The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour, the lowest permitted by federal law. Since minimum wage employees working full-time and year-round in Pennsylvania earn just $14,500 per year, a single parent with two children working full-time still falls $4,000 below the federal poverty line.
Recently, we told you five reasons we need to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania, and why it’s a woman’s issue. Last week, Governor Wolf called for the Pennsylvania Legislature to stop blocking minimum-wage bills when he signed an executive order to raise the pay of certain state employees to $10.15 per hour. But advocates are not just calling to raise the hourly rate; they are calling for one fair wage.
So what does that mean?
“One fair wage” is the next step in the fight for fair payment. Led by Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United), the One Fair Wage campaign calls for the elimination of the two-tiered wage system; specifically, it seeks to abolish the subminimum wage, sometimes called the tipped wage.
The subminimum wage in Pennsylvania is $2.83 per hour. In theory, workers who earn $2.83 per hour and otherwise rely on tips earn at least $7.25 per hour, due to laws that require an employer to “top off” employee pay by making up the difference when they come up short. In reality, it is difficult to enforce compliance. In fact, failure to “top off” the pay of tipped workers so it meets the minimum is a common form of wage theft, which is rampant in Pennsylvania.
From ROC United’s fact sheet on One Fair Wage:
- Due to the lobbying power of the National Restaurant Association and Fortune 500 restaurant corporations, the restaurant industry is one of the only industries that gets away, in 43 states, with not paying the great majority of its workers — servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders — at least the minimum wage.
- The restaurant industry includes 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the country. In fact, servers are twice as likely to need food stamps than the rest of the US workforce, and three times as likely to live in poverty.
- Seventy percent of servers are women. Since a living base wage is not guaranteed, and women are instead forced to depend on tips, they frequently have to put up with sexual harassment from customers, co-workers, and management. The EEOC has targeted the restaurant industry as the single largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with a rate FIVE TIMES higher than any other industry.
At noon today, ROC United and allies will host a press conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, in part as a counter-protest to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association’s annual lobbying day. They will call on Pennsylvania lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 per hour, but to also eliminate the subminimum wage by implementing one fair wage.
“For nearly the past three decades, the PRLA has descended upon the Pennsylvania State Capitol with an army of business owners, lobbyists, and money in an effort to further crush working standards in the restaurant industry,” said ROC United Co-Founder and Co-Director, Saru Jayaraman. “As a result, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania has been raised only once in the last decade; paid sick days legislation has never even made it out of committee; wage theft legislation is nonexistent; and the tipped minimum wage has been frozen for nearly two decades. Enough is enough.”
It’s important to note that eliminating the subminimum wage is not the same thing as banning tipping. So far, seven states have implemented one fair wage. In the wake of eliminating the subminimum wage, states such as California actually enjoy higher rates of tipping than states that still enable employers to avoid paying certain employees, according to Jayaraman, who is also the author of Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.
Advocates and workers are hosting One Fair Wage rallies and marches all over the state of Pennsylvania all week. Click here find an event near you.
The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.