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Debt Ceiling Fiasco Prompts Workers To Seek Higher Miminum Wage

15 Jun, 2023 Chriss Swaney

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Washington, DC (Workers'Compensation.com) -- As politicians in Washington, D.C. continue pursuing their polarizing agendas, American workers are demanding higher minimum wages to cope with rising food, energy and housing costs.

In Pittsburgh, county and hospital workers are demanding a higher minimum wage to combat rising inflation.

Ian Saunders, a food and nutrition department worker at UPMC Presbyterian, said higher wages are critical to surviving this inflated economy.

“We need to raise wages for frontline hospital workers with the staffing shortages we face. Unfortunately, UPMC plans to take a couple of years just to raise their minimum wage to $18 and with skyrocketing rents, inflation and medical debt, that $18 won’t be much more than we’re making today. They can do better and that’s why hospital workers need a union and a seat at the table,’’ said Saunders.

The battle for higher wages and unionization continues to escalate as SEIU Healthcare, a powerful union, recently filed an antitrust complaint accusing UPMC of using monopoly power to suppress wages and benefits.

Nila Peyton, a UPMC administrative assistant in pathology for 17 year, said she is underpaid, overworked and can’t afford company-supplied health care. “I am struggling to make ends meet. Our medical insurance is very expensive and we’re required to use UPMC medical facilities. I have medical debt to my employer and so do many of my co-workers,’’ said Peyton, who struggles to feed her family.

And despite the rising cost of food and shelter, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald just vetoed a bill meant to raise the minimum wage for all hourly county employees. County Council passed a bill in early June with a 10-4 vote.

The bill would have raised the minimum wage for hourly full-time, part-time and seasonal county employees to $18 an hour in 2024. It would then increase by a dollar per-hour to $19 in 2025 and $20 in 2026. The bill’s supporters say its important to pay county employees a competitive wage amid rising costs and a crowded labor market.

But county officials argued that the ordinance “violates the Home Rule Charter and attempts to usurp authority of the executive branch.’’ The wage increases could also mean higher taxes for Allegheny County residents – home to one of the nation’s oldest residential population in the country.

David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. said the minimum wage should have been raised years ago. “You can’t survive on $7.25 an hour. We need an escalating rate where it goes up each year. Even $15 an hour does not do much in today’s fast-paced economy, ‘’ said Cooper.

Today, workers who earn the federal minimum wage make $7.25 an hour – about 29 percent less per hour than their counterparts made 50 years ago (after adjusting for inflation), according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“We can afford to pay the lowest-paid workers in America substantially more than their counterparts were paid a half century ago. Workers produce more today from each hour of work, with productivity nearly doubling since the late 1960s,’’ said Cooper.

On May 4, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour, saying the potent inflation Americans have faced over the past two years makes it necessary for the government to institute higher wages for workers.

“I really don’t think this proposal will get any traction as Washington politicians continue to bicker and avoid common ground on many issues,’’ said Paula B. Voos, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. “Raising the minimum wage is necessary and individual states are beginning to act despite the sluggishness in Washington, D.C., ‘’ said Voos.

The federal minimum wage in the United States has been $7.25 per hour since July 2009, the last time Congress raised it. Some types of labor are exempt: Employers may pay tipped labor a minimum of $2.13 per hour, as long as the hour wage plus tip income equals at least the minimum wage.

Debt Ceiling Fiasco Prompts Workers To Seek Higher Miminum Wage

Chriss Swaney

As politicians in Washington, D.C. continue pursuing their polarizing agendas, American workers are demanding higher minimum wages to cope with rising food, energy and housing costs.

In Pittsburgh, county and hospital workers are demanding a higher minimum wage to combat rising inflation.

Ian Saunders, a food and nutrition department worker at UPMC Presbyterian, said higher wages are critical to surviving this inflated economy.

“We need to raise wages for frontline hospital workers with the staffing shortages we face. Unfortunately, UPMC plans to take a couple of years just to raise their minimum wage to $18 and with skyrocketing rents, inflation and medical debt, that $18 won’t be much more than we’re making today. They can do better and that’s why hospital workers need a union and a seat at the table,’’ said Saunders.

The battle for higher wages and unionization continues to escalate as SEIU Healthcare, a powerful union, recently filed an antitrust complaint accusing UPMC of using monopoly power to suppress wages and benefits.

Nila Peyton, a UPMC administrative assistant in pathology for 17 year, said she is underpaid, overworked and can’t afford company-supplied health care. “I am struggling to make ends meet. Our medical insurance is very expensive and we’re required to use UPMC medical facilities. I have medical debt to my employer and so do many of my co-workers,’’ said Peyton, who struggles to feed her family.

And despite the rising cost of food and shelter, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald just vetoed a bill meant to raise the minimum wage for all hourly county employees. County Council passed a bill in early June with a 10-4 vote.

The bill would have raised the minimum wage for hourly full-time, part-time and seasonal county employees to $18 an hour in 2024. It would then increase by a dollar per-hour to $19 in 2025 and $20 in 2026. The bill’s supporters say its important to pay county employees a competitive wage amid rising costs and a crowded labor market.

But county officials argued that the ordinance “violates the Home Rule Charter and attempts to usurp authority of the executive branch.’’ The wage increases could also mean higher taxes for Allegheny County residents – home to one of the nation’s oldest residential population in the country.

David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. said the minimum wage should have been raised years ago. “You can’t survive on $7.25 an hour. We need an escalating rate where it goes up each year. Even $15 an hour does not do much in today’s fast-paced economy, ‘’ said Cooper.

Today, workers who earn the federal minimum wage make $7.25 an hour – about 29 percent less per hour than their counterparts made 50 years ago (after adjusting for inflation), according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“We can afford to pay the lowest-paid workers in America substantially more than their counterparts were paid a half century ago. Workers produce more today from each hour of work, with productivity nearly doubling since the late 1960s,’’ said Cooper.

On May 4, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour, saying the potent inflation Americans have faced over the past two years makes it necessary for the government to institute higher wages for workers.

“I really don’t think this proposal will get any traction as Washington politicians continue to bicker and avoid common ground on many issues,’’ said Paula B. Voos, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. “Raising the minimum wage is necessary and individual states are beginning to act despite the sluggishness in Washington, D.C., ‘’ said Voos.

The federal minimum wage in the United States has been $7.25 per hour since July 2009, the last time Congress raised it. Some types of labor are exempt: Employers may pay tipped labor a minimum of $2.13 per hour, as long as the hour wage plus tip income equals at least the minimum wage.


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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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