Denied for now in D.C., advocates keep up the fight for $15 in Harrisburg | Tuesday Morning Coffee

March 9, 2021 7:13 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A long-sought increase to the federal minimum wage won’t be in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that the U.S. House is expected to take up as early as today. But in Pennsylvania, as lawmakers continue their examination of Gov. Tom Wolf’s $37.8 billion proposed state budget, the debate remains alive and well.

On Monday, state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, who’s led the fight to raise the wage in the state House for several years now, announced she’d launched a “Women Supporting Working Women campaign,” to call attention to workplace equity issues, including pay disparities.

“When women support other women, incredible things can happen,” Kim said in a statement. “This Woman’s History Month, we wanted to highlight how a raise to the minimum wage can help alleviate pay inequity. Not only that, but hundreds of thousands of families with working women would be helped immediately across the commonwealth. We hope that you will take some time to listen to our stories and why raising the wage matters so much to working women.”

At $7.25 an hour, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remains tied to the federal minimum, which hasn’t been raised since 2009Wolf has again proposed immediately raising the wage to $12, and then to $15 by 2025. As has been the case in past years, the issue has failed to gain traction among Republicans who control the General Assembly.

Progressives have remained undeterred, gambling that the strong public support for Biden’s relief plan,  augurs well for a wage hike. Data show that Pennsylvania currently lags all of its neighboring states in its minimum wage. Even West Virginia, among the poorest states in the nation, has an $8.75 hourly minimum, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. 

“As we celebrate women’s history throughout March, it is important that we continue to make history by advancing gender equality,” state Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, said in a statement. “It is unacceptable in 2021 that women continue to earn less than men for comparable work. And it is unacceptable that our low-wage workforce is disproportionately comprised of women. Raising the minimum wage would help correct these injustices.”

Image via Flickr Commons

Recent polling by the nonprofit Progressive Change Institute, released ahead of last weekend’s U.S. Senate vote approving the sprawling relief plan, showed a clear majority of Pennsylvanians, 53 percent, supported raising the wage to $15, compared to 40 percent who opposed, and 6 percent who had no opinion.

Support for raising the wage cleaved predictably along party lines, with 70 percent of self-identified Democrats backing a hike, compared to less than a quarter of Republican respondents (23 percent). More than a third of independent voters (37 percent) backed a wage hike, according to the poll.

“People want to see their elected officials use their power to tangibly improve the lives of working families,” Caitlin Lang, a spokesperson for the nonprofit said in a statement.

The survey sampled the opinions of registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, all 2020 battleground states won by Democrats. Interviewers spoke to 601 voters in each state, for an overall margin of error of 5.7 percent.

Speaking to journalists last week, labor leaders and activists stressed the difference that a wage hike would make in the lives of average workers, particularly Black and Brown Pennsylvanians, who are disproportionately underpaid.

“Right now, you need two to three jobs to survive,” Barbara Coleman, a certified nursing assistant and union leader at a Scranton nursing home told the Capital-Star last week. “Never mind putting meat and potatoes on the table. Right now, we can’t even afford the plate.“We have children who are falling behind because parents are working 60 hours a week. They’re working extra shifts to make sure the electricity isn’t shut off,” Coleman continued. “Off days aren’t spent with kids, they’re spent at food banks. It’s a terrible cycle of poverty we can’t get out of. How can we be the greatest country when our essential workers aren’t being protected? … This has to end. We can’t work any harder.”

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, advocates are continuing to press the fight for a hike to the federal minimum a priority for progressives and the Biden administration alike.

“We will keep fighting for $15, but this plan will lift more than 140,000 children out of poverty in Pennsylvania.” Hannah Laurison, the executive director of the progressive advocacy group PA Stands Up, said in a statement. “We urge [U.S. Sen. Bob] Casey and [Pennsylvania] Democrats to keep up the fight with us until Washington or Harrisburg,” [passes an increase].

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 recently sat down with Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, finding him in an expansive mood on issues ranging from the Legislature’s effectiveness to the flood of misinformation currently plaguing our politics.

