Philly Could Push Local Minimum Wage to $15

But there are big obstacles.

The Inquirer’s Tricia Nadolny has a great look today at efforts to pass a $15 minimum wage in Philadelphia. It probably wouldn’t be universal — City Council wants to protect small businesses from the expense, but is happy to let larger corporations bear the burden — and there are significant legal hurdles to overcome.

The biggest obstacle: A 2006 state law appears to prevent cities from setting their own minimum wage rates. But advocates of a higher wage think they may be able to circumvent that law.

A local group, 15Now Philly, says otherwise.

It argues that the intent of the state law was to protect workers from low pay. The preemption, read with that intent in mind, is unclear on whether it bans municipalities from going above, or only below, the state wage, it says.

It’s an intriguing argument to Mark Aronchick, a former Philadelphia city solicitor who said he often pushed the boundaries of city control in the 1980s.

“I would be persuaded that I had to look at this very carefully,” he said after reading 15Now’s memo. “It’s worthy of serious study.”

Business groups quoted in Nadolny’s piece of course oppose a minimum wage hike here, and at least one observer suggested the City Council is merely posturing in an election year. But others said that focusing on $15 might help officials actually set $10 or $11 an hour as the city’s wage. The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour; the minimum for workers employed by the city is $10.88.