Council candidates respond to #RaiseTheWage
Pennsylvania Working Families hosted a City Council candidates’ forum that covered several local issues including jobs, economic investment and raising the minimum wage in Philadelphia.
Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), Action United, 32BJ_SEIU and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) were among the audience gathered at the Arch Street United Methodist Church on March 7.
Participating panelists included City Council ‘at-large’ candidates Helen Gym, Tom Wyatt, Sherrie Cohen and Isaiah Thomas.
This is the second part of a series of articles with the candidates’ responses to four different platforms.
The organization’s platform on jobs asks about the passage of a citywide minimum wage of $15 per hour when enabled by the state; about requiring public projects to employ a high percentage of city residents; about investing in economic development that prioritizes keeping taxpayer dollars in our community; about strong enforcement of the recently passed earned paid sick day legislation, and about divesting the city pension fund from companies engaging in wage-theft and anti-union activity.
Helen Gym: To me the question of income disparity and wage disparity in our city is not only an economic justice issue, it is a moral one at this time. In this city today we cannot honestly say that we are responding (to it). I want to talk about how this community has driven the agenda for what is happening today at City Hall, we fought together and we brought forward the issue of minimum wage, we brought forward the issue of paid sick leave. I spent 20 years of my life fighting in spaces like this to talk about these issues. My answer to the platform is “yes” to all of the above. The question of economic justice has to go hand-in-hand with racial justice in our city. We need to diversify our labor force, we need to open up our trades to the growing communities in the city, to diverse and multilingual (communities), so that our labor force not only reflects our communities but also reflects the communities which fights for them.
Sherrie Cohen: If we can make this platform reality we can have a different Philadelphia. I like to thank the 15Now coalition for putting on the hearing for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, I’ve been campaigning on this issue, which I think is essential to our city. We have the largest percentage of poor people of any large city, increasing the minimum wage is something we can do that would have a huge impact. Some might say $15 an hour is a lot of money, but it is not about the money. Right now $7.25 is a poverty-level wage. For people to be working full time and not have the dignity of having a pay where they can afford the necessities of life … we must increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I am in favor of the entire platform, minimum wage is another example of state control over Philadelphia.
Tom Wyatt: For me a guiding light in my life has been around minimum wage, because earning is not theoretical to me. When I graduated from high school I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. I did so poorly in school that I didn’t have a job. So I worked in a Burger King for minimum wage and I know personally what is like to try to pay rent and try to get by (on that). I never forgotten that simple fact and how close we all are to those kinds of difficulties. Absolutely $7.25 is not going to cut it. We should not have a single job in this great city where folks work 40 hours a week and can’t sustain their families, live a proud life, afford housing and transportation. I will work tirelessly to improve not only the living wage but the respect and dignity that should go to every working person. And to bring more jobs into the city.
Isaiah Thomas: There are a lot of people who choose between a job and illegal activities in the street, and often we go in that direction, and one of the reasons we go in that direction is because minimum wage is so low. It is very tempting for people who come from hard neighborhoods to deviate away from having a traditional job and put ourselves in the position where we can generate more revenue participating in illegal activities. But it also sets us up for this injustice that is mass incarceration. Since I started on the campaign trail I've been fighting for this issue for $15 per hour and I’ve been catching a lot of flak because of it, but I think is one thing to say “I am for raising the minimum wage” and is another thing to say “this is how we do it.” That’s important, because when I look you in the face and I say “I want your vote” it can’t be be just me standing here with a microphone. I will fight for it and I plan to unveil a platform that tells you how we can raise the minimum wage making sure that no one loses jobs.