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Seasonal Parks Workers, Interns Would Get $15 Minimum Wage Under Bill Headed For Allegheny County Council

Jared Murphy
90.5 WESA
Democratic Allegheny County Councilors Bethany Hallam (pictured), Liv Bennett, and Anita Prizio plan to introduce legislation Tuesday, June 22, to raise the minimum wage for non-salaried county employees to $15 an hour.

People who work for Allegheny County on a non-salary basis, including incarcerated people with jobs in the county jail, would earn at least $15 an hour under a bill set to be introduced before county council Tuesday.

While virtually every full-time county employee already earns at least $15 an hour, at least about 400 part-time and seasonal workers do not, according to county data. Those who work while housed at the county jail, meanwhile, are not paid at all.

“Workers are workers. And all workers, regardless of industry, regardless of incarceration status, deserve to make a fair wage,” Democrat Bethany Hallam said. She joins Democrats Liv Bennett and Anita Prizio in introducing the minimum wage legislation when council meets Tuesday evening.

“Anyone who's doing work for the county should be making $15 an hour, and that's the floor,” Hallam said. She noted that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have calculated that a livable wage in Allegheny County amounts to about $19 an hour, for a household with two employed adults and two children.

“When I drafted this bill, I wanted to ask for $20 an hour,” Hallam said. But she said she opted for the $15 figure because it has become a rallying point in the national debate over the minimum wage and is therefore more likely to win council approval.

The legislation would also guarantee overtime pay of at least 1.5 times the base pay rates for non-salaried employees who work more than 8 hours on a given day, or more than 40 hours in a week.

Today, seasonal parks employees account for 70% of county workers who make less than $15 an hour, although lifeguards at county pools make between $14 and $16 an hour. Amie Downs, a spokesperson for the county, said in a statement that pay for seasonal employees is “very specific to the role and other details that impact employment” such as “experience, training, availability, etc.”

Some local communities have struggled to find the lifeguards they need this summer, and wages have spiked.

Just five county interns earn $15 an hour. The remaining 39 earn less, although colleges and universities often offer academic credit for participation in an internship.

Nearly 50 part-time workers also make hourly wages below $15. For example, the county’s 16 part-time fire instructors each earn $14.70 an hour. Part-time medical assistants at the county jail earn between $8.60 and about $11.50 an hour, while half of part-time registered nurses at the county-run Kane Community Living Centers earn just over $14 an hour.

In addition to the proposed wage increase, the county council bill would broaden the definition of county employees to include people who work while incarcerated at the county jail. Those workers receive no pay today, but under the legislation, they would be entitled to a $15 minimum wage.

On Tuesday, about 1,730 people were housed at the jail. County data shows that 85 of them are employed in the facility’s kitchen. About 70 work in general maintenance, and 13 have laundry jobs.

The Allegheny County Jail.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA News

Hallam noted that most people housed at the jail are awaiting trial rather than serving time for a criminal conviction. The 13th Amendment to the federal Constitution prohibits forced labor except as punishment for a crime.

“So that means that … [for] any of those folks who are working, not serving a sentence, [the county] is in direct violation of the 13th Amendment,” Hallam said. And she added, “it's undercutting wages of other workers, both in the Allegheny County Jail and elsewhere, because [incarcerated people are] working for free in what would otherwise be a decent-paying, likely union job.”

Downs, the county spokesperson, said the county gives inmates extra time out of their pod or cell in exchange for their labor.

Overall, the county directly employs nearly 6,300 people. Downs noted that collective bargaining agreements require the county to pay some unionized workers less than $15 an hour. If approved, the county council bill would not alter those or other existing contracts. But the county would be barred in future contracts from agreeing to wages below $15 an hour.

Officials could not provide data Tuesday on the pay of those who work for the county on a contract basis.

*This story was updated at 6:22 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, to include a comment from Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs explaining that incarcerated people who work in the county jail receive extra time out of their pod or cell. She previously declined to comment on the issue.