As Congress starts sprint on COVID relief bill, Pa.’s Casey, Evans push minimum wage hike | Tuesday Morning Coffee

February 23, 2021 7:13 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With Congress moving toward a possible vote later this week on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, three Pennsylvania Democrats, aided by allies in organized labor, say they want to make sure it includes a minimum wage hike.

“We should do this, and I believe we should do this as part of the upcoming COVID-19 legislation,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said during a conference call with journalists on Monday. “Thirty-two million Americans will get a raise if we pass this legislation.”

The House could vote by Friday or Saturday of this week on Biden’s sweeping package that would, among other things, provide $1,400 in direct payments to individuals and up to $5,600 for a family of four, CNN reported. A Senate vote would come later.

On Monday, the bill cleared a key procedural hurdle as the House Budget Committee voted to advance it. But the fate of any minimum wage hike is far from assured. Biden has said he might have withdraw the provision from the bill and submit it as a separate piece of legislation, USA Today reported.

The push to increase the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour comes even as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has launched a renewed push to raise the wage in the Keystone State, where the state’s minimum of $7.25 has not been increased since 2009. As it has for all of Wolf’s tenure, the increase faces stiff resistance from Republicans who control the General Assembly and their allies in the business community.

On Monday, Gabe Morgan, the state council president of the massive Service Employees International Union, which represents tens of thousands of service workers statewide, said he believes a phased hike in the federal minimum is the best way to guarantee the wage is raised in Pennsylvania.

“We know it will take federal action to move essential workers up and out of poverty,” Morgan said. “They have been working very hard and at great risk, but remain in poverty.”

Barbara Coleman, a certified nursing assistant and labor leader from Scranton speaks during a conference call on Monday, 2/21/21 (Screen Capture)

That’s particularly the case for Black and Brown Pennsylvanians, who are disproportionately underpaid, lawmakers and advocates said Monday.

“Right now, you need two to three jobs to survive,” Barbara Coleman, a certified nursing assistant and union leader at a Scranton nursing home said. “Never mind putting meat and potatoes on the table. Right now, we can’t even afford the plate.

“We have children who are falling behind because parents are working 60 hours a week. They’re working extra shifts to make sure the electricity isn’t shut off,” Coleman continued. “Off days aren’t spent with kids, they’re spent at food banks. It’s a terrible cycle of poverty we can’t get out of. How can we be the greatest country when our essential workers aren’t being protected? … This has to end. We can’t work any harder.”

Tammi Richburg, a security guard at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, said a wage hike is long overdue for many of her colleagues.

“You have people been there up to 20 years who ain’t even up to $15 [an hour],” she said. “I think everyone should be up to $15 by now. I’ve been through a lot with COVID-19. I think it’s essential these workers get a raise.”

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, speaks during a conference call on Monday, 2/21/21 (Screen Capture)

The bill now before Congress would raise the federal minimum in steps until it hit $15 an hour in 2025 and would narrow racial and gender gaps, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank. Impacted workers would earn an additional $3,300 a year, and a majority (59 percent) whose total family income would receive a pay increase if the wage is raised to $15 an hour in four years’ time, the analysis found.

Despite that, the bill has had trouble garnering support, even among Democrats. One notable critic is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is facing fierce backlash for his opposition, the Guardian reported. Manchin, who hails from one of the poorest states in the country, has said he could support a hike to $11, according to the GuardianU.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also has reservations.

That could be an issue for Senate Democrats, who hope to use a partisan process known as “budget reconciliation” to fast track the bill and bypass the chamber’s Republicans. But that means that every Senate Democrat has to be onside.

“In some ways, this is a debate on increasing the minimum wage that has just started,” Casey told the Capital-Star when he was asked about his skeptical colleagues. “I think a lot of members of Congress are just starting to review the benefits. I think the benefits are irrefutable.”

Speaking to journalists Monday, U.S Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, said he believes the bill is a leadership test for lawmakers.

