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ImageSenators Stack and Leach Side With Low-Wage Workers

J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia –   While greeting customers for nearly three years at Popeyes’ Restaurant on Lehigh Avenue, Yessica Gonzalez has gained a certain expertise in serving those returning customers she refers to as the “regulars.”

   “I usually know what they want before they order,” and she says she occasionally steers them to “specials.”

  Yet, earning just a little above minimum wage, Yessica’s eyes widened at the prospect of having a raise to $12.00/hr: “ Wow, I could put some money in the bank.”  

   With the goal of fattening the bank accounts of hundreds of thousands low-wage workers throughout Pennsylvania, Senators Mike Stack (D-5th) and Daylin Leach (D.-17th), Thursday, announced they were “standing up” for low-wage workers and offering a proposal to boost the Pennsylvania minimum-wage to $12.00/hr.

   In addition, their bill would eliminate the so-called ‘Tip-wage,” which in Pennsylvania is $2.83/hr., and require annual increases that are tied to the consumer price index.

   Standing at a windy podium outside an Applebees Restaurant on Roosevelt Blvd., Sen. Stack and Sen. Leach argued that the measure would lower government expenditures by reducing the reliance of poverty-fighting programs, such as SNAP (food Stamps). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program serves fourteen percent of Pennsylvanians and 31 percent of Philadelphia residents, many of them low-wage or part-time workers.  

   Denouncing stagnant incomes of service and restaurant workers throughout the state as, “indecent, obscene and unjust,”  Sen. Stack noted that many of Pennsylvania’s low-wage workers are living “on the brink of poverty.”

  Sen. Stack, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, also dismissed arguments that raising the minimum wage would “kill jobs” and cause prices to rise. Citing the example of Spokane Washington, where the minimum wage is more than $2 above Pennsylvania’s and is tied to inflation, Sen. Stack noted that menu items Spokane’s Applebees are the “same price” as in Philadelphia.

   Drawing a comparison to the Restaurant workers who earn the $2.83 tip-minimum wage and the CEO of Applebees who is “earning millions,” Sen. Stack asked, “What does that say about America?”

   ”It’s just wrong and we’ve got to change it” asserted Sen. Stack. “And everywhere we go we’re telling (workers) we’re standing up for them.”

   Describing the tip-minimum wage as “archaic,” Sen. Leach stressed the importance of repealing a tip-minimum which he notes was last raised in 1991.

  “It’s time to stop allowing corporations to outsource their workers, and that’s what  the tip-minimum wage does.”

   “They say it’s up to the customer to make up the difference” continued Sen. Leach. “These are working people who are entitled to their wages. They shouldn’t have to audition every time a customer comes in.”

  The 17th District Democrat, known as Pennsylvania’s “Liberal Lion,” also denounced the practice of using tip-minimum workers for a 20 percent block of time to perform tasks unrelated to their jobs. In a “cash business,” he suggested, that work is rarely compensated. “That’s just wrong.”    

   Sen. Leach argued that San Francisco is a city which abolished the tip-minimum wage and their “restaurant industry is thriving.”

  Marianne Bellesorte, Director of Policy for Pathways PA, praised the proposed minimum wage increase as a way to bring working families closer to “self-sufficiency.”

   A Pathways PA report, “Making Wages Work,” co-authored by Ms. Bellesorte, cast doubt on the assumption that as long as “families work hard they will be able to afford their basic needs.”

 “Despite our belief, many working families go to bed each night hungry, worried and looking for ways to stretch their income to meet their basic needs,” says the report.

   According to Pathway PA’s study: a family of three living in Philadelphia would actually require an average wage of $23.79/hr. or  $50, 253 a year, to achieve self-sufficiency. Ms. Bellesorte explained that such an income would ensure working families could “get  clothes washed, go to the grocery store and do things we take for granted.”

   A Wheelchair Attendant who works for a Subcontractor at the Philadelphia Airport, John Stewart, said he earns just $5.25 per hour and depends on tips to boost his base salary.  

  “With the rising cost of living, it makes it harder and harder to get by,” said Mr. Stewart.

   Questioned about a C.B.O report which predicted that hefty jobs losses would follow the President’s proposed $10.10 minimum wage proposal, Sen. Leach dismissed the notion, saying they were “cherry picking from the report.” The C.B.O. also showed more than 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty.

  Sen. Leach added, that the “historical record,” dating back to the introduction of the minimum wage in the 1930’s, shows that few jobs were lost due to a rise in the minimum wage. “It’s an argument for paying workers anything. You have to draw the line somewhere.”

  Responding to a question as to whether the $12.00 minimum-wage would be applied immediately, or “staggered” over several years, Sen. Leach replied that the minimum wage hasn’t been “raised in five years. It should have been going up every year, so we’ve got to catch up.”

   Moreover, the Senator argued that the increase would stimulate the overall economy, “by giving people access to resources who will spend it right away.”