Allegheny Co. Council overrides Exec Rich Fitzgerald’s minimum wage hike veto

‘We are  talking about people who have worked at the county for decades who still aren’t making $41,600 per year, Councilmember Bethany Hallam said

By: - June 21, 2023 8:59 am

Allegheny County Council voted to override County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s veto of a minimum wage hike (Screen Capture).

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County Council on Tuesday voted to override County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s veto of a bill to raise the minimum wage for county workers. The legislation calls for the county to pay workers a minimum of $18 an hour beginning in 2024, which increases to $19 an hour in 2025 and $20 an hour in 2026. 

Salaried county workers would be paid at least $41,600 per year once the $20 an hour rate kicks in. Councilor-at-large Bethany Hallam said Tuesday that even that amount didn’t seem adequate. 

“When you say it like that, it’s not even the cost of living for a single person with a child,” Hallam said. “We’re not just talking about high school kids working at concession stands, we’re not just talking about lifeguards — although yes, I believe that they deserve a living wage, too — we are  talking about people who have worked at the county for decades who still aren’t making $41,600 per year. That is a shame.”

Ten councilors voted to override, the same ones who voted in favor of the bill’s original passage on June 6: Olivia Bennett, Jack Betkowski, Tom Duerr, Hallam, Paul Klein, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, John Palmiere, Bob Palmosina, Anita Prizio, and Council President Patrick Catena. 

“Agreeing to work for the county should not necessarily entail taking a vow of poverty,” Catena said. “Balancing our budget must never be dependent on forcing our employees to truly take that vow on a daily basis.”

Councilor Suzanne Filiaggi, who was absent from the June 6 vote, joined Sam DeMarco, Nicholas Futules, Bob Macey, and DeWitt Walton in voting against the override.   

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“One of the things I haven’t seen with council or any part of the discussion to this point, is where the money is going to come from,” DeMarco, a Republican, said during the meeting, adding that council owed it to taxpayers to tell them if money would be taken from another part of the county’s $1 billion budget to pay for the wage increases. 

“I believe we’re setting a precedent and we’re going to have a bunch of other folks wanting us to get in the way between the administration and them as they bargain for wages or contracts going forward,” DeMarco added.                                                                                         

Fitzgerald said in a statement following the council meeting that he was not surprised by the outcome of the vote, reiterating that his veto of the bill “does not represent a disagreement with the need to pay our employees a living wage,” but rather that he believes the bill violates provisions of the county’s Home Rule Charter, which puts wage decisions within the county executive’s purview. 

Allegheny Co. Exec. Rich Fitzgerald vetoes minimum wage hike for county employees

The council’s solicitor and the county’s department of law solicitor have differed in their opinions about whether council had the authority to pass the legislation.  

Fitzgerald is in the final months of his third and final term as county executive. An election in November will determine whether Democrat Sara Innamorato or Republican Joe Rockey will succeed him.  

In his statement on Tuesday, he said he was “considering filing with the Court for a declaratory judgement on this issue,” adding “the outcome will not impact me or the current council, [but] it does matter to future executives and councils.”

US Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, whose constituency includes a large swath of Allegheny County, praised the council’s override vote. 

“This win belongs to our workers and every person in our county who they serve,” Lee said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without the organizers and activists who kept the pressure on and are fighting harder than ever for livable wages for all.”

The county council vote came the same day Democrats in the state House voted to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10. That measure, however, is unlikely to move forward in the GOP-controlled state Senate.      

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly