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Wolf renews bid to put state's minimum wage among highest

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out a second-term proposal Wednesday to vault Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to one of the highest in the nation after similar first-term proposals by the Democrat fell flat in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Wolf wants to take the hourly minimum to $12 this year, putting Pennsylvania in line with the highest state minimum wages, according to federal data. Pennsylvania also would join a handful of states by eliminating its tipped wage minimum, now $2.83, under legislation being introduced with Wolf’s support.

Such a step would boost pay for a million workers and provide more than $100 million in annual savings in state programs for the poor, Wolf said.

“Today too many people are working harder and harder and they still can’t afford basics like food and transportation and shelter,” Wolf told a crowded news conference in his Capitol reception room. “Despite working full time, too many people still need help from public benefits programs to get by.”

Wolf’s proposal includes annual 50-cent increases to bring the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2025, putting Pennsylvania in a group of 17 other states that have scheduled annual adjustments written into law.

Washington, D.C., and some cities have boosted their minimum wages to above $12 an hour, but Pennsylvania law forbids its municipalities from setting a local wage rate.

Pennsylvania has remained at the $7.25 federal minimum since 2009, putting it among 21 states. The other 29 states, including each of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, have increased their minimum wages to above the federal minimum.

Raising the minimum wage has backing from labor unions, Democratic lawmakers and some moderate Republicans, and public polling shows it tends to rate well among voters.

However, it is opposed by leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities and business groups, including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The chamber said Wolf’s plan, by requiring such steep wage hikes, is “disconnected from reality for many Pennsylvania employers.” Restaurants operating on thin profit margins would see wages rise by more than 500 percent, it said.

Business groups say employers, particularly small businesses, will be forced to lay off workers, raise prices, cut back hours or trim benefits to stay afloat. Higher wages also could cut into a business owner’s ability to invest in capital or an expansion, they say.

A targeted state-level earned income tax credit may better focus support to where it is needed, to a low-income parent, and avoid the negative impact of a broader wage increase, said Alex Halper of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Wolf’s administration is also considering a regulation to boost pay for hundreds of thousands of salaried employees by making them eligible for overtime pay. It has been reviewing feedback on it after holding a public comment period last year, and Wolf said Wednesday that he remained committed to it.

“Some people sort of find convenient ways to shift people from hourly to salaried workers and relieve themselves of the obligation to abide by overtime rules and regulations, and that’s not the way the game’s supposed to be played,” Wolf said.

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Exhibit delves into Dickinson College's complicated history with slavery

Dickinson College founder Benjamin Rush is celebrated as an educator and abolitionist, but student Cooper Wingert said there’s more to the man that can be found by digging deeper into the biographies.

Rush owned at least one person for 12 to 15 years. The explanation was that Rush bought the man to keep him from being sold into slavery and the man worked off the investment over the next decade plus.

“With Rush, you find that he did some great things. He also did some things that we look today and it makes us shudder. When you peel back that layer, you see that nobody is perfect,” Wingert said.

“Dickinson and Slavery,” a new exhibit at Dickinson College, peels back those layers by bringing to light the school’s complicated history with slavery.

A public open house and exhibit launch will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the House Divided Studio, 61 N. West St. in Carlisle. The exhibit is slated to remain indefinitely and will be open to the public most Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

The genesis of the exhibit came during Dickinson Professor of History Matthew Pinsker’s “American Slavery” class during the fall 2018 semester in which Wingert, a junior, and senior Becca Stout were students. The two have remained with the project since then, discovering little-known connections between Dickinson College and the nation’s slaveholding past.

One person, Richard McAllister, graduated from Dickinson College in 1840. There’s a dry, perfunctory entry about him in the alumni record that doesn’t touch on what the man became most famous for.

“It doesn’t talk about that he was the most notorious fugitive slave commissioner in the country. He returned more people than anyone else during the Fugitive Slave Laws in the 1850s,” Wingert said.

The exhibit starts with a section focused on the founders that attempts to raise awareness about some of the conflicts those men had. On one side of the display are familiar names like John Dickinson and Rush, who were known for their abolitionist views and yet owned slaves, Pinsker said.

The other side talks about lesser known figures including Thomas Cooper, a famous scientist who was anti-slavery but became a slaveholder and pro-slavery figure after taking a position as a president of a college in South Carolina.

