Pennsylvania’s minimum wage hasn’t changed in more than a decade. Workers, business owners, advocates debate what that means.

When Andrea Grove opened her Harrisburg coffee shop, she budgeted a salary of $15 an hour for her employees.

That hourly rate is more than $7 above the federal and state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and put Ms. Grove on one side of a years-long debate about whether the minimum wage should increase and, if so, by how much and how quickly.

Ms. Grove, who opened Elementary Coffee in 2014, ran into some of the problems business owners worry about when discussing a minimum wage increase. The $15 rate may limit the number of employees she can bring on board and it could prevent her from franchising the business or opening more locations across the state.

But the money she puts toward her employees’ wages will end up paying for itself, she says.

“I think if you put their wages and what they deserve to make first, that will always drive the budget itself,” Ms. Grove said at a press conference in March. “We’re really just trying to direct the company, as there’s cash flow, back to the employees themselves and back to the people who actually make the company what it is.”

While some employers like Elementary Coffee are already choosing to raise salaries above the minimum wage, so far there has been no mandate from federal or state officials. A provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the latest COVID-19 relief bill. Still, President Joe Biden and some lawmakers are pledging efforts to make it happen.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf included a minimum wage increase in his budget proposal and a group of Democratic lawmakers have pushed for a path to a $15 an hour wage floor. In March, two Republican lawmakers also introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The state’s minimum wage hasn’t changed in more than a decade, even after several budget proposals and attempts to pass legislation.

Some business owners and economists worry an increased minimum wage would lead to more job cuts as employers look for ways to fund the extra expense. Advocates for higher pay worry that $7.25 an hour, which amounts to about $15,000 a year for full-time workers, is not enough to live on.



According to one analysis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a living wage for one adult with no children in Allegheny County is $13.11. That factors in expenses like food, housing, transportation and medical bills.

For one adult with one child, it is $26.81.

“I have had to pause and ponder if — due to the extreme challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown at all of us — if it changed the fight for a fair working wage at all,” Ms. Grove said. “And I determined — as a very small business, barely keeping our own heads above water, despite struggling every day to make an income to be distributed among my team — that the only thing that has changed in the fight to raise the minimum wage is the obvious and desperate need to do so.”

Juggling utility bills and medical visits

Mr. Wolf’s recent proposal would raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour starting in July, with yearly increases until it hits $15 an hour in 2027. The proposal also aims to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which guarantees workers $2.83 an hour plus tips.

This is the seventh year in a row Mr. Wolf has introduced similar legislation, which means the target year for $15 an hour continues to get pushed back.

Richard Gegick, 37, of Manchester said the tipped minimum wage made sense when he started working at a high-end restaurant in Pittsburgh in 2007. Now, 14 years later, it’s not enough to keep up with the cost of living.

Richard Gegick, who worked 14 years as a server at Morton’s Steakhouse, Downtown, before resigning in November, at his North Side home on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

“You’re constantly juggling what can you pay and what can you not pay,” he said, adding that he often asks himself which utility bill he can be late on this month. Or, if he can skip out on that doctor’s appointment.

The system makes it nearly impossible for Mr. Gegick to find work that will offer him a higher pay rate in the industry in which he has spent so much time honing his skills. In most industries, a 14-year veteran could ask their boss for a raise. In the restaurant industry, he’s reliant on tips no matter where he goes.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re working at a diner or a steakhouse, you’re still paid $2.83 an hour,” Mr. Gegick said. “There’s upward mobility in terms of you can work in places with higher priced menu items and that requires more skill, but there’s no wage competition in the business.”

‘A lot of people work for relatively low wages in this state’

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage that is above the federal rate, including many of Pennsylvania’s neighbors.

About 1.4 million workers in Pennsylvania would be impacted by Mr. Wolf’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $12 in July, according to a February analysis from the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget Policy Center, nonpartisan research organizations based in Harrisburg. The final $15 wage would reach more than 1.6 million people.

Of those, 1.1 million currently earn less than $15 per hour. Another 500,000 people have a salary that is at or close to $15 an hour and would see a bump in their wages as the floor rose, the report found.

“The difference between $8 and $12 or $9 and $12 or let alone $7 and $12 is pretty huge,” said Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “Raising the minimum wage would lift a lot of people out of poverty.”

A recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that a minimum wage increase to $15 would push 900,000 people nationwide above the poverty line.

That same report estimated it could cost 1.4 million jobs.

Some argue the job loss isn’t worth it. Others argue that the jobs will come back as employees have more spending money to put back into the economy.

The Keystone Research Center estimated the increase would add $6 billion in wages to Pennsylvania workers, which it says translates to $6 billion in new consumption.



But those who oppose the fight for $15 aren’t convinced.

