A $15 minimum wage? Council will consider it, but they’d wind up in court

minimum wage

A national debate over whether or not low-wage workers should earn more than $7.25 an hour has gone on for years, but Philadelphia is one of the nation’s large cities that’s considering taking matters into its own hands as federally-proposed wage hikes stall.

City Council will hold a public hearing Wednesday morning to discuss raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But there are issues with the raise, namely that Pennsylvania really doesn’t want municipalities raising the minimum wage on their own. As the battle in Philadelphia for higher wages rages on, a similar battle is taking place in Harrisburg. For low-wage workers in Philly, it’s probably just going to come down to who passes a bill first.

Let’s take a look at the issues at hand:

Activists want a $15 minimum wage in the city

While several numbers that would raise the minimum wage have been tossed out ($8, $10 or $15) the national organization 15 Now has staunchly advocated for a $15 minimum wage in many of America’s cities. Its Philadelphia branch is the group that pushed for a City Council hearing, and they’ll present information to the city’s leaders on Wednesday.

They were also the ones who worked with 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (he’s the one up for re-election against Ori Feibush) in order for the councilman to draft a resolution that’d raise the wage level to $15. The group says that on Wednesday, it will present the “economic, moral, and legal case” for raising the minimum wage to the council committee on economic development and commerce.

Philadelphia wouldn’t be the first to circumvent the state and set its own minimum wage. More than 20 municipalities nationwide have instituted their own minimum wage, including Seattle which last summer passed a $15 minimum wage that will be phased in over the course of several years.

It’s not technically legal in Pennsylvania, though

Yeah, so there’s just one problem. Pennsylvania has a law that says municipalities can’t set their own minimum wage. In 2006, state lawmakers added a line to the state’s wage act that has been interpreted since then as a way to stymie cities from passing their own minimum wage.

The preemption clause reads that the state’s wage act will “preempt and supersede any local ordinance.” Seems pretty definitive?

But 15 Now says there’s a loophole

The group claims that the preemption clause and the rest of the wage act was meant to help low-wage workers, not hurt them. Some activists are saying that when viewed through that lens, the law may be interpreted as just trying to prevent municipalities from decreasing the minimum wage in their area, not increasing it. That would leave the door open for cities and towns wanting to raise the minimum wage.

So what’s that mean for the bill?

If Philadelphia passes Councilman Johnson’s bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, it’s safe to say the city would end up in court. The chambers of commerce in both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have come out against the bill, saying an increase in minimum wage would lead to a loss of jobs. Those groups would probably challenge the bill, and it’d be up to the state Supreme Court to decide who’s right here.

But if there’s anywhere this could happen in the state, it would be Philadelphia. Politicians have a hard time arguing against a minimum wage hike as the city still faces deep poverty and, oh yeah, they need union support to get re-elected.

Meanwhile, the state is considering similar hikes in minimum wage

Some Democrats in both the House and the Senate have advocated for a $15 minimum wage statewide, but with a Republican-controlled Congress, most legislators agree that’ll be a hard sell in Harrisburg. Other bills have been introduced to raise the wage to $8.75, $10.10 and $11.50.

Gov. Tom Wolf has publicly supported a minimum wage exceeding $10, and Democrats are reportedly planning a large springtime push for an increased minimum wage. Still, they haven’t gotten much public support from their GOP counterparts. At the state level, an increase will be tough to pass.

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