“In Marine officer training, they have a saying that officers eat last. They literally train you to make sure that every person in your command has everything they need before the officers eat,” Lamb, a former Marine, said. “The year we have been through, the pandemic, has really been like that” for essential workers, he said.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives the last time the Keystone State raised its wage, said the majority-Democrat U.S. House would pass a wage hike by Saturday. He remained confident that it would get over the goal line, despite the steep climb it faces in the Senate.

“We should be valuing work and we should value these folks who work every single day,” he said. “We’re going to be at this around the clock, whatever it takes. We’ll be here with SEIU, and it’s that kind of partnership that makes a difference.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Amid partisan acrimony over the pandemic, a bipartisan vaccine team says it’s hopeful for the futureElizabeth Hardison reports.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Yorkgrilled the state’s top environmental regulator during a Monday budget hearing, asking him:  What assurance do you have that Pa. citizens ‘aren’t going to die like they did in Texas?’ Stephen Caruso has the details on the very odd exchange.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to weigh in on mail-in ballot challenges brought by Republicans in the state Senate and on Capitol Hill, putting a final nail in those months-old legal fights. Elizabeth Hardison has the story.

And Republicans in western Pennsylvania have tapped the creator of the so-called “Trump House” to run in a special election for a Westmoreland County-based state House this May, Stephen Caruso also reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Texas A&M scholar shares what she learned when when she recreated the famous ‘doll test’ that looked at how Black kids see race. And looking to provide ‘support my generation didn’t have’ a Penn State alum has gifted  $1 million to the LGBTQIA student center at the state-related school’s University Park campus, opinion regular Frank Pizzoli writes.

School officials in Delaware and Chester counties are considering relaxing distancing guidelines to teach more students in school, the Inquirer reports.
Pennsylvania Republicans will meet Wednesday to discuss the future of the party and “issues arising out of the impeachment” of former President Donald Trump, the Post-Gazette reports. It’s not immediately clear whether that will include action against U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who voted to convict Trump.
The Pennsylvania State Police are “struggling to evolve” amid welcome changes in attitude toward policing, PennLive reports.
Public schools in Bethlehem are considering a return to 5-day instruction starting in April, the Morning Call reports.
The Citizens-Voice runs down what qualified residents need to know about rescheduling their appointments to receive a first or second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
USA Today’s Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau looks at why the Keystone State has so many Capitol riot arrests.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Philadelphia educators talk to WHYY-FM about the pros and cons of hybrid learning.
Pennsylvania’s new mandate to push out the vaccine could be ‘really, really, really hard to hit,’ WESA-FM reports.
For the birders among you, a rare half-male, half-female cardinal has been spotted in Erie, GoErie reports.
Black History Month project in Washington County is highlighting the efforts of local contributors, the Observer-Reporter reports.
State Rep. Marty Flynn, R-Lackawannahas formally declared for the vacant 22nd Senate District seat most recently held by Democratic Sen. John Blake, who resigned to go work for U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th DistrictPoliticsPA has the story.
Tenants are struggling amid a patchwork of pandemic relief reports.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made equity a priority at his agency, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 1 p.m. today. Here’s a look at the day’s committee action.
In the Senate:
11:30 a.m., Senate floor: 
Labor & Industry Committee
Off the Floor: Senate Appropriations Committee
In the House:
Budget hearings before House Appropriations Committee, all in the House chamber:
10 a.m.: Department of Transportation
1 p.m.:  Department of General Services
3 p.m.: Liquor Control Board/Bur. of Liquor Control Enforcement
10 a.m, G50 Irvis: House Education Committee
2 p.m., 60 EW: House Democratic Policy Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, holds an 8 a.m. breakfast at Home 231 on North Street. Admission runs $500 to $2,500.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to former Capital-Star Pittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Our favorite Marvel movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was on TV the other night. And as is so often the case, when it comes on, we pretty much drop whatever we’re doing to watch it. In addition to being a great political thriller, it also makes use of one of the best soul records of all time: ‘Trouble Man,’ by the late, great Marvin Gaye. So here’s the entire LP for your morning listening pleasure.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina dropped a toughie to Tampa 
on Monday, losing 4-2 at home at the PNC Bank Arena.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.