The city is waiting to hear whether or not Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will sign a piece of legislation, which calls for a prevailing wage to be paid to service industry workers in developments that have received $100,000 or more of city aid.
City council unanimously passed the legislation on Dec. 21 by a vote of 9-0. For this reason, the mayor will be unable to veto the legislation, but his support or lack of support could have an impact on future relations with the council.
“It’s an absolute must to have public involvement in private development,” said City council President Doug Shields. “If you are going to use public funds I think we can make some demands in the deal.”
Under the new legislation, workers in the building service, food service, grocery and hotel sectors of developments that receive public subsidies and are more than 100,000-square feet would be paid wages comparable to others in the same position. Grocery stores are exempt from the 100,000 square feet limit and must only be over 30,000 square feet.
These workers include janitors, security officers, cooks, dishwashers, housekeepers and cake decorators. A full listing of positions can be found in the final copy of the bill.
Shields, who sponsored the legislation, explained how this would help all tax-payers, not just those receiving a prevailing wage through employment. He said employees who are able to provide for their families will not have to rely on government assistance such as food stamps,
“It doesn’t pay to keep people poor. It doesn’t benefit society in any way. Why would I want to impoverish people in service positions,” Shields said. “If you want to pay them minimum wage, you can do that but don’t come to me asking for public money.”
In order to determine the impact this would have on the city’s economy, council heard from several developers at a hearing earlier in the month. Jeff Fleming, from the consulting firm Amazing Hospitality Group, said the legislation wouldn’t deter hotels from developing in the city because employees with better wages are less likely to quit or be fired which reduces company costs.
Others at the hearing explained that there are already private companies paying these wages to their workers. They said these companies are still able to compete and make a profit.
According to Shields the mayor has expressed open opposition to the legislation. The mayor did not return calls for comment.
“(The mayor” claims without producing an ounce of evidence that this is going to drive all of the business out of Pittsburgh,” Shields said. “Any time you hear about someone doing something that’s going to do something that’s going to help the lower end of the economy, every Republican starts saying how much this is going to hurt the economy.”
This legislation comes as the first victory for Pittsburgh United, the community organization that has been leading the fight for prevailing wage legislation. Their battle began with an attempt to acquire a community benefits agreement for development on the North Shore, but this goal was never reached.
According to Pittsburgh United, there are large disparities between workers in different locations in the city. For instance, they said a janitorial worker in one of the North Shore office buildings built with a public subsidy makes $8 an hour and does not receive benefits while a janitorial worker Downtown makes $13 an hour and receives family health benefits.
Prevailing wage laws exist in other cities such as Philadelphia, and New York and some states, such as New Jersey and Connecticut, have also adopted statewide prevailing wage laws.