State Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and activists march for a higher minimum wage on July 12, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus/James Robinson) Minimum Wage March in Philadelphia
State Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and activists march for a higher minimum wage on July 12, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus/James Robinson)

Democrats say it’s “disgraceful” that Republicans have allowed bills that would raise the minimum wage to sit in committee for months on end.

It’s been almost a year since the state Senate approved the state’s first minimum wage increase in over a decade, and passed the legislation on to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

And the GOP-led House has not moved on it.

The House Labor & Industry Committee has been sitting on Senate Bill 79 since November. The bill proposed raising the minimum wage to $8 per hour on July 1, 2020, then incrementally until it reaches $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022. The bill also proposed prohibiting any business where employees receive tips from taking credit card processing fees out of employees’ tips.

If the House does not approve Senate Bill 79 before the end of the year and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf for consideration, the bill dies. Advocates for increasing the minimum wage will have to start over.

The House Labor & Industry Committee also has been sitting on several other bills that would increase the minimum wage, or allow some counties to set their own minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage.

Several Democratic candidates for state House seats have had strong words about the legislative inaction around the minimum wage.

Harold “Howie” Hayes, who is running in District 18, has said it’s “disgraceful” that these bills sit in committee for months on end.

And “the reality that the current minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 and has been that low for more than 10 years is despicable,” said Gary Spillane, who is running in District 144. “As an employer, I’ve never paid $7.25 an hour. It’s in no way a living wage, let alone what you should pay somebody that lives at home with their parents.”

More than 90,000 Pennsylvanians—79% of them women—currently work in jobs where they earn $7.25 per hour or less. If those jobs are their only jobs, their annual salary puts them below the federal poverty line.

Another 1.6 million Pennsylvanians earn between $7.25 and $15 per hour, and still struggle to make ends meet.

“Hardworking people, no matter their age, deserve a fair wage,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, in an emailed statement.

Many of the Republicans who have refused to act on legislation to increase the minimum wage are seeking re-election. 

We asked candidates in 14 key state House races whether they would support raising the minimum wage and by how much. Their answers and information provided by their campaigns are below:

District 18 (Part of Bucks County)

Harold Hayes, Democratic Challenger: Hayes, a plumber, says on his campaign website that the current minimum wage is “not enough for hard-working people to support themselves and their families. Nobody should have to work three jobs just to put food on the table. I will be a voice for the working middle class in Harrisburg and support legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

Hayes doesn’t believe the state should increase the minimum wage to $15 all at once, he told DelawareValleyNews.com in March.

“We should be paying people a livable wage and it should go up in increments, not holding them back” he told DelawareValleyNews.com. “$7.25/hr is not a livable wage. You should only have to work one job.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed him. 

K.C. Tomlinson, Republican Incumbent: Tomlinson, a funeral director and daughter of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, has not addressed the issue on her website.

She said at an event in February that she supports the governor’s proposal to raise the wage.

“But we cannot do it all at once,” she said. “It must be done in stages, and we have to wait and see how it affects people.”

District 26 (Parts of Montgomery and Chester Counties)

Paul Friel, Democratic Challenger: Friel, a business owner and member of the Owen J. Roberts school board, says on his campaign website, “Too many Pennsylvanians, even those with full-time employment, are not able to support their families. I will fight for a statewide minimum-wage increase that will keep up with the increased costs our families face.”

Friel said in a candidates’ forum in August that legislators need to negotiate the right time frame for a minimum wage increase.

A slow phase-in would lessen the impact on small businesses, he said.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed him.

Timothy Hennessey, Republican Incumbent: Hennessey’s campaign website appears to be down. 

Hennessey said in a candidates’ forum in August that he supports raising the minimum wage, but does not support Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal “to essentially double it in a few years,” particularly not when so many small businesses are hurting because of the coronavirus-driven shutdowns.

“There are winners and losers when you raise (the) minimum wage,” said Hennessey, warning some will lose their jobs because businesses do not make enough to pay (a) higher wage. “It’s just not the right time to do it.”

District 28 (Part of Allegheny County)

Emily Skopov, Democratic Candidate: Skopov, a former small business owner and founder of the nonprofit No Crayon Left Behind, supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“We should look to indexing our state’s minimum wage to economic factors long term so that the minimum wage rate keeps pace with overall cost of living for our state’s residents,” she told Just Harvest in 2018.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed her.