“We’ve certainly heard from businesses that if passed into law this would be the final straw and they would have to close up,” said Alex Halper, director of government affairs with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“It’s sort of common sense that, yes, there will be people whose wages go up as a result of this policy, but then there are also those who will suffer those negative consequences,” he said.

Employers and recruiting

Mandate or not, some employers are already moving to raise wages — some stopping short of $15 and others taking a phased-in approach that slowly increases wages each year.

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor in the Strip District raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour — plus tips — in March after struggling to find employees to staff the shop as it increased its summer hours.

Bess Saunders, 20, serves a young customer on her second day of work at Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor on Penn Avenue in the Strip District. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Best Buy announced last July it would raise its starting minimum wage to $15, bringing its average hourly wages to more than $17, according to a spokesperson for the company. Target made the same move in July, after three years of incremental wage increases. Hobby Lobby surpassed the $15 mark and announced it would raise its minimum wage to $17 an hour last October.

After committing to raise its minimum wage to $15 for all employees in 2018, Amazon received a record number of applications for hourly positions, more than double the previous record, the company said on a call with investors that quarter.

The increased paychecks helped employees with things like car repairs and home improvement projects, Jay Carney, senior vice president for global corporate affairs, wrote in a January 2021 blog post advocating for a federal minimum wage increase. “In short, the investments we made in our hourly employees were quickly transferred to local businesses and economies,” he wrote.

Walmart kept its minimum wage at $11 an hour but introduced raises for 425,000 employees in February that brought its average salary up to $15.25 an hour, according to Anne Hatfield, senior director of global communications. Starting wages for digital and stocking associates now fall between $13 and $19 an hour.

Giant Eagle pays about $26,000 per year for retail sales associates and $24,000 a year for grocery associates, according to job search platform Indeed. For full-time workers, that amounts to about $12.50 an hour for sales associates and $11.50 for grocery associates.

Spokesperson Dan Donovan said the company has thousands of team members who “have grown in their roles over time and who today receive a wage at or above those currently being proposed.”

Changing the conversation

Members of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, a trade organization that represents independent grocers, supermarkets, convenience stores and wholesalers, have also started to raise wages, according to president and CEO Alex Baloga. But it’s happened on their own terms — and mostly hasn’t reached a $15 rate yet.

Doubling the minimum wage is too steep, Mr. Baloga said. He worries it will make it harder for companies to make new hires.

“It’s harder to take a risk when you have to start out immediately at $15,” he said. “Every employer wants to raise their employees’ wages and benefits, it’s just good business. But you have to be able to do it.”

Instead of a conversation about the wage floor, he wants to talk about the “overall business climate” and get rid of what he sees as outdated rules and regulations that are hampering retailers. As an example, he pointed to the rule that requires stores to have a separate register for alcohol sales.

Mr. Halper from the Pennsylvania Chamber also wants to change the conversation. Rather than a blanket policy to raise wages, he wants to focus on targeted relief for low-income workers.

‘Nobody’s getting rich off $15 an hour’

Wendell Young, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 1776, which represents workers in several industries including in grocery and retail, doesn’t buy it when companies say they’re raising wages to $15 an hour. He often finds that ads for those positions are only for a handful of roles or only offer part-time work or actually require several years with the company before the worker would make that rate.

For workers, that’s not good enough, he says.

“I’m a firm believer that if you can’t afford to pay somebody a wage that is above the poverty level then you shouldn’t be in business,” Mr. Young said.

Workers who are making at or below $15 an hour told the Post-Gazette a higher wage would allow them to start saving money for emergencies, like if their car breaks down. It would allow them to take a day off work or to go back to school.

Nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania workers who would benefit from the minimum wage increase have dependent children, according to the Keystone Research Center.

The $7.25 minimum wage “makes it harder for them to do everything,” Mr. Young said. “Whether it’s buying clothes, making sure their kids have everything they need for school … It affects the kind of housing they can live in.”

“Nobody’s getting rich off $15 an hour,” he said. “Why should anybody in this world, in this country of all places, be expected to work full time at a wage rate that keeps them poor forever.”


Living below fifteen

The Post-Gazette is sharing the stories of six workers from across the state who are working for less than $15 an hour.


‘If I made a couple more dollars an hour, I would be better off’

When Larisa Mednis’ bike was stolen, she couldn’t afford to buy a new one.

Ms. Mednis, 23, of Bloomfield, was working as a server at a sushi restaurant at the time. Her income and the tips she got from diners was enough to cover her rent, her bills and her groceries — on most occasions — but she didn’t have money to spare for a new bike. That didn’t happen until the first federal stimulus check arrived.

“When you’re not earning a living wage, there’s just always something that ends up falling by the wayside,” Ms. Mednis said. “You cannot be paying for every expense that you have.”

