Pennsylvania City Cuts Every Worker’s Pay To Minimum Wage

The city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in a move that has garnered national media attention, has cut all its city workers’ salaries to minimum wage, as reported last week by the New York Times.
The mayor of Scranton, Chris Doherty, made the drastic move after being alerted last week that only $5,000 remained in the economically troubled city’s bank account. Since then, the bank account balance has increased to $133,000, but that is not nearly enough for the city’s expenses for even a single day. As the New York Times reported, Scranton’s decision to unilaterally cut its workers’ pay is unprecedented, and it has expectedly met immediate resistance from the workers’ unions.
City workers received just days’ notice of the change, which is in violation of their union contracts with the city. The unions had immediately filed suit in state court for an injunction as soon as they had received notice of the mayor’s plan. The court found in their favor, forbidding the mayor from cutting the workers’ salaries. Ignoring the injunction, the mayor cut the salaries and issued checks this week for $7.25 an hour for all the city’s workers, including all the city’s firefighters, teachers and policemen, as well as the mayor himself. As a willful violation of the court’s order, the unions have formally requested the court to find the mayor in contempt, which might put him into jail.
In response to the national outcry, mayor Chris Doherty has stood fast, claiming that with a budget shortfall and no banks willing to lend the city money, he has no choice. The city council has been in a deadlock for weeks about how to cover the city’s expenses, including $1 million already owed to the city’s 400 workers. Mayor Doherty wanted to raise taxes and the city council wanted to borrow money. With neither side willing to compromise, the workers’ livelihoods have been put on the line.
One Fox Newsprofile of an affected city worker put forth the real human consequences of this political power struggle. The profiled worker was a veteran firefighter for Scranton and was making $22 an hour before the pay cut. Now at $7.25 an hour, with two small children, his stay-at-home wife has had to return to part-time work for them to stay afloat. He stated that the last time he was paid minimum wage was in college, and he was surprised to be back in that situation. For him, as with many of the other 400 city workers, this pay cut may leave them little choice than to find a second job or quit altogether.
National Public Radio has noted that pay has been an ongoing issue between the workers’ unions and the city of Scranton, with one dispute going all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Nonetheless this recent decision has put many workers in a very difficult situation with little evidence that it will solve the city’s woes. Even paying city workers the minimum wage will not close the budget gap in Scranton. Further, some city workers have warned that this battle over pay may put citizens’ welfare in danger, as many policemen and firefighters are considering taking a second job to support their family, or quitting altogether. What’s clear is that the mayor’s quick fix may end up costing a lot more to the city and its workers in the long run.

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