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By Samuel O'Neal
Pennsylvania Capital-Star, June 25, 2023

In 2019, when the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour, John Schall, owner of El Jefe’s Taqueria, was one of the loudest vocal supporters of the potential wage hike.

“I think this is an important issue for businesses as well as for workers,” said Schall, who has Pennsylvania locations in Pittsburgh, State College and Bethlehem. “The Pennsylvania economy would be way better off if the legislation gets passed.”

Ultimately, a compromise bill negotiated by Republicans and former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf the bill was shot down by the then-Republican controlled House. 

On June 20, the Pennsylvania House voted to increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $15 by 2026. It will now go to the GOP-controlled state Senate. This time, Schall is hoping for a different outcome: to see the bill land on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Schall said. “I was pushing hard [in 2019] and a year-and-a-half ago when the Legislature was pushing for a minimum wage bill in Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania business owners are applauding the House’s passage to increase the state’s minimum wage. Business leaders say the potential wage hike would increase consumer spending, strengthen the workforce and boost the economy.

Currently, Schall’s starting wage for new employees at El Jefe’s Taqueria’s Pennsylvania locations is $14 an hour for the day shift and $15 an hour for the night shift. ...

Schall also believes paying employees better wages will encourage them to not leave their jobs and create a better working environment for employers across the commonwealth. By keeping staff and limiting turnover, employers will benefit financially, he said.

“It’s the right thing to do and I think that can’t ever be ignored,” Schall said. “In terms of just making good business sense, when people are with me for six months a year or a year and a half or two years, they are way more than twice as productive than people who I just hired. Keeping staff is a really important part of my business model. I want staff to be with me for a long time.”

Amy Edelman, owner of the Night Kitchen Bakery in Philadelphia, echoed that sentiment, saying employees who can focus on work and not worry about making ends meet translates into returning customers that drive small business success.

Edelman bought the Night Kitchen Bakery in 2000, but it has been a Philadelphia staple since the 1980s. Currently, Edelman’s average starting salary is $15 an hour plus tips ...

Like Schall, Edelman also believes an increased minimum wage in Pennsylvania would not only help the Night Kitchen Bakery, but countless other businesses across the commonwealth, she said.

“We feel that if our employees are making a living wage and have more spending, they will spend more money in places like our bakery,” Edelman said. “We think it’s important to level the playing field so it should be that businesses take the responsibility to make sure their employees have enough money to pay for their rent and food and basic human needs and hopefully have a little extra money for things like birthday cake.”

Pennsylvania is one of 20 states with a minimum wage at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. In neighboring states New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland and New York, the minimum wage is at least $3 higher than the federal minimum.

If Pennsylvania was able to match the minimum wage of its neighboring states, it would put Night Kitchen Bakery, and countless other businesses in the state, on an even playing field with competitors in neighboring states, Edelman said.

“We have to compete with other businesses in other states like New Jersey and other states that have already increased the minimum wage,” Edelman said. “But we also have to compete with bigger businesses than ours like Costco and Amazon or Target, all the big box stores that already offer $15 an hour so we want to be able to hire people that are going to appreciate the environment and appreciate the wage and puts money into the pockets of people who most need it.” ...

“The American economy depends on consumer spending, that is the most important thing that keeps our economy going and healthy,” Edelman said. “If people are barely surviving, they don’t have that money to keep the economy going and then the economy can collapse.”

Jennie Groff, CEO and co-owner of Stroopies, a Dutch stroopwafel shop located in Lancaster city, also believes a wage hike would benefit her business as well as the Pennsylvania economy.

According to their website, Stroopies exists to provide meaningful employment to resettled refugee women who are starting their lives over in Lancaster. Currently, there are 22 women making more than 10,000 stroopwafels a week. The company also offers English and community building programs as part of the women’s work day.

Stroopies currently pays a starting hourly wage of $13 an hour during the first month of training and $14 following the completion of training. However, most employees make at least $15 an hour.

“I’m thrilled to hear that there’s legislation supporting giving a living wage, if not a thriving wage,” Groff said. “Quite honestly, it feels like every little bit helps. For us, that’s already what we’re working at and every little bit we can do, we want to be doing. I often say I don’t think that we should have to have legislation in place to do the right thing but legislation helps.” ...

Capital-Star Senior Reporter Peter Hall contributed additional reporting. 

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