Ms. Mednis started working in the restaurant industry as a college student wrapping burritos at Chipotle. At the time, she and her co-workers thought the $8-$9 per hour in compensation was significant because it was a few dollars above minimum wage. Over time, that excitement wore off.

She worked her way through the hierarchy of the restaurant industry and saw her wages increase while her stress level decreased.

“It just went from ‘Oh, I’m borrowing money from my family to make my bills’ to ‘Oh, I need to make sure I eat every staff meal at work this week before my paycheck comes in,’” Ms. Mednis said. “It became a little less desperate but there was always kind of that feeling that if I made a couple more dollars an hour, I would be better off.”

Some weeks were better than others; a lot of her paycheck depended on things she could not control, like how many people came into the restaurant and what type of mood they were in when they did.

To prepare for the weeks when her paycheck came in lower than expected, she would be more frugal with her food budget and walk to work to save on bus fare.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ms. Mednis said she was lucky to have just received her last paycheck, which got her through until the unemployment benefits arrived.

Now, she works as an advocate for the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid group, an organization that provides resources to restaurant and hospitality workers, and brings in about $21 an hour before taxes. That’s allowed her to start putting something away for savings.

“I guess it’s not too complicated or unexpected to say,” Ms. Mednis said. “as I started earning more money, I started feeling a little more comfortable.”

Reporting Lauren Rosenblatt

“People think it’s an easy job. It’s not”

Two summers ago, while making his rounds as a security guard at the First Avenue Garage in Downtown, Tony Tolten emerged from an elevator on the facility’s sixth floor and entered the bright light of day. He looked out at a sea of automobiles on the garage’s top floor. It was a busy day in this part of town, near Pittsburgh Municipal Court and the Allegheny County Jail.

Mr. Tolten had walked only a few steps when he looked to his right and saw a young woman climbing to the top of the wall at the edge of the garage. She wore blue jeans and a white shirt.

Mr. Tolten sensed she was going to jump, so he rushed over and pulled her away from the wall. The young woman struggled with Mr. Tolten and said she wanted to kill herself. “You’re too young,” he said to her. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”

He managed to pull a radio from his back pocket and call for assistance. A short time later, a police officer arrived and took the young woman away. Relieved, Mr. Tolten resumed his rounds.

Mr. Tolten says that moment was one of the most satisfying of his 35 years in the security business. “I saved a woman’s life,” he said. Other times have been odd and challenging. “I catch people in the stairwells having sex, shooting drugs. You name it, I’ve seen it.

“The day before yesterday, a young lady went around pulling the fire alarms in the emergency call stations at the garage. Police arrested her. She had a box cutter on her. That’s the type of people we run into.”

On other days, the job can seem fairly routine. Mr. Tolten checks each floor of the garage twice an hour to make certain nobody is breaking into parked vehicles. He’s 60 years old, and the walking takes a toll on his knees, but “I can handle it,” he said.

Over the years, Mr. Tolten has worked security at places like PNC Park, the U.S. Steel Tower, the D.L. Clark Building and various parking garages. He knows what some people think of the profession, that security guards do little other than sit around and watch video monitors. Even on routine days, it’s a false perception, he said.

“We have to interact with the public,” he said. “That’s harder than any office job in America. We’ve got to sign people in, deal with attitudes, with people not waking up on right side of bed and taking it out on security. People think it’s an easy job. It’s not.”

For his work at First Avenue Garage, Mr. Tolten receives $13.60 an hour. It’s not enough, he said, so on weekends he works a second security job at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

What would a pay increase mean to him?

“A lot,” he said. “It would help me pay some bills off. I wouldn’t have to work two jobs. I’d have some free time. I’d spend some time with my lovely wife, Evette.”

Reporting Steve Mellon



“You wonder, ‘How can $300 be a crisis?’ But it is”

Last fall, finances grew shaky for Erica Payne. She’s a home health worker who cares for two people — her mother and a client, a woman in her 50s who was paralyzed as the result of an accident when she was a teenager.

Ms. Payne gets paid nothing to help her mother and collects an hourly wage of about $12 to assist her client a few hours each weekday. To make ends meet, Ms. Payne drives for Uber and GrubHub on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The pandemic took a big bite out of that work. Paying the bills became a challenge.

By February, things looked brighter. Ms. Payne’s driving and delivery work picked up as people again ventured out of their homes.

Then came trouble. Ms. Payne noticed disturbing noises while driving her car. She had known she needed new brakes. Now, it had become something she could no longer ignore. She drove her car to a mechanic.

“It was $300 and it needed to be fixed right then,” Ms. Payne said. “My car is how I make money. It was a scramble. Which bills will be paid? Where will I find the money? Borrowing from others? Taking it out of my savings? I don’t want to touch my savings, ever. You wonder, ‘How can $300 be a crisis?’ But it is.”

