Mayor Jim Kenney

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney at City Hall. — Emma Lee/WHYY

Mayor Jim Kenney’s push to raise the minimum wage for city-contracted workers to $15 an hour moved one step forward this week with a unanimous City Council committee vote in support of the incremental pay raise.

The legislation would increase the minimum wage for city workers and employees of city contractors and subcontractors over the next four years, hitting $15 an hour in 2022. It comes four years after the City of Philadelphia first mandated a $12-an-hour minimum wage for city workers, contractors and subcontractors.

The city doesn’t know how many workers employed by contractors and subcontractors would be affected by the proposed law but the impact would be significant. The city spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on professional service contracts to do everything from keeping the airport running to providing after-school care and elder care to administering animal control centers, so workers like baggage handlers, after-school aides, janitors and environmental services employees would all see their paychecks affected.

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The Committee on Labor and Civil Service’s green light means that the bill will go before City Council for a first reading on Dec. 6. It originally was introduced by City Councilman Mark Squilla in September on behalf of Kenney. Squilla said the proposed law sets an example for other businesses.

“We can show that the city cares about the people of this city,” Squilla said. “If we do that and if we lead, others will follow. And you’ll see private industries start to follow along, and knowing that people of our city deserve a living wage.”

The current minimum wage for city-paid workers is $12.20, compared with Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25. State workers and employees of state contractors and subcontractors earn a minimum wage of $12 an hour, with raises set to bring state workers up to $15 per hour by 2024.

If Kenney’s proposed bill becomes law, the minimum wage would increase to $13.25 on July 1, 2019, and continue to increase each year after until 2022 when it hits $15 an hour.

As for contracts, the ordinance will be effective 120 days after becoming law and will apply to new, renewed and amended city contracts.

Richard Lazar, deputy mayor of labor, said the proposed bill would help the city’s poverty issue.

Philadelphia remains the poorest of the country’s top 10 major cities with a poverty rate of about 26 percent that has not budged in years, despite an increasingly prosperous Center City and increased property values, and rents, citywide.

With the cost of living in Philadelphia inching up and the gap between the haves and have-nots growing, Kenney has struggled to move the needle on anti-poverty efforts. The proposed wage hike is one way to mitigate the problem.

“At $15 an hour, hardworking Philadelphians can truly begin to climb out of poverty,” Lazar said.

The bill’s move forward comes weeks after the council’s Committee on Law and Government moved Councilwoman Helen Gym’s “Fair Workweek” scheduling bill one step closer to becoming law.

Gym’s bill requires large-scale employers to provide workers with their schedules 10 days ahead and to pay them for adjustments made after, in addition to any work performed.

“I am proud that we are going to talk about what it means to lift up this city’s minimum wage,” Gym said. “And have it extend to all of our subcontractors within the city of Philadelphia, an extremely powerful responsibility.”

UNITE HERE Philly leader Michelle Newman, who works at a bagel shop at the Philadelphia Airport making $13 an hour, says “working at the airport has been a really positive thing,” but she still struggles to make ends meet.

The mother of three said she gets by on food stamps and cutting back “where I can.”

Newman says she wants to provide “more than just a roof” over her children’s heads, and take them on a trip or “simply somewhere fun.” But rent, food, child care, transportation and utility bills make is hard to do much else.

“When it comes to ending poverty in Philadelphia, there are no shortcuts,” she said. “We have to raise wages.” — (WHYY)

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