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Workers Can't Live on Minimum Wage

August 26, 2013


Area employers think it unlikely that a nationwide strike being
organized among minimum-wage workers this week will gain traction locally, but
people interviewed in the Wyoming Valley agree that an hourly wage of $7.25 in
Pennsylvania is hard to live on.

"It's pretty tough getting by," said Mike Quagliariello, a general laborer in
construction-type jobs.

On Thursday the Services Employees International Union and community groups in
many cities are calling for low-income workers to strike as part of a series of
one-day, rolling walkouts that have occurred in major cities in recent weeks,
according to The Los Angeles Times. There have been no public disclosures that
workers in this region will participate.

But Quagliariello, 26, of Plymouth, said he "probably wouldn't need more than
one job" if Pennsylvania's minimum wage was increased to $9 an hour, as proposed
by some House and Senate bills introduced earlier this year and languishing in
committee.

"It's been $7.25 a few years now. Everything's harder," he said, adding that
working for the current minimum wage is "almost like slave labor."

The last voluntary increase of the minimum wage in Pennsylvania came in 2007,
when the rate was increased to $7.15 per hour. Two years later, the rate
increased to $7.25 to be in compliance with the federal minimum wage that went
into effect.

Individual states are free to set a higher rate. The highest rate is found in
Washington state, at $9.19 per hour. But officials in the state's largest city,
Seattle, are considering an increase to $15 per hour in that city.

Annual adjustments

Quagliariello thinks the minimum wage should be tied to the inflation rate or
Consumer Price Index, which is what some Pennsylvania bills propose to do.

State Sen. Christine Tartaglione introduced a bill that would require the
minimum wage to be increased by a percentage tied to the Consumer Price Index
beginning this year. Another bill she proposed would do the same, but beginning
in 2016. That bill also would increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour over a
three-year period preceding the beginning of the cost-of-living adjustment.

Shaun Butler, a 30-year-old from Wilkes-Barre who peddles coffee and pastries at
Dunkin Donuts on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, said passage of such a bill
would have "a dramatic impact" on his life.

"Try showing me somewhere you can make $7.25 an hour and pay your bills and
rent," said Butler. "It's a constant struggle."

Butler and Quagliariello disagree with opponents of raising minimum wage who say
it will force some small businesses to close.

"There's government kickbacks (and tax credits) for stuff like that," Butler
said. "A lot of small businesses pay more than minimum wage. I have a friend who
works for a small business and started at $8 an hour plus tips. And they're
local owners, not a national chain."

Pride in work

Kingston attorney Nanda Palissery, who owns Loco Yoco soft-serve frozen yogurt
shops in West Pittston and Dallas, said he also believes the state minimum wage
is too low. That's why he starts his employees at about $8 an hour.

And paying a wage above minimum can benefit the employer as well as the
employee, he said.

"People take more pride in their work if they're making more than the minimum
wage. ... I just think there's a stigma attached to it. An employee could think,
'I can get a minimum wage job anywhere," he said.

And while he concedes that living on $7.25 an hour is difficult, increasing the
minimum wage to $9 an hour in one fell swoop would be tough on his business.

"That would be a 12 { -percent increase. Right now, my payroll is $3,000 to
$3,200 a week between both stores," said Palissery. "Twelve percent would be
another $300 to $400 more per week. That would be a lot for a small business."

Raising the minimum wage slowly would be more palpable, he said.

Raising retail prices

Joe Fasula, co-owner of nine Gerrity's supermarkets in Luzerne and Lackawanna
counties, agreed. Still, across-the-board wage increases for his employees would
mean a jump in food prices for the consumer.

"I always like to see people make more money," Fasula said, noting that he
starts employees with experience at wages above the minimum.

An increase in the minimum wage "certainly would be a big help to them," but it
would also "hinder a business' ability to be flexible. And it would certainly
hit the price of food. The last time it went up, there was a large increase in
the price of food," Fasula said.

Fasula believes that increasing the minimum wage will "mostly benefit the
16-year-old kid" who has no experience in the job market and can't ask to start
at a higher wage because he or she has no skill set. He said it would hurt the
senior citizen who would see no increase in income but would see food prices
climb.

Mixed bag

Anthony Liuzzo, a Wilkes University business and economics professor and
director of the school's Arizona Business Programs, said raising the minimum
wage obviously presents both positives and negatives.

Minimum wage "usually doesn't feed a family or provide some reasonable level of
comfort" for the earner, so an increase would be "helping out persons at the
bottom of the economic ladder."

"On the other hand, these kinds of increases can be inflationary and hurt the
larger economy," Liuzzo said, adding that employers will either take a hit to
their profits, increase prices or eliminate some jobs.

"Some (minimum wage earners) will be better off and some (whose jobs are
eliminated) will be worse off," Liuzzo said. "It's something to really think
about."

Liuzzo doubted a strike would have much, if any, effect on employers. Some
employers might even penalize the strikers because it wouldn't be a legal
strike, Liuzzo said.

"You want government to do something, and you're striking against the employer.
If employees want to do something, they should do something to show their
disappointment with the government," he said.

___

(c)2013 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at www.timesleader.com

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Source: Copyright Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA) 2013

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