Rob Mercuri, Republican Candidate: Mercuri, an Army veteran and financial risk manager, told WTAE in May that he does not think Pennsylvania should increase the minimum wage.

“I would say not at this point,” he said. “I think we should let the market drive the wages of our workers.”

District 29 (Part of Bucks County)

Marlene Katz, Democratic Challenger: Katz, who has started several businesses and is an ordained interfaith minister, said she supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“To me, $7.25 is absolutely shameful,” she told The Keystone. “People cannot live on that. Look at the cost of living. If someone wants to buy a cup of coffee, you just used most of your hourly wage.”

Katz said there are some parents in the state who are working more than one job—missing time with their children—”just to be able to survive.”

“We have to have our families thrive, not just survive,” she said.

Katz told The Keystone that she would like to see an immediate increase in the minimum wage, and then incremental increases until it reaches $15 per hour.

“What I hear from a lot of people on the opposition side is that we can do better training and this and that,” she said. “But we can walk and chew gum. We can do it all. We can raise the minimum wage, provide better training, provide more opportunities. But we have to start with raising the minimum wage.”

SEIU PA has endorsed her.

Meghan Schroeder, Republican Incumbent: Schroeder did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment, and she has not addressed the issue on her website.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed her.

District 30 (Part of Allegheny County)

Lissa Geiger Shulman, Democratic Challenger: Shulman, a teacher, says on her campaign website that she’s “excited” about Wolf’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour and increase it to $15 per hour.

She says raising the minimum wage is an important way to help children, as impoverished children are less likely to graduate from high school and go to college, and more likely to develop long-term health problems. 

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed her.

Lori Mizgorski, Republican Incumbent: Mizgorski has not addressed the issue on her website.

Mizgorski told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November 2018 that she supports reducing the corporate income tax and raising the minimum wage “responsibly and incrementally.”

She is a majority member of the House Labor & Industry committee, which has been sitting on Senate Bill 79 for almost a year, as well as numerous other bills that would increase the minimum wage.

District 44 (Part of Allegheny County)

Michele Knoll, Democratic Challenger: Knoll, an educator and founder of the nonprofit Profit Through Pages, says on her campaign website that she “will advocate for a solid minimum wage so families can invest in our community instead of worrying about how to make ends meet. $7.25 buys a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk in today’s economy. We need to ensure that families who are working 40+ hours a week are making a wage that can meet their bills.”

Knoll told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2018 that she supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed her.

Valerie Gaydos, Republican Incumbent: Gaydos told KDKA in October 2019 that she is “not in favor of raising the minimum wage artificially.”

District 105 (Part of Dauphin County)

Brittney Rodas, Democratic Challenger: Rodas, a former policy and research analyst for the state House of Representatives, says on her campaign website that her primary focus if elected will be to increase the minimum wage and “secure fair paying jobs for all skill levels.”

Rodas supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, her campaign manager said.

Rodas says on her site that the issue is personal for her. She was raised by a single mother who was a school bus driver, and the family often relied on food stamps.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed her.

Andrew Lewis, Republican Incumbent: Lewis does not address the issue on his campaign website, but he has indicated on Facebook that he does not support the governor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour.

“While I appreciate his desire to ensure Pennsylvanians are earning a fair wage, I firmly believe he is going about it in the wrong way,” Lewis said in February 2019. “Rather than artificially inflating wages, I go back to the need to build a better, more competitive jobs climate that will support real family-sustaining wages that far exceed even his increased minimum wage proposal.”

District 106 (Part of Dauphin County)

Lindsay Drew, Democratic Challenger: Drew, a business owner and founder of the Jessica Drew Sunshine Memorial Fund, promises on her campaign website to fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“In the 106th district the average fair market value for a 2 bedroom apartment is $930/month. Right now, the minimum wage is $7.25. This means a household earning minimum wage is left with less than $5,000 left over after paying their rent and providing the most basic of human needs for their family,” she says. “Costs of living continue to climb while wages have remained stagnant.”

Thomas Mehaffie, Republican Incumbent: Mehaffie has not addressed the issue on his campaign website.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed him.

District 131 (Parts of Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton Counties)

Kevin Branco, Democratic Candidate: Branco, a personal fitness trainer and small business owner, thinks the minimum wage needs to be higher than $15 per hour.

“If we’re talking about a livable wage, we need to be talking about closer to $25 an hour,” said Kevin Branco, who is running in District 131. “I don’t know who can live on $15 an hour. And with the current climate in the state House and Senate, I don’t even see a $15 minimum wage getting passed.”

