Election 2019

Ballot question: Should Philly set a $15-an-hour minimum wage?

State law currently makes it illegal.

A rally to raise the minimum wage at the City County Portico in Downtown Pittsburgh.

A rally to raise the minimum wage at the City County Portico in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

UPDATE May 22: This question was approved with 82 percent of the vote.

On a federal level, the minimum wage has stagnated at $7.35 an hour, but there’s been a nationwide push to raise the wage for hourly workers to $15 in various states and cities across the nation. This question asks if Philly should take up that fight.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call on the General Assembly to either increase the Pennsylvania minimum wage now, so that it reaches $15 an hour, in stages, by 2025; or allow the City of Philadelphia to itself provide for a decent, family sustaining, living wage for working Philadelphians?

What does it mean?

This is really a two-part question, but you only get one answer.

The first part is mostly symbolic: Should the city to ask the state legislature in Harrisburg to increase the minimum wage to $15 on a state level? If you believe that should be the bare minimum for workers across the Keystone State, than the answer is yes. If you’re not sold on the economics behind the living wage, vote no and move on.

The second part deals just with Philly. Assuming Pennsylvania will be slower to adopt or implement a $15 minimum wage statewide, the city wants voters’ permission to ask for the second-best thing: let Philly set its own minimum wage.

Since 2006, Pennsylvania has preempted local governments from setting their own minimum wage. In other words, Philly can’t just make its own standard — because there’s legislation that directly says municipalities within the state can’t do that. In order for Philadelphia to raise its minimum wage, the state legislature would need to repeal what’s called the “preemption clause.”

The new minimum would grow in stages, if implemented. That means that there would not be an immediate jump from the current standard, $7.25. It would gradually increase year by year until it would reach $15 by 2025.

To be clear, this initiative is seeking to raise the minimum wage for all workers. The city and state governments, two of the largest employers in Pennsylvania, have already begun the move towards $15 for their employees.

The current minimum wage for Philly municipal workers is $12.20. Last year, City Council passed a bill to ensure a $15 minimum wage for city workers for employees of contractors and subcontractors — a bump that’s also being implemented in phases.

State workers and employees of state contractors and subcontractors get $12 an hour, with increases set to bring that up to $15 by 2024.

Pennsylvania is currently behind other states in raising the wage for all. Nationwide, 29 states have raised the wage floor for their workers — even our neighbor New Jersey, which is shooting for $15 by 2024, with incremental raises.

Who’s for it?

  • Councilmember Cherelle Parker
  • Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown
  • Councilmember Mark Squilla
  • Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO
  • Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER)

Against it?

What other questions are on the ballot?

Access the full Billy Penn procrastinator’s guide to the May primary election here.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2019 stories.

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