After nearly two months since the bill was first proposed, legislation to activate the city’s living wage ordinance received a public hearing before city council. However, the bill proposed by Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess seems to have gained minimal public support with only a handful of speakers attending the March 11 hearing.
|PUBLIC HEARING—Rev. Ricky Burgess hears public testimony in support of his living wage legislation.
“The living wage can be implemented and it needs to be. To live on minimum wage is impossible,” said Black Political Empowerment Project Chairman Tim Stevens. “We’re hoping council will take the lead and do the research.”
Under the legislation, a wage estimated at $11.50 an hour would be paid to employees working for the city, its contractors and developments receiving subsidies.
“The most striking example is the security guards and the maintenance workers of our city,” Burgess said. “Do not those people who are doing the same work in our city deserve a fair wage?”
In 2001, city council approved the living wage bill calling for $9.12 an hour plus health insurance, or $10.62 without, to be paid to workers whose jobs were paid, supported or subsidized with city money. However, the legislation was conditional on Allegheny County passing similar legislation, which has never occurred.
Last month city council unanimously passed similar legislation that requires a prevailing wage be paid to service industry workers in developments that have received public subsidies. Although this bill will impact fewer workers than the living wage would, (living wage may impact 1,000 to 2,000 workers compared to maybe 200 for the prevailing wage) the public hearings for the prevailing wage were packed with speakers.
“I think the people will support it. Many of the arguments about prevailing wage were actually that it didn’t impact enough people,” Burgess said. “The union leaders certainly were organized and achieved a victory and now it’s time to take it to everyone.”
Among those most supportive of the prevailing wage was Pittsburgh United, a coalition of community groups, churches and unions. Although they sent representation to the hearing, member Will Thompkins said a scheduling conflict kept him and many others from attending.
“The lack of numbers should not reflect that we’re not supportive of the bill,” Thompkins said. “Essentially it’s necessary it’s long overdue. If we’re going to elevate members of our community out of poverty we need that legislation.”
The council members who have voiced their support are Daniel Lavelle, district 6, Doug Shields, district 5, and Council President Darlene Harris, district 1.
Those wary of the bill site the city’s current financial hardship. Under the prevailing wage, private entities receiving public tax dollars are responsible for their workers increased wages, but an increase for city workers could fall solely on the backs of taxpayers.
Those supportive of the bill see it as a moral issue. They also say increased wages will decrease the number of families who require public assistance.
“I think it would be very positive for the city to adopt the living wage bill as law for Pittsburgh,” said Carl Redwood, chair, Hill Consensus Group. “A lot of people are working in jobs everyday and don’t have enough to provide for their family and afford health insurance. A living wage would allow families to sustain themselves.”
Redwood, who did not attend the hearing but who is also a member of Pittsburgh United said fighting for legislation such as the living wage ordinance requires a lot of resources.
“I know the prevailing wage bill was just passed and a lot of people celebrated that. It’s going to take a of lot work,” said Redwood. “Pittsburgh United supports it; I support it, but there’s going to be a heavy battle against it.”