Pennsylvanians rally for higher minimum wage

HARRISBURG, Penn. — The Capitol rotunda was packed with hundreds of people from across the Keystone state June 22 as they came to push their legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage, which has remained frozen since 1997.

Organized by the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Wage, union members and their leaders joined with members of community organizations, women’s groups, religious leaders and the unemployed in the effort to urge lawmakers to follow the example of most of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states in boosting the statutory minimum.

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been stuck at the federal level of $5.15 an hour for the last eight years. Legislation currently introduced would raise the level to $7.15 an hour by January 2006.

Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said the higher minimum wage had the support of all workers across the state, “public and private, industrial workers and service workers.” He also said an increase of $1 an hour in the minimum wage nationally would solve the Social Security problem for the foreseeable future by increasing tax revenues.

George received thunderous applause when he urged legislators not to be intimidated by business lobbies who threaten to leave the state if the minimum wage is raised. Noting that Pennsylvania is lagging behind its neighbors, he asked lawmakers, “Where are they going to go?”

State legislators who have sponsored the bills —Sen. Tina Tartaglione and Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia — joined the rally and spoke to the appreciative crowd. The legislator who generated the loudest cheers was state Rep. Robert Belfanti from central Pennsylvania’s Northumberland County.

Noting that a small group of senators in the Republican leadership was keeping legislation bottled up in committee, Belfanti urged Pennsylvanians to “picket the houses of those four or five senators if a minimum wage bill is not passed this year.”

Several speakers spoke of the need not only to raise the minimum wage, but to index it to the cost of living in order to prevent a repeat of the current impasse which has seen the minimum wage stagnate for nearly a decade.

Speakers also noted that the Legislature’s actions could put pressure on federal lawmakers who have resisted calls to raise the federal minimum wage.