid fairly for your own work,” she said.
Gingrich, who represents the 101st Legislative District that includes about half of Lebanon County, was busy with budget negotiations on Tuesday and did not respond for comment.
Members of Raise the Wage PA, including Jake Long, a former Hershey employee and Democratic party leader, met with her several weeks ago to discuss the issue but were not encouraged by her response.
“She said we will be one of 10 (bills under consideration). I think she just threw that number out there,” Long said. “Basically I got the message that we are one of many. That’s why we need to tell her this issue isn’t going away and it needs to be addressed.”
Long, a Democrat who last year ran unsuccessfully for state representative in the 102nd Legislative District, said he too views the minimum wage as a moral issue with an economic impact on tax payers.
“We have a real problem in this country that we don’t talk enough about. And that is poverty that has been increasing,” he said. “We have an inadequate, poverty driven minimum wage. Sometimes we look at the minimum wage and say, well it’s just another political issue. Some politicians look at it in dollars and cents, when to me and a lot of people, I think it is a moral issue.”
But, a low minimum wage also has an impact on middle class taxpayers, added Long.
“If you are working full-time (and) you have two dependents that qualifies as poverty wage. And what does that mean? It means you qualify for state assistance,” he said. “You and I as taxpayers are subsidizing employers who pay a low minimum wage to individuals who have two or more independents.
Sometimes lost in the minimum wage discussion are restaurant workers and others who rely on tips, said Sam Jones, legislative policy advocate for the Restaurant Opportunities Center. His organization advocates doing away with the tiered-system that sets a tipping minimum wage of $2.83 that has not changed since 1998.
“This is an antiquated system that fails our servers, not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the nation,” he said.
The tip minimum wage scale is also unfair because it primarily applies to women, Jones added.
“A good way to reduce inequality in a state is to raise the tipped minimum wage,” he said. “It is time for us to end this disparity, this two-tiered system. We must fight for a fair minimum wage.