Saturday, April 2, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed an executive order requiring Pennsylvania state workers under his jurisdiction and employees working on future state contracts to be paid at least $10.15 an hour.
The order would mean a 40 percent raise for any affected worker earning the state's minimum wage, which at $7.25 is equal to the federal minimum. But Mr. Wolf acknowledged that its effect will be limited: The administration estimates the order will raise the wages of about 450 out of approximately 79,000 state workers under the governor's jurisdiction, most of them seasonal clerical workers. The wage requirement would be indexed to inflation.
Organizations that negotiate contracts with the state after July 1 will be required to pay at least $10.15 an hour to employees who do certain amounts of work on the contract. The governor's office said it estimates that about 109 vendors may be affected by the executive order, in areas such as food preparation and janitorial, landscaping and delivery services.
"The goal is to do what I can as governor to make sure that the people working in Pennsylvania have a living wage, or as close to a living wage as we can get," Mr. Wolf said.
With legislative Democrats standing by his side, Mr. Wolf called on the General Assembly to pass legislation raising the state's minimum wage. He said a higher wage would help workers, boost morale and productivity at businesses and increase revenue to the state.
Republicans responded coolly.
"Outside of his two budget addresses, raising the minimum wage is not something the governor has emphasized as important during our ongoing conversations," Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a statement. Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, said: "Everything he's doing right now is to increase leverage for taxes."
The National Federation of Independent Business said the executive order will be costly to small businesses. Neal Lesher, the group's legislative director, said in a statement that the order will prevent small businesses from bidding for state contracts. Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said there are better ways - like training programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit - to assist working adults.
"If we're concerned about that single parent trying to raise a family on a small wage, let's look at those programs that can help them to do that," he said. The business groups pointed to a 2015 report by the state Independent Fiscal Office that projected that raising the Pennsylvania minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would result in the loss of 31,000 jobs.
Democrats and the SEIU labor union praised the executive order, saying it would help workers. The administration estimates the executive order will cost the state $4.117 million in the fiscal year starting July 1. It does not affect state grants for counties to provide social services. And it does not affect the state-related universities, such as the University of Pittsburgh, or agencies, such as the State System of Higher Education, that are outside the governor's jurisdiction.
Fourteen states began 2016 with higher minimum wages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Overall, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have minimum wages higher than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, according to the conference.
In February 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, beginning the following year.