City council on round two for prevailing wage

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The nine members of Pittsburgh City Council have signed on as co-sponsors of prevailing wage legislation that will require employers to pay certain service industry workers a wage on par with others in the industry. Although the bill won’t be voted on until Feb. 2, many giving testimony at the public hearing for the bill on Jan. 25 felt like Groundhog Day had come a week early.

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SOCIAL JUSTICE— From left: Karen Battle and Rev. Ricky Burgess celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by protesting for the prevailing wage bill.

“Looking at the street, there’s a lot of trouble I could get myself into,” said Jazzbert Fridai. “But having a job with a good wage and benefits could prevent that.”

City council heard the same kind of testimony from the public last year when they voted unanimously to pass the legislation, which was later vetoed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.     The veto came on New Year’s Eve after most council members had gone home and former council representatives Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne had already given up their seats in lieu of incoming replacements. Council could not overturn the veto because it is against council rules to hold a meeting without giving 24-hour notice.

While council has since seen two new additions in Daniel Lavelle and Natalia Rudiak, they seem more poised than ever to pass this legislation.

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COMING TOGETHER—From left: Councilman Doug Shields, the bill’s original sponsor, stands with Rev. John Welch.

“We have to do the right thing in passing it,” said Lavelle. “There may be some room to clarify or even strengthen it. This is about strengthening your lives.”

Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess echoed other members of council who said passing the bill was a matter of social justice. He has also introduced living wage legislation that will be voted on later in the month.

“I’m aware of the fact this bill is very targeted. It will only affect a couple hundred people over the next few years,” Burgess said. “But it’s a symbol. It’s the first step.”

Under the new legislation, a prevailing wage would be paid to workers such as janitors, security officers, cooks and dishwashers in developments that have received $100,000 or more of city aid. Eligible developments also have to be more than 100,000 square feet except for grocery stores that must only be over 30,000 square feet.

Although they were overwhelming outnumbered, representatives of the private sector and the Urban Redevelopment Authority also attended the hearing to express opposition to the bill in its current state.

“The concern is that through the process of developing this legislation, the private sector was not engaged,” said Dewitt Peart, executive vice president, economic development and president, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. “The legislation may have unintended consequences.”

“This bill has already been vetted,” said Rev. John Welch, president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, in response to the representatives. “The private sector has had the same opportunity we’ve had to come and testify at council and for them to do that now is just a delay tactic.”

Many of those who testified at the hearing were not service workers and will not be personally impacted by the bill. Others already hold service jobs where they are paid a wage equal to or higher than the prevailing wage.

“Sometimes I didn’t have enough money to buy groceries at the grocery store where I worked,” said Bridget Noel, a mother of three. “This is what the prevailing wage is about. It’s about living not struggling.”

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