Economics / Jobs / Politics / Social justice

Can Philly tech companies help raise the minimum wage?

A handful of tech companies have joined Wage Change, which is fighting to increase the minimum wage.

Fifty-one businesses in Philadelphia far have agreed to the $11 hourly wage. (Photo by Flickr user gosheshe, under a Creative Commons license)

Mount Airy developer Ken Weinstein is certain about one thing: minimum wage hikes aren’t coming from Washington or Harrisburg anytime soon.

That’s why he started an organization called Wage Change to rally business owners around the cause of nudging the minimum hourly rate from the current national rate of $7.25 to $11. (Might not seem much to folks who earn way above that, but ask any fast food cashier if they wouldn’t prefer the latter over the former.)

“I want to encourage small business owners to take direct action and increase wages for their employees,” Weinstein told “Our employees can’t wait so we’ve got to act now.”

Weinstein has rallied 51 businesses who pay their employees $11 an hour. It’s a pretty varied list: there are bridal shops and bakeries, pizzerias and bars. There’s financial advisory firms and consulting groups. Even Councilman Allan Domb’s real estate company.

But a couple of names from the tech scene also stand out: Callowhill GIS firm Azavea, design shop P’unk Ave and sustainability platform MilkCrate. (Unsurprising, as all three are mission-oriented.)

“You can see it’s quite a mixture from different sectors,” said Wage Change’s executive director Ben Waxman. “We have not specifically targeted anyone: the responses are basically coming through word of mouth, direct outreach and people responding to media coverage.”

It's about sending a message that small business owners believe that higher wages across the board are good for everyone.

With out-of-college software developers pulling in $70,000 a year, it’s fairly easy for most tech companies to commit to the increase. It’s a high-wage sector where the majority of staff easily clears the $11 hurdle. But the support of tech companies comes easily, adds numbers to the list and potentially contributes to the larger cause.

“Yes, it’s an easy lift for tech companies,” Waxman said. “But our project is really about sending a message that small business owners believe that higher wages across the board are good for everyone. That means that tech companies want to be located in a place where all workers are paid a decent wage, including at restaurants, coffee shops, retail, and other traditionally low wage sectors. It’s good for the local economy and ultimately good for their companies.”

If you already pay employees $11 an hour, you can sign up here.

It’s what Azavea CEO Robert Cheetham has been rooting for some time now. He’s written letters and spoken to Harrisburg legislators. He also joined a similar effort on the national sphere: Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which has 1,000 business (like Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation) rallied around the cause of hiking the minimum wage to at least $12 by 2020.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Cheetham said. “Higher minimum wages support a stronger, local economy and lead to greater equity. I recently learned about the local effort and signed on.”

P’unk Ave founder Geoff DiMasi, who runs a team of 15 out of the company’s Passyunk Ave HQ, echoed Cheetham, as did MilkCrate’s Morgan Berman.

“I want small business owners who support higher wages to know that they aren’t alone,” Weinstein said. “We’ve got to come together collectively to advocate for change and encourage our peers to take action. Finally, I want to encourage consumers to shop their values. If customers support those who support their employees, it will greatly benefit small businesses that believe in paying people higher wages and will encourage more businesses to get on board.”

(And a line of Philly tech trivia: Weinstein is the father of Ari Weinstein, who just sold his Workflow app to Apple.)

Companies: MilkCrate / Azavea / P’unk Ave

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