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Burke firm on wage stance

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Commissioner Laura Burke said Tuesday that she will no longer reference the county’s employee health care plan when confronted by comments on low employee wages.

While the county has a minimum wage of $10 per hour and pays $10.25 per hour to a large number of employees, Burke said it’s time to break the habit of saying employee’s low wages are offset by the county’s health insurance.

“It can both be true, that we provide great health benefits and we do not pay our employees enough,” she said.

Burke’s comments were offered during Tuesday’s meeting without response from fellow commissioners Bruce Erb and Amy Webster.

At a salary board meeting last week, both Erb and Webster declined to address salary study recommendations for non-union employees, prompting Burke to admit her disappointment with that position.

In response, Erb and Webster spoke of wanting to know more about the fiscal impact of the recommendations while Burke pointed out that the study was pursued to address a lack of pay equity among county employees.

The salary board also has the salary study on hold, pending development of a compensation policy.

In support of the stance she presented Tuesday, Burke calculated that a county employee making $10.25 an hour, at 35 hours a week, earns $18,655 a year or $1,435 a month.

If that county employee pays $650 a month in rent, $160 in utilities and $110 for internet and cellphone access, then that employee has $495 left for groceries, child care, car payments and to cover required contributions to the pension and health care plans.

“The bottom line is that even with $25 co-pays and a $250 deductible, our employees cannot afford to get sick,” she said.

Even though the county pays about $20,000 per employee for a family health insurance plan, Burke said that’s not a sign that the county pays its employees a living wage.

“It’s merely evidence of how broken our health care system is,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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