HARRISBURG — Gov. John Wolf gave Pennsylvania state workers a measure of relief when he raised their minimum wage to $10.15 this, but an attorney says it is unlikely voters will be asked to do the same for private sector employees.
Wolf's executive order, signed March 7 of this year, provides a nearly $3 per hour pay increase for state government employees and workers on jobs contracted by the state.
With this order, Pennsylvania joined a growing list of states that have provided gradual wage increases to their employees. Since 2000, 15 states have increased wages for state employees through ballot initiatives. This number includes Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Maine, which saw wages change in their states through the efforts of voters in the general election of 2016.
Jeffrey Stewart, an attorney at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, told the Pennsylvania Record that it is very unlikely that Pennsylvania will see a ballot initiative relating to a minimum wage increase.
"The procedures for getting a question like this on the ballot are very difficult and time-consuming, especially compared to other states," he said.
The executive order is part of the governor’s broader “Jobs That Pay” program. At the time the order was signed, the governor, through a press release, said, “Since the beginning of my administration, I have made creating good paying jobs, increasing efficiency, and achieving cost savings in state government top priorities. An increase in the minimum wage will achieve efficiency and cost savings for state government, reduce state expenditures on income support programs, and give valued employees a well-deserved raise.”
While this increase will affect an estimated 1.2 million state workers, the majority of the state’s workforce will experience no broad wage increase - at least in the immediate future.
"The best chance of getting an increase in the Pennsylvania minimum wage is for the state legislature to take action or for the U.S. Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which would automatically increase Pennsylvania's minimum wage,” Stewart said.
Not all residents are happy with the actions of the Democratic governor. Republican legislators fear that the action will put an undue burden on employers. For its part, the state Senate has the Labor and Industry Committee investigating the options, and effects, of a broader hourly wage hike.
What effect this executive order will have on Pennsylvania’s private employers remains to be seen.
“I don't think the governor's plan will have any noticeable impact on private-sector employers," Stewart said. "Other than mandates, such as a new minimum wage law, the only thing to really raise starting wages is when employers are unable to recruit new employees.
"What the state does with its workers has almost no impact in the private sector, so I don't expect this to move the needle on minimum wage in the private sector at all.”
In 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that raised the pay of all workers performing for a federal contractor to at least $10.10 an hour, with yearly adjustments for inflation.