Branco said he thinks the state needs to increase the minimum wage to $9 or $9.50 per hour immediately and then gradually increase it over three years until it reaches $15 per hour. 

After that, Branco said, he would like to see annual cost-of-living adjustments applied to the minimum wage so it can keep up with inflation.

Gradual increases are key, Branco said.

“I really fear wage compression,” he said. “I also fear for small businesses, frankly, like mine, that wouldn’t be able to handle a drastic jump in the minimum wage. We won’t see businesses go out of business, but we’ll see a lot of business models change simply because of the increase in labor costs. That’s definitely a concern of mine, but I definitely think a $10 minimum wage now is feasible.”

Branco said he thinks the discussion around the minimum wage also shows a need for more affordable education in the state, one of the key points of his platform, “so individuals can have the access and ability to get further education and better their hiring and earning prospects through their education as well.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed him.

Milou Mackenzie, Republican Candidate: Mackenzie, the mother of state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, has not addressed the issue on her campaign website and has not responded to The Keystone for comment.

District 144 (Part of Bucks County)

Gary Spillane, Democratic Challenger: Spillane, a small business owner, says on his campaign website that he will fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“The governor has talked about opening it at $12 and stepping it up. I think part of it relates to the states surrounding us, all of which have led the efforts to raise the minimum wage,” Spillane told The Keystone.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed him.

F. Todd Polinchock, Republican Incumbent: Polinchock does not believe the state should raise the minimum wage.

In a video he posted to his official website on April 3, 2019, to promote the House GOP’s Good Jobs for PA initiative, he called minimum wage a “trap.”

“That’s not how you make more money,” he said. “Also when you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to have companies that are going to be having labor costs increase, so you’re losing more of those jobs, losing some of those opportunities for people to get into a starting position to go further.”

Polinchock continued: “There are good jobs out there. Just in the housing industry alone, we need carpenters, we need welders, we need plumbers and electricians. Those jobs are out there. We simply have to put the people into the position where they can get trained and learn these good-paying jobs so they can have a nice family income.”

District 151 (Part of Montgomery County)

Jonathan Kassa, Democratic Challenger: Kassa, who has worked with various nonprofits on campus safety and victim advocacy issues, said he supports proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next five years.

“Over the past several decades, worker productivity has soared, CEO compensation has soared, but wages have barely risen at all. Workers are doing more than ever and not getting paid like it; it’s time to make sure that every worker gets paid fairly for the work they do.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed him.

Todd Stephens, Republican Incumbent: Stephens told The Keystone he supports Senate Bill 79.

District 168 (Part of Delaware County)

Deb Ciamacca, Democratic Challenger: Ciamacca, a Marine Corps veteran and teacher, says on her campaign website that the minimum wage “should be increased to $15 an hour by 2024. The working men and women of Pennsylvania should not struggle to put food on their tables or pay their rent while working 40 hour weeks.”

She told The Keystone that raising the minimum wage helps the economy because “When more money is in the hands of the working class, more money is spent.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA have endorsed her.

Christopher Quinn, Republican Incumbent: Quinn has not addressed the issue on his campaign website.

District 178 (Part of Bucks County)

Ann Marie Mitchell, Democratic Challenger: Mitchell, a business lawyer, supports raising the minimum wage to the $12 per hour Wolf has proposed.

She said in a Facebook Live chat in May that she knows some people don’t think the minimum wage is a big concern in the wealthier communities that comprise the 178th District, but “that’s out of touch.”

She said she visited numerous homes where there were several generations living in one home, and “a lot of the concerns I heard at the door were around how they were going to pay taxes, pay their student loans. A lot of those things really relate to their wages. It’s almost impossible to live in these areas without depending on multiple families, basically, to carry one household.”

Mitchell said the minimum wage is “a big issue for women, and it’s a big issue for young adults.”

SEIU PA has endorsed her.

Wendi Thomas, Republican Incumbent: Thomas told the Bucks County Courier Times in January that she wouldn’t be opposed to raising the minimum wage, but she wouldn’t want an increase to be the end of the discussion about wage earners “at the bottom.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed her.


The Keystone contacted the candidates in District 147, but they did not reply and they did not have any comments about the minimum wage on their websites or in local media reports. Jill Dennin, the Democratic candidate in the race, has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and SEIU PA.