By Lorraine McCarthy
May 27 — Philadelphia residents voted 3-1 on May 20 to approve a ballot question empowering the city council to extend the reach of the city’s minimum wage and benefit requirements; and a bill was offered May 22 to effect the change.
The ballot question approved by 75.5 percent of voters proposed an amendment to the city charter allowing the council to extend to subcontractors the minimum wage mandate that now applies only to general contractors doing business directly with the city of Philadelphia.
Passage of the charter change initiative represents a victory for a coalition of unions and faith-based groups that has worked for years to expand Philadelphia’s 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard to employees of municipal subcontractors, in particular Philadelphia International Airport workers.
A proposed $6 billion airport expansion project that is expected to create 5,000 permanent jobs “could be an opportunity for low-income folks in Philadelphia to move into the middle class’’ if subcontractors have to meet the same pay and benefits standards as direct contractors, according to David Koppisch, a spokesman for Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild. POWER is a racial and economic justice organization that includes members of 41 congregations.
Following voter approval of the ballot question, all 16 members of the city council signed on to a proposed ordinance (Bill No. 140488) introduced by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D) May 22. The measure would increase the $10.88 hourly minimum wage for city contractors to $12 effective Jan. 1, 2015, index it to inflation, and extend the wage floor mandate to all subcontractors doing city work.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for June 10.
Mayor Michael A. Nutter (D) issued an executive order May 6 with similar provisions, although it will apply only to first-tier municipal contractors (87 DLR A-8, 5/6/14).
“We appreciate what the mayor has done,’’ Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER, told Bloomberg BNA May 27.
Nevertheless, Royster said, the ballot initiative was critical. It’s more permanent than an executive order, which can be changed or rescinded, he said. And the initiative enables the city council to enact an ordinance that goes beyond the executive order by passing along the minimum wage mandate to all subcontractors, not just first-tier subcontractors, he said.
Royster said enactment of the ordinance would give a raise to about 3,000 subcontracted workers at the airport, who earn an average of $7.85 an hour. He said there is no reliable estimate of the total number of subcontracted municipal workers who would be affected citywide.