Philadelphians next to get potential minimum wage increase on ballot

Fer Gregory / Shutterstock

Fer Gregory / Shutterstock

It may seem like another political lifetime away, but come May 2014, Philadelphians will be able to become the latest American sect to vote on a minimum wage ballot referendum.

The question, set to go on the May 2014 ballot, will ask Philadelphians if they want to give City Council authority to raise the minimum wage for subcontractors of companies contracted with the city—to $10.88 per hour.

Huh? Yeah, in 2005, the city passed a law mandating companies it does business with pay their employees 150 percent of the state or national minimum wage (whichever is higher): currently, $10.88.

But a loophole in the law did not require those companies that contracted out their work to a third party pay that third party the $10.88 per hour wage, leaving subcontracted employees left holding the bag.

Like, say, the subcontracted employees at Philadelphia International Airport. They earn an average of $7.85 per hour. That’s more than the state and federal minimum of $7.25, but far below their city-contracted counterparts. Some of those workers earn the state minimum, some earn the tipped minimum wage, which is $2.83 per hour.

May’s vote is aimed directly at them. The Airport workers have been organizing for over a year with community organizing group Fight for Philly and local unions.

The ballot question is probably a start, but won’t do much (not directly, at least) for Philly’s private sector minimum wage earners.

In addition to the Philly legislation for subcontractors, state legislators have been fighting for a statewide raise for some time now. Most vocal on that front is State Sen. Christine Tartaglione. The second-district representative (parts of Kensington, North/Lower Northeast Philly) was vocal in raising the commonwealth’s minimum wage last time the state passed such a law—bringing it up to $7.15 from the previous $5.15 wage last decade.

With Corbett in office, as well as the Republican majority in the state House and Senate, it will be difficult, if not impossible.

That said, voters, and the federal government, have shown a willingness to raise the wage as of late. President Obama has called for a national minimum of $9 per hour, and New Jersey residents voted for an increase to that state’s wage, up to $8.25. A new Gallup poll found this week that 76 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $9 per hour — and last week, Democrats in Congress met to discuss a proposal that would bring the minimum wage up to $10.10.

Earlier this year, fast food workers across the country went out on strike, calling for a $15 minimum wage. Minimum wage currently brings in $15,080 per year, assuming a 40-hour workweek. A $10.88 minimum would garner workers $22.630.

Most people earning minimum wage in a corporate environment are forced onto government assistance rolls, meaning taxpayers are left subsidizing gigantic corporations who don’t want to pay a living wage or health care.

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