Workers push for wage hike in nation

A Wednesday march and rallies will advocate for $15-an-hour earnings.

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A strike organizer hands a letter from the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee to a Dunkin Donuts worker on N. Broad St., explaining that a Dunkin Donuts employee at that location is on strike. The strike is part of the Fight for $15 gather protests being held around the nation. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)

Thousands of fast-food burger-flippers, Wal-Mart cashiers, home-care providers, adjunct professors, and airport workers on Wednesday will push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in marches around the nation and in Philadelphia.

The effort - part of a drive since 2012 by the Service Employees International Union - will include a march on Broad Street and a rally at 30th Street and the Schuylkill. That's just on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, trending online was the case of Dan Price, founder of Gravity Payments, a Seattle credit-card processing firm, who told workers their minimum wage would be raised to $70,000 a year, or $33.65 an hour - for everyone, even low-paid clerks.

Gravity's average pay now is $48,000, or $23 an hour.

"As much as I'm a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do this," Price told the New York Times.

He was moved by research showing that money does buy increased happiness as wages rise to about $75,000 a year. After that, money's impact is minor.

Whether increasing the minimum wage leads to a better life is a matter of debate. Through trade associations, business owners have said they will cut hours or positions if wages go up.

That's what happened in Oakland, Calif., when the minimum hourly wage rose to $12.25 from $9 on March 1, according to Michael Saltsman, research director at Employment Policies Institute, a policy shop in Washington whose research shows that raising wages is bad for business and workers.

"We surveyed businesses there," he said. Some reported cutting hours for workers and for operations. "A couple said they were likely to close."

Wednesday's march comes as more attention is being focused on low-wage workers. After years of rallies, wage increases have been enacted in cities and states, including Seattle and Oakland.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf backs an increase to $10.10 an hour from the federal hourly minimum of $7.25. In New Jersey, the minimum hourly wage is $8.38, up from $8.25, due to a legislatively mandated tie to inflation.

Companies also have responded, with Wal-Mart and Target, among others, announcing increases.

On April 1, McDonald's said it would raise its minimum wage $1 over the locally mandated minimum wage for all company-owned stores, affecting 90,000 employees. However, 90 percent of McDonald's restaurants are franchises, with individual owners setting pay.

Wednesday's marches begin at 6 a.m. outside the McDonald's at Broad and Allegheny Avenue, a franchise restaurant owned by Jo-Dan Enterprises of Bala Cynwyd.

At 1:30 p.m., the action will shift to Temple University's campus, where adjunct professors attempting to unionize will join students and workers.

A larger rally, followed by a march, will occur at 3 p.m. at Broad and Arch Street, with a smaller rally set for the University of Pennsylvania campus at the same time. Both groups are expected to meet at 4:30 p.m. at 30th and the Schuylkill.

Bruce Howard, 53, who lives in a homeless shelter in Darby Borough, thinks Wednesday's march will help workers like him.

"It's a blessing," he said.

A year ago, Howard became involved in a union-organized campaign to improve wages in industrial laundries, where he worked. At the time, he said, he was earning $50 a day in cash under the table for a day's work.

Howard now holds down another laundry job that comes with a legitimate paycheck and $10.35 in hourly wages.

"I'm marching for the greater cause - for all Americans to have a better way of life," he said.

 


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

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