Stout worked on a series of topics within the project starting with Cooper and moving on to uncovering the stories of the janitors in the post-Civil War era, like Henry Spradley, a former slave who escaped during the Civil War and fought in the Union Army. He was so beloved by the college community that the college even closed for a day in his honor when he died in 1897.

The exhibit moves on through the Civil War and its aftermath, and includes a portion dedicated to the Carlisle residents — some born as slaves and others born free — who were familiar figures on campus at the end of the 19th century.

One of those people, Noah Pinkney, was a former slave who served in the Union Army and was at Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. He became a food vendor for students on the campus before serving them at a restaurant at his nearby home.

Information came from ledgers and letters, newspaper articles and archives, many of which were accessible online. Some stories would have remained hidden had it not been for databases, Pinsker said. One such story came from a newspaper in Ohio that reported a near-lynching at Dickinson in the 1870s.

The Cumberland County Historical Society was also a partner in the project.

Uncovering the history offered insight into the world of Dickinson in the 19th century, Wingert said. Alumni who were students in the 1870s wrote recollections of the janitors 33 years after the fact, which indicates the importance of the role those men played in college life.

At the same time, there were serious realities including the story of Robert Young, who fought to get his son admitted to Dickinson, prompting a huge backlash, Winger said.

“While they are members of the community, there are certain spaces that are clearly off limits to them as well,” he said.

Senior Sarah Aillon said it’s important to realize that this tension-filled history stretches into the modern day, and is relevant in such things as naming buildings.

During the research, Stout said students found a memo from the early 1990s in which a college official offered his rationale for the names he proposed for 10 college buildings. In it, he said he saw no point in naming a building after the first black or Native American to attend the college or to name one after the first female professor.

“Given the heritage of this college, that leaves me only with other dead white men to choose among,” the memo reads.

So one of the buildings was named after Cooper for his scientific accomplishments while not considering his pro-slavery view, Stout said.

“His scientific accomplishments were incredible while he was here, but he was only here for four years, so it wasn’t even like he had a long span in history,” she said.

Aillon said working on the exhibit prompted her to think more critically about what led them to act the way they did or believe the things they believed.

“When you approach situations like this in history, you have to approach it with a level of empathy and sympathy. You have to maybe not necessarily agree with what people did or their actions, but, with history, you have to understand why they did those things,” she said.

Pinsker said the purpose of the exhibit is to get people to rethink what they thought they knew and to think about what to do with the knowledge they acquire, adding that people like Young, Spradley and Pinkney need to be commemorated in Carlisle.

“The next stage would be: How do we want to commemorate it? Do we want to change some names? Do we want to add some names? What does the community want to do?” Pinsker said.

Jason Malmont, The Sentinel 

Becca Stout, 20, left, and Cooper Wingert, 20, both Dickinson College students, both Dickinson College students, discuss the wide variety of photographs and documents they accumulated for the Dickinson and Slavery exhibit opening Friday as part of the college’s House Divided Project at 61 N. West St., Carlisle.

Jason Malmont, The Sentinel 

The Dickinson and Slavery exhibit will be opening Friday as part of the college’s House Divided Project at 61 N. West St., Carlisle.

Polar blast envelops Midwest, strains aging infrastructure

CHICAGO — A blast of polar air enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday, closing schools and businesses and straining infrastructure across the Rust Belt with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation.

The deep freeze snapped rail lines and canceled hundreds of flights in the nation’s third-largest city, which was as cold as the Arctic. Heavily dressed repair crews hustled to keep water mains and gas pipes working.

Chicago dropped to a low around minus 23, slightly above the city’s lowest-ever reading of minus 27 from January 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25.

Wind chills reportedly made it feel like minus 50 or worse. Downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home. Trains and buses operated with few passengers. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.

The Postal Service took the rare step of suspending mail delivery in many places, and in southeastern Minnesota, even the snowplows were idled by the weather.

The bitter cold was the result of a split in the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that normally stays bottled up in the Arctic. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual. In fact, Chicago was colder than the Canadian village of Alert, one of the world’s most northerly inhabited places. Alert, which is 500 miles from the North Pole, reported a temperature that was a couple of degrees higher.

Officials in dozens of cities focused on protecting vulnerable people from the cold, including the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing.

At least eight deaths were linked to the system, including an Illinois man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn. Elsewhere, a man was struck by a snowplow in the Chicago area, a couple’s SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man froze to death in a garage, authorities said.

