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Allegheny County executive files lawsuit in response to wage increase for county employees

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is asking a judge to weigh in on the legality of a minimum wage increase recently passed by County Council. He filed a lawsuit against the legislative branch Wednesday in an attempt to “resolve important differences between the parties concerning the legality of the Wage Ordinance.”

The bill sets a pay floor for all hourly county employees, including full-time, part-time and seasonal workers. It would raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour in 2024, and then increase by $1 an hour for the next two years.

The suit comes just a week after council voted 10-5 to override Fitzgerald’s veto.

Fitzgerald has been vocal about his opposition to the bill. In the suit, he argues that the county’s Home Rule Charter gives the executive branch the legal authority to set wages and salaries. In a corresponding legal opinion, county solicitor George Janosko agreed, calling the legislation “an attempt by Council to aggregate to itself a power that it does not possess.”

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In Wednesday’s filing, Janosko (who will represent Fitzgerald in this lawsuit) reiterated the interpretation, writing that “the setting of salaries is clearly and exclusively an executive function.”

But in a contradictory opinion, Council’s attorney, Frederick Frank, argued that the charter gives the legislative branch the power to change the administrative code, which governs personnel.

“If Council believes that the County cannot attract top talent by paying its current wages, this would concern the functionality of the impacted department and provide Council with the rationale to legislate an appropriate remedy,” Frank wrote.

Fitzgerald called the dispute a “legitimate disagreement on whether the executive branch or the legislative branch has the legal authority to set wages.”

“It’s an important legal question that requires immediate review and determination by the Court, especially since my administration is in the process of preparing the 2024 budget,” he said in a statement. “The resolution of this lawsuit will have a lasting impact upon future executives and councils."

Council President Pat Catena fired back at Fitzgerald on Wednesday, noting that he supported a similar ordinance to create a minimum wage with annual increases during his time on council.

“But now, after consistently losing at every turn with this bill, he’s willing to throw County employees under the bus in a last ditch effort to assert his rapidly waning authority,” Catena said in a statement. “He can’t win an argument based on the issues, so he’s running to the courts in the desperate hope that someone else will prop his ego up, and many believe that this ordinance is a common sense approach to hiring and retaining good employees.”

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at