Allegheny County District 10 Councilman Bill Robinson has introduced legislation that would require contractors and their subcontractors, that receive county subsidies of $100,000 or more to pay employees a prevailing wage.
That wage would be either the wage paid to the majority of employees in the job classification at similar locations in Allegheny County, or the wages determined by the (state) Secretary of Labor for the job classification, which ever is higher.
If enacted, the wage law would apply to every county service contract for “building service or food service work”—including those awarded to nonprofits—and would cover building service employees, food service employees, hotel employees and grocery employees.
The wage law would apply to hotels of at least 100,000 square feet and groceries of at least 30,000 square feet. It would also cover “institutions” of more than 100,000 square feet, meaning it would apply to employees at multi-unit residential developments and to universities and hospitals.
“The people at the lowest end of the wage scale are the ones I’m trying to help,” said Robinson. “This is consistent with my interest in creating economic opportunities for as many people in Allegheny County as we can whenever we leverage public dollars.”
Robinson’s bill differs from the different wage bills being debated in city council in that it would not apply to say, a McDonald’s opening in retail space in a new large development, but would to employees in a cafeteria in the same complex. It also differs from Rev. Ricky Burgess’ “living wage” proposal, which would apply to any job in the city.
Robinson’s bill, if passed before Pittsburgh council takes action, would apply to the city as well.
What if both pass, with different criteria? “I don’t know. I think that’s one reason the mayor wanted to wait and see what we did,” said Robinson. “I don’t want to get drawn into a fight with the city. Maybe some kind of working group can be put together to come up with one bill that can be passed by both. It might turn out very differently from what either is proposing. I’ve already said I’d have no problem serving on such a group.”
Robinson added that he doesn’t believe such a wage policy will drive businesses to Beaver, Butler or other neighboring counties.
“These jobs are already here. People have these jobs now,” he said. “I don’t believe people will go to a different county because of a prevailing wage.”
Robinson’s bill, introduced Jan. 19, is now in the Economic Development and Housing committee. Robinson said committee chair Michael Finnerty is working to schedule two public hearings on the legislation. Council members Charles Martoni and Amanda Green Hawkins have agreed to co-sponsor the bill.
“Beyond that I couldn’t say how much support it has,” said Robinson. “We’ll probably hear a debate at least as spirited and angry as with the living wage bill of a few years ago.”
In 2001, a county “living wage” bill that would have required all county contractors to pay employees $9.12 per hour, or $10.62 per hour without benefits, was voted down after a number of nonprofit agencies, including the African American Chamber of Commerce and Manchester Bidwell Corp., noted it would disproportionally hurt the Black and poor residents it purported to help.
Robinson said he has not heard anything yet from nonprofits about his bill.
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