Aside from the safety risks and the physical discomfort, the system’s icy grip took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation, knocking out electricity and interrupting water service.

Amtrak canceled scores of trains to and from Chicago, one of the nation’s busiest rail hubs. Several families who intended to leave for Pennsylvania stood in ticket lines at Chicago’s Union Station only to be told all trains were canceled until Friday.

“Had I known we’d be stranded here, we would have stayed in Mexico longer — where it was warmer,” said Anna Ebersol, who was traveling with her two sons.

Chicago commuter trains that rely on electricity were also shut down after the metal wires that provide their power contracted, throwing off connections.

Ten diesel-train lines in the Metra network kept running, but crews had to heat vital switches with gas flames and watched for rails that were cracked or broken. When steel rails break or even crack, trains are automatically halted until they are diverted or the section of rail is repaired, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

A track in the Minneapolis light-rail system also cracked, forcing trains to share the remaining track for a few hours.

In Detroit, more than two dozen water mains froze. Customers were connected to other mains to keep water service from being interrupted, Detroit Water and Sewerage spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said.

Most mains were installed from the early 1900s to the 1950s. They are 5 to 6 feet underground and beneath the frost line, but that matters little when temperatures drop so dramatically, Peckinpaugh said.

On a typical winter day, the city has five to nine breaks, with each taking about three days to fix. But those repairs will take longer now with the large number of failures to fix, Peckinpaugh said.

Detroit is in the second year of a $500 million program to rehab its water and sewer system. Last year, 25 miles of water mains were replaced.

“Water pipes are brittle. The more years they’ve gone through the freeze-thaw cycle, the more likely stress and strain,” said Greg DiLoreto, a volunteer with the American Society of Civil Engineers and chair of its committee on American infrastructure.

Pipes laid a century ago have far exceeded the life span for which they were designed, said DiLoreto, who described the aging process as “living on borrowed time.”

“When we put them in — back in the beginning — we never thought they would last this long,” he said.

The same freeze-thaw cycle beats up concrete and asphalt roads and bridges, resulting in teeth-jarring potholes.

“You won’t see them until it starts warming up and the trucks start rolling over the pavement again,” said DiLoreto who is based in Portland, Oregon.

Thousands of utility customers were without electricity after high winds also caused trees and branches to fall into power lines, especially in the south Chicago suburbs. The ComEd utility in northern Illinois said crews restored power to more than 42,000 customers and were working to restore another 9,400.

Duke Energy was working to restore power to about 5,200 customers on Indianapolis’ north side and adjacent areas of Hamilton County. Another 1,000 outages were reported near Kokomo, Indiana, about 40 miles north of Indianapolis. The utility was investigating the cause of the outages.

Low temperatures can cause overhead wires to contract, said Otto Lynch, chief executive of Power Line Systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The tension goes way up the wire and gets tighter and causes poles to break,” Lynch said. “The wires are usually not going to break. It’s really dependent on how the line was designed. Fifty years ago, they didn’t do a whole lot of engineering” for the coldest possible temperatures.

Cumberland County
Ask/Answered: Changes in traffic and water main replacement

Ask/Answered is a weekly feature for reader-submitted questions. Follow the blog online at

Is the three-way stop at the intersection of Claremont and South Middlesex roads permanent?

Yes, the change to a three-way stop at the intersection of Claremont and South Middlesex roads in Middlesex Township is a permanent change.

Township supervisors approved an ordinance in July authorizing the change, and by late August, two more stop signs were installed at the intersection.

Township Manager Eileen Gault told The Sentinel in September the move was in response to residents’ concerns about safety at the intersection. Prior to the change, only one stop sign controlled traffic turning on to South Middlesex Road from Claremont Road.

Traffic from all directions is now required to stop.

“The main issue is the visibility when you are making a left turn onto South Middlesex from Claremont,” Gault told The Sentinel.

When will construction be completed on South Sporting Hill Road in Hampden Township?

In late September, Pennsylvania American Water began a large scale project on South Sporting Hill Road in Hampden Township to update the water infrastructure.

The $1.2 million water main replacement was split into phases to allow for the installation of nearly 4,300 feet of new 12-inch ductile pipe along Sporting Hill Road between Carlisle Pike and East Trindle Road.

The upgrade is meant to improve service reliability and replace piping that dates back to the 1950s.

Final paving is slated to be completed in May.

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Matt Rourke, Associated Press