By Joanna McClinton, Lauren Jacobs, and Jessie Ulibarri
For too long, Pennsylvanians have suffered from the insidious use of a tool called preemption, a concept exploited by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of corporate lobbyists who meet behind closed doors to create ‘model bills’ that benefit corporations’ bottom line at public expense.
Here’s how it works: when powerful corporate lobbyists learn that a city, township or borough is planning to pass a law with which they disagree–usually one that helps working families like raising the minimum wage or paid sick days–ALEC intervenes by influencing state legislators to prohibit local governments from passing their own laws. So much for small government and local democracy.
Preemption has been used here in Pennsylvania to ban any local wage law. Yet, Pennsylvania’s own minimum wage has been flat for more than a decade, stuck at the lowest level allowed by federal law, $7.25 per hour. This past January, more than 5 million workers in 20 states and in 24 cities and counties around the nation started earning a higher wage.
But not Pennsylvania.
Workers in each of our neighboring states earn more than Pennsylvania workers. New Jersey raised their minimum wage to $15 per hour. And despite what you may have heard, the vast majority of workers in Pennsylvania who would get a raise as a result of a statewide minimum wage increase are adults (89.7 percent) working full-time (58.5 percent).
On average, Pennsylvania workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase earn half of their family’s income. When corporations and state legislatures block local lawmaking and rob local governments of their power to respond to the needs and concerns of their communities, there are real life consequences.
As a new report released by the Partnership for Working Families shows, the people most affected by preemption are the people most in need – women and particularly women of color.
Pittsburgh voters authorized local policy that allows all workers to earn sick time on the job. But corporate groups have now hired an army of lawyers to keep tens of thousands of workers from getting this much needed benefit, citing the state preemption laws.
Women of color need that time because they are overrepresented in low wage and temp jobs and jobs that bring them into contact with sick people while also tending to have more family caregiving responsibilities. The abuse of preemption in our state creates unfair outcomes for workers – white, black and brown alike – and weakens our democracy.
It’s time for conservative lawmakers kowtowing to corporate interests in Pennsylvania stop overturning municipal decisions, stop threatening to withhold funds from cities, and stop punishing local officials for trying to do what’s best for their own communities.
Working people all across Pennsylvania need the state legislature to pass a minimum wage bill that sets a statewide wage floor for all Pennsylvania workers, and paves the way for local minimum wage initiatives that go beyond the statewide minimum.
Overturning these burdensome preemption laws and allowing local governments to take care of their own communities is beginning to happen in other parts of the country. Just the other day, the Colorado legislature passed a bill allowing localities the ability to raise their minimum wage to a level that fits the needs of their individual communities.
Colorado is just one of eleven states that this year considered legislation to allow local minimum wages. We are encouraged that Gov. Tom Wolf and key legislators are advocating a $12 minimum wage. Ultimately, Pennsylvania workers deserve a minimum of $15 per hour AND the right to set our own local wage.
Now is the time for Pennsylvania legislators to stop blocking local policies that would improve the lives of everyday Pennsylvanians.
State Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Democrat, represents the Philadelphia-based 191st House District. Jessie Ulibarri is the executive director of SiX Action, and a former Colorado state senator who now lives in Crafton, Pa. Lauren Jacobs is the executive director of the Partnership for Working Families. She lives in Philadelphia.