‘Shame on us’ Labor & Industry secretary says of Pa.’s stalled minimum wage

    The House hears testimony from Dept. of Labor & Industry Sec. Gerard Olesiak at Wednesday's Appropriations hearing (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

    Embarrassing.

    That’s the one word that Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Secretary Gerard Oleksiak and his top deputy used Wednesday to describe Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which has been mired at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade. 

    The two Wolf administration officials made the case for a wage hike during the agency’s annual budget hearing before the House Appropriations Committee. They told the Republican-controlled panel that the Legislature’s lack of movement on the issue has been “frustrating.”

    The Labor & Industry Department is currently spending slightly more than $80 million, according to data from the Wolf administration.

    After picking up some traction last fall, with a state Senate vote on a compromise bill boosting the wage to $9.50 an hour, the push for a wage hike sputtered and died in the House. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf declared the compromise bill dead, and renewed his push to hike the wage to $15 an hour, with future increases tied to inflation. 

    Wolf renews call for $15/hr. minimum wage. GOP isn’t interested

    At the hearing, state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, said, “Pennsylvania continues to lag every year,” citing states such as Alaska, Alabama, Montana, Missouri and South Dakota, which all have a higher minimum wage than Pennsylvania, to show just how far behind the Commonwealth is compared to other states on the issue. 

    Oleksiak said he believes putting pressure on lawmakers and businesses who do not support a minimum wage increase would help spur progress on the matter. 

    “Tell us why it’s okay to have a $7.25 minimum wage,” Oleksiak told the committee, “when we know increasing it to $12 would benefit 2 million Pennsylvanians.”

    Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, said that in his district, there are plenty of jobs paying more than the minimum, but added that businesses in the area have a hard time keeping employees in those positions.

    During his testimony, Oleksiak highlighted the difference for the House Appropriations Committee between minimum wage and a living wage. 

    Citing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, Oleksiak said that in some parts of the state Pennsylvanians would need a $20 per hour living wage to get by. 

    Oleksiak said he has heard from businesses across the state that shared their support for a minimum wage increase, saying it would increase employee satisfaction and retention.

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.