Groups rally nationwide to support upping minimum wage
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Residents, community groups and activists, joining their counterparts in cities throughout the country, rallied in Market Square today in support of federal legislation to increase the minimum wage.
"What we're trying to do is create an awareness not only in the community, but with elected officials, and say Pittsburgh can continue to lag behind and only live up to federal standards, or it can step up and provide better opportunities for its citizens," said Kyndall Mason of One Pittsburgh, a community group that organized the event.
The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that 28 million Americans would see their wallets fatten if a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 an hour by 2014 is passed by Congress.
The last time Congress passed a bill to increase the minimum wage, which community members called "barely survivable," was in 2007. The hikes topped out at $7.25 in 2009 and haven't increased nationally or in Pennsylvania since.
"I don't know how anyone could raise a family on $7.25 an hour," said Paul Griffin, a 57-year-old member of the Service Employees International Union.
The group swelled to about 150 and marched along wet streets to the City County Building about 10 a.m., shouting, "The rich got theirs, ours never arrived, can't make a living on $7.25," and other rhythmic chants.
A press conference was held outside City Council chambers, followed by Councilman Bill Peduto speaking in favor of raising wages and the council passing a resolution to pressure lawmakers in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., to support the federal minimum wage bill.
"When minimum wage doesn't rise at the same rate as inflation, we're actually making the problem worse," Mr. Peduto said.
Later, City Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation that would resurrect a local minimum wage for city employees and workers employed by city vendors.
The exact rate is based on a formula and would be set by the city controller's office. The councilman's office estimated that the rate would be at least $11.50 per hour.
Council passed a so-called "living wage" ordinance in 2001, but passed a second bill the following year stipulating that it would not take effect until Allegheny County enacted one, too. That never happened.
Mr. Burgess' bill would remove the language tying the city's living wage to action by the county. He said he's particularly concerned about higher wages for the City-County Building's custodians, security guards and food workers. All are employed by vendors.
This is Mr. Burgess' second effort to resurrect the living wage. He introduced legislation to do so in 2010, but it died last year at the end of the legislative term. His decision to re-introduce the bill was not related to Tuesday's protest his office said.
If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be more than $10 an hour today, the ecomics institute said.
"We're pretty aware that a resolution only holds as much weight as the intention of those that want it passed," Ms. Mason said "The next step for us is to keep the pressure on City Council to keep their commitment."
First Published July 24, 2012 3:44 pm