Tired of waiting for Washington, some Philly business are increasing their minimum wage

Minimum wage marchers head south on Broad Street on Nov. 10, 2015, after a rally outside of City Hall.

A handful of restaurants and bakeries in Mount Airy and East Falls have pledged to voluntarily increase the minimum wage up to $11 an hour by 2020 and are hoping more businesses join in.

The effort is the brainchild of Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner and Trolley Car Cafe, who said he was tired of waiting for the federal government to boost the $7.25 minimum wage.

"There was a feeling in 2016 that this was going to happen on the federal level," Weinstein said. "As of Election Day it became pretty clear that change in terms of minimum wage at the federal level wasn't going to happen."

President-elect Donald Trump has said that he supports raising the minimum wage above $7.25, but that it should be left to states to decide.

So far, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have set minimum-wage standards above the federal level. New Jersey increased its minimum wage to $8.44 an hour this year. Pennsylvania has not taken similar action.

Weinstein and other business owners who have signed on to increase their minimum wage are hoping to start a trend.

"If there was going to be across-the-board change ... we have to make it happen ourselves," Weinstein said. He called it a bottoms-up approach.

After the election, Weinstein called other business owners in his area to see if they would be interested in voluntarily raising the wages of their lowest-paid workers.

He was surprised by the response. The few businesses he called either already paid their workers higher than $7.25 or were willing to do so starting Jan. 1.

Weinstein's plan is to gradually increase wages, starting with $8 an hour this year and going to $9 in 2018. The businesses would then raise the minimum to $10 in 2019 and $11 in 2020, Weinstein said.

Between his two diners, which employ a total of 80 people, 15 employees will see an increase in wages this year. That will cost his business about $24,000 this year, Weinstein said. By 2020, he expects 35 employees -- dishwashers, prep cooks, hosts, and seasonal ice cream workers -- to have higher wages than they do today.

So far, five business owners, with a total of eight unique outlets in Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, and East Falls, have signed up to be part of Weinstein's effort. A website, WageChange.com, launched this week and lists which businesses are taking part in the effort.

One of the businesses listed is the Night Kitchen in Chestnut Hill. The bakery's owner, Amy Edelman, said she already pays all her employees at least $10 an hour.

"As a business owner, it is the right thing to do," Edelman said of the higher hourly wage.

"People who have full-time jobs shouldn't receive government subsidies," she said, noting that people who make $7.25 an hour usually have to get food stamps and other subsidies to support their families.

Edelman added that higher wages also help retain people and avoid frequent turnover.

Weinstein agreed and said he hopes other small businesses see what he says are benefits to increasing the minimum wage -- lower recruitment and training costs (because of the presumed reduction in turnover), improved morale, better customer service.

His goal for this year is to get 1,000 businesses in Pennsylvania to increase their minimum wages and impact 10,000 employees.

Whether the businesses raise prices to make up for their increased personnel cost is up to them. Weinstein said the prices at his two diners were already planned for an increase this year, in part because of the new sweetened-beverage tax.

Aside from Weinstein's effort, there are many advocacy groups in the state and nationwide pushing for an increased minimum wage. Weinstein said his role is different than that of those lobbying Harrisburg and Washington for increased wages.

"Our approach is at some point you have to roll up your sleeves and get this done," he said. "We're not satisfied with just continuing the advocacy effort."

cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520

@InqCVargas

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