Giant Eagle worker supports state push to raise minimum wage to $12 an hour

·3 min read

Jun. 3—When Sandy Zilen started working at the Giant Eagle supermarket in Harrison City, her wages were nowhere near the $13 an hour she now earns — and not even close to the $7.25 minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

But, Zilen, who lives in the Claridge section of Penn Township, said she favors an effort to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, with incremental increases that would boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

"There are a lot of single parents who would like to work, but can't make it and have to go one welfare. They can't feed their family" on minimum wage, said Zilen, a an officer in local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Zilen spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage during a media call sponsored by the state Department of Labor & Industry, which for the past several months has held a series of media events to promote the need for raising the minimum wage.

Pennsylvania's minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage, but less than the minimum wage set in 29 states. There has not been an increase in the minimum wage since July 2009.

A living wage in Pennsylvania for a family of two adults and two children is about $19 an hour, based on calculations developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly have been pushing for years to raise the minimum wage, but without any success in the Republican-controlled legislature. No bill on raising the minimum wage has reached Gov. Tom Wolf's desk.

Zilen is not looking for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, thus pushing the minimum wage up in Pennsylvania.

"It's up to the state to bring the minimum wage up," Zilen said.

At her current pay scale, Zilen would not benefit from raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour. With a union contract covering the grocery store workers, it is unknown whether any state-required increases would boost her wages in the future.

Even though she has worked several years to get her wages as high was they are, Zilen does not begrudge others who would get the higher pay rate without working all of those years.

But, raising the minimum wage when the state's economy is still in the recovery stage is the wrong move and would only hurt small businesses trying to get back on their feet after a year of pandemic-related restrictions and closures, said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

"Having a mandated minimum wage at that level" will hurt businesses that have just come through "a truly, truly challenging time," Barr said Thursday.

Businesses already are being forced to raise wages above the minimum to attract workers because of market conditions, not state regulations.

"The crisis right now is in staffing jobs," Barr said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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