PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 17, 2013 – With thousands of Pennsylvanians buying the most popular Christmas gifts and planning family get-togethers by plane, train and automobile, state Sens. Christine M. Tartaglione and Vincent Hughes today said too many people will not be able to afford an average holiday because they earn a poverty-level minimum wage.
The Democratic lawmakers said the time is now to begin to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $9/hour.[hdvideo id=137 ]
“A hardworking minimum wage earner has to work 64 hours to cover the costs of traveling to be with loved ones for the holiday,” Sen. Tartaglione, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Labor & Industry Committee, said. “And that is only if they don’t have to buy food, pay the rent, or cover utilities. But nearly all of them do.”
“It costs about $50 to provide an average Christmas dinner, according to the American Farm Bureau,” Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Hughes said. “A minimum wage worker has to work an entire day to be able to pay for that but chances are good they will not even consider doing so due to the demands on their cash.”
Tartaglione has sponsored Senate Bill 858 to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $9/hour by 2015. She has also crafted legislation to increase the minimum hourly rate for tipped employees to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. The tipped minimum has been $2.83/hour since 1999.
“As a wheelchair attendant working for a subcontractor at the airport I get paid $5.25 per hour plus tips, which usually averages out to little more than the minimum wage,” said John Stewart, a wheelchair attendant at Philadelphia International Airport who participated in today’s press conference. “While my wages stay the same, the cost of food, transportation, rent, clothing and medicine keeps going up making it more difficult to get by.”
Stewart said he is making less annually than he was 30 years ago. He emphasized he is seeking a minimum wage increase that keeps pace with the cost of living.
“If ever there is a time to truly be compassionate about the plight of women and men who are working their fingers to the bone and are earning little in return, it is now,” Tartaglione said. “And John Stewart is a good example of why.”
“For Pennsylvania’s minimum wage workers, the holidays are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – rolled into one repeating nightmare – every year,” Hughes said. “They don’t get to wake-up from their nightmare, as Ebenezer Scrooge does, to enjoy the holidays and truly revel in the joy of giving. They can’t afford it.”
The senators urged lawmakers to quickly consider and adopt SB 858 and SB 1099 to provide a more solid step for minimum wage earners.
President Obama called for Congress to adopt a minimum age increase this month, the lawmakers said. Also, 10 other states, including Ohio, have upped their base hourly wage and also tied future increases to inflation.
“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is mired with a belief, spawned and massaged by Gov. Tom Corbett and some leading Republicans, that corporations will not be able to afford adding another $1.75/hour to the state’s minimum wage rate,” Tartaglione said. “Why? Those same corporations can afford skyrocketing bonuses.”
“Businesses cannot afford to not increase the minimum wage,” Hughes said. “Employees are more productive if they don’t have to worry about life issues. Having to work multiple minimum wage jobs – because they are the only jobs many adults can find – is a problem for everyone and is a major worry.
“Even Scrooge would pay more than Pennsylvania’s $7.25/hour minimum,” Hughes said.