Philadelphia struggles to raise the minimum wage
McDonalds employee Raphael Curtis said that he and others like him work long hours in unpleasant conditions with little payoff. The payoff is lacking mostly because of the pay.
“When I get my check, I shouldn’t have to make a decision between rent and my daughter’s transpass or my cell phone bill,” Curtis said. That’s why he and thousands throughout the United States marched into their city streets on Dec. 4 calling for a $15 an hour wage. In Philadelphia, the protest overtook City Hall, Broad Street and Walnut Street until it ended outside McDonalds.
Increasingly frequent labor strikes at national chains known for their low wages, like Walmart or McDonalds, have forced politicians to start looking for solutions. At the beginning of 2014, President Obama announced a pay increase for federal workers to $10.10 per hour. While cities like Seattle or Chicago have already approved stepped increases in the minimum wage, reaching $15 in 2021 and $13 respectively, other large cities like Los Angeles and New York are studying different proposals.
In Philadelphia, the first victory in the minimum wage fight happened just a few months ago, when a group of airport workers got their pay raised to $10.88 an hour after the city’s citizens voted in its favor. Earlier, Mayor Nutter signed an executive order to increase the minimum wage requirements for contractors and subcontractors for the city. In October, he also approved a tax cut for companies that pay at least $12 to their workers.
This happened despite the fact that so far, none of the proposals to improve low pay managed to survive the Republican majority in Pennsylvania’s state legislature, while a clause in the state’s Wage Act of 1968 prevented localities from increasing that number. But the law is now being questioned. To 15Now Philly, a national platform for raising the minimum wage, the law was designed to protect workers from a fall in wages, they said to Philly.com.
To Nutter, who in October also sent a letter to Congress to ask for an increase in federal salaries, starting a legal battle against the Pennsylvania legislature could cost money or resources in city that cannot spare them. In Philadelphia, councilors like Maria Quiñones-Sanchez and Ed Neilson may have once supported the airport workers, but no one approves of initiating a lawsuit that could waste taxes.
For John Dodds, director of Philadelphia Unemployment Project, the reason behind Nutter’s involvement is not his concern for workers, since the Mayor has repeatedly rejected a law requiring companies to give three paid sick days a year.
The promise of $15 an hour is just looking to attract attention, he told Philly.com. After all, the upcoming elections are just a few months away.