Gov. Tom Wolf has named Dr. Denise A. Johnson, an OB-GYN, to serve as the state’s new physician general. She succeeds Dr. Wendy Braund, who served as interim acting physician general following the departure of state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine for a federal health post earlier this year. Levine had formerly held both posts. Cassie Miller has the story.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have given the long-awaited green-light: It’s OK for vaccinated grandparents to visit family if there’s no risk for severe disease, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson reports.

As he fights COVID-19, supporters have called for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s release from prison, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a new postage stamp honors Chien-Shiung Wu, a trailblazing nuclear physicist, a scholar from Rutgers University/Newark writes. Opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz says Pennsylvania needs to clarify its voting rules ahead of the 2022 mid-terms, or risk facing another blizzard of damaging litigation. And states are dropping their COVID-19 mask mandates, but they’re still expecting people to mask up. Will that happen? A trio of experts from Texas A&M University take up the question.

(Getty Images via The Beacon)

dispute over vaccine access and supplies between officials in the Philadelphia suburbs and the state Health Department has intensified, the Inquirer reports.
Officials in Westmoreland County also are pressing state officials to improve vaccine supplies, the Tribune-Review repots.
The pandemic is continuing to throw a wrench into wedding plans for central Pennsylvania couples, PennLive reports.
The DeSales University community in the Lehigh Valley is mourning the loss of three young people who died in a car crash over the weekend. Another continues to fight for life, the Morning Call reports.
A nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital talks to the Citizens’ Voice about her year on the front lines of the pandemic.
The Bucks County Courier-Times
 looks at what went wrong in Pennsylvania nursing homes during the pandemic.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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State lawmakers in Delaware have renewed their push for a $15 minimum wageWHYY-FM reports.
mass vaccination center in Lancaster County is registering people for the vaccine, WITF-FM reports.
Physicians in Washington County are telling area residents to take whatever vaccine is available to them, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Students at Edinboro University in northwestern Pennsylvania are pressing for an in-person graduationGoErie reports.
President Joe Biden is aiming to expand on Obamacare’s cost-cutting measures, reports.
Republicans in Georgia are edging closer to ending no-excuse absentee balloting Talking Points Memo reports.
A final vote on the COVID-19 relief package could be pushed to Wednesday, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
Budget hearings roll on before the Senate Appropriations Committee. All sessions are live-streamed from the Senate chamber. Here’s today’s schedule.
10 a.m.: Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
In the House:
9:30 a.m., Indiana Township Town Hall: 
House Republican Policy Committee
11 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Finance Committee
1 p.m, G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Michelle Merlin, of the Morning Call and longtime Friend O’the BlogChristina Zarek, of Lincoln Learning Solutions, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

(Wo)Man Cannot Live On Bread Alone Dept.
Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper have your comprehensive guide to where you can pick up the best bread anywhere in the Steel City. To which we can only say, “CHAAALLLLLAAHHHHHH.”

These Boots Are Made For Dept.
It’s supposed to be nice out this weekend. So if you’re looking for somewhere to ramble, the Schuylkill River Trail, which runs for more than 75 miles through Schuylkill, Berks, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties, has been voted one of the top 10 riverwalks in the U.S. by the readers of USA TODAY (via PennLive).

Read Any Good Books Lately?
If you haven’t already, come on over and join us at the Capital-Star GoodReads Book Club. We’ll be sharing what we’re reading, and you can weigh in on your favorite books as well. Associate Editor Cassie Miller has gotten things rolling with her latest read, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, by Robert P. Jones. I’m still working my way through “The Hemlock Cup,” a history of Socrates’ Athens by the historian Bettany Hughes. 

Heavy Rotation.
We went down a serious Human League rabbit hole over the weekend after stumbling across a very watchable documentary on YouTube. So here’s an extended remix of ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ to start your Tuesday morning on a decidedly techno-pop note.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Ending an eight-game goalless drought, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl scored, and Conor McDavid notched two assists as the Oilers downed the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Monday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.