County wage bill gains support

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Proposals for a "prevailing wage" ordinance for Allegheny County drew support Wednesday from every speaker at a public hearing called to consider the measure.

The bill, based on a recently approved Pittsburgh ordinance, would set minimum pay standards for janitorial, grocery, hotel and food-service employees working at future county-assisted development projects. They also would impose stiff fines on companies that violated the new pay rules. Wage rates would be based on the average paid for similar jobs across the county.

"I am glad to see County Council stepping up to consider an ordinance that mirrors city legislation," said Sam Williamson of Workers United. "When tax dollars are spent to create new development, we should not be creating any poverty-level jobs."

He was one of nine speakers at a rally in the Allegheny County Courthouse that preceded the public hearing. Both the rally and the hearing, chaired by Councilman Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, drew about 60 people.

Many of the people who spoke in favor of the bill at the rally delivered similar messages at the hearing.

"I'm that flesh-and-blood person who needs the prevailing wage bill," Faith Jetter, of Lawrenceville, told members of council's economic development and housing committee. A room attendant at a Downtown hotel, she said she feared that wages could be undercut by future competitors who received county subsidies but underpaid their workers.

Without a prevailing wage bill, developers could benefit from government aid, then seek to pay their workers less than the average for the region, Mr. Williamson told council members.

Their positions drew support from several members of council. They included Mr. Finnerty, council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, and Councilman William Robinson, D-Hill District. Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Robinson co-sponsored the most recent version of the legislation, which is modeled on a city ordinance approved Feb. 15.

Council members Joan Cleary, D-Brentwood, Charles Martoni, D- Swissvale, Amanda Green Hawkins, D-Stanton Heights, and John DeFazio, D-Shaler, have sponsored similar measures.

Mr. Finnerty predicted that proposed ordinance would be approved by his committee and sent on to full council for final action as soon as its April 20 business meeting.

The most recent version of the prevailing wage bill would require employers at future county-subsidized development projects like hotels and grocery stores to pay their workers wages that match county averages.

The ordinance would apply to developments that receive county aid worth $100,000 or more. Projects covered would include commercial real estate of 100,000 square feet or more, grocery stores with at least 25,000 square feet of retail space and housing projects with 50 or more units.

Unlike the proposed county ordinance, the city version of the law generated weeks of rancorous debate. It became law on Feb. 15 without Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's signature. Its provisions are scheduled to take effect in mid-April.

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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