Ms. Payne never made much money, despite holding two degrees — a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Point Park University, and a master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. After finishing graduate school in 2013, she worked for a nonprofit agency that helped children and families.

“We were on call 24/7, working with people in crisis situations,” she said. “There was illness, or loss of jobs.” Some families were dealing with drug and alcohol issues. The most she made was a little more than $16 an hour.

Then, two things changed her life.

In 2016, she suffered a head injury in an automobile accident, which limited her ability to manage the crisis situations she encountered at work. She began looking for another job in which she could use the skills she’d learned.

At the same time, her mother’s health declined to the point that she needed professional care, either at the family’s Elliott home or in a facility that would provide long-term assistance.

“My first thought was, ‘I want my mom with us,’ ” Ms. Payne said. But if her mother remained at home, who would provide the assistance? Ms. Payne decided she would do the work herself. That meant giving up hope on a full-time job, since she would need a flexible schedule to work around her mother’s needs.

“When it came to deciding how I was going to work around her and involve myself in my work, which I love to do, I was very lost,” Ms. Payne said. “It’s very hard. You feel like you’ve lost something. You don’t have a purpose.”

Once she made the move, finances became an issue. Ms. Payne’s parents do not qualify for home health care assistance — their income rises above the limit which, Ms. Payne said, hasn’t been raised in decades. She says a lot of people are in this situation of having to care for aging parents, which can seem like a full-time job, and maintain a job to pay the bills.

“These are working-class people,” Ms. Payne said. “They made a good income but not a substantial income. They paid taxes for services for those who don’t make the money, who qualify for these services. Now that they need the services, they can’t get them.”

The help Ms. Payne provides to both her mother and her client is detailed and intimate. Her client is paralyzed from the neck down and has limited use of her hands.

Ms. Payne’s mother is 73 and suffers from heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a long-term lung condition. She’s a “serious fall risk” and needs help walking, Ms. Payne said. She cannot make her own meals or do her own laundry.

On weekends, Ms. Payne’s father and brothers step in to help provide care so she can drive for Uber and GrubHub.

“I don’t love driving and deliveries. It serves a purpose, but it’s not enough. I want more meaning. I want to help more people. And in the long run, it does not cover my monthly expenses. If I continue this way for 20-30 years, it’s not going to work out well for me. I have $210,000 in student loan debt.”

As the population ages, Ms. Payne believes, more people will face similar circumstances — stay at home and care for an elderly loved one or continue to work and send that person to a facility.

“It’s not an unusual story,” she said. “We’re entering the ‘silver tsunami.’ By 2050, three generations will be retired — Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers and Gen Y. That’s a lot to put on millennials, who are just starting to work now. Something needs to change.”

Reporting Steve Mellon

“When you do find a…job that you can make enough money to pay your bills, I don’t think that should be a rarity”

After two possible exposures to the novel coronavirus, Nour Qutyan had to miss out on practically two weeks of pay. A bartender and server in Philadelphia who relies primarily on tips and a $2.83 hourly rate, that income covered about half of their rent.

“Thankfully I’d had money saved and it was enough for me to pay my rent that month. [But] it’s really easy to spiral into fear and uncertainty and not know what your next step was.”

Mx. Qutyan has not contracted the virus but “it’s not enough to just be lucky,” they said.

If they had become infected, the best case scenario would have been missing even more time off work. The worst would have been a hospital stay with medical bills they couldn’t afford to pay.

“When you do find a restaurant job that you can make enough money to pay your bills, I don’t think that should be a rarity,” they said. “And I think a lot of times it is.”

Mx. Qutyan, who is 28 and a full-time student at Temple University, has worked in the restaurant industry since graduating high school.

There are good days when they work long hours that show up in their take-home pay. And there are bad days when long hours aren’t reflected in their bank account.

Changing the system “would give me a sense of stability, knowing whatever happened that day I know I’m going to be making at least this amount of money in a day or this amount of money in a week,” Mx. Qutyan said. “We shouldn’t have to depend on how much other people perceive the value of our work.”

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by July 2027 and replace the tipped minimum wage starting this summer with a $12 an hour rate was a “slap in the face,” Mx. Qutyan said. Restaurant workers need the pay bump this year, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.

Before the pandemic last spring, Mx. Qutyan had been working 25-30 hours a week at a microbrewery in Philadelphia. Since then, their hours have been cut and now they work about one day a week making a fraction of what they are used to.

They applied for and received unemployment benefits for about three months but the payments were inconsistent and stopped without any explanation.

To make ends meet, Mx. Qutyan moved to an apartment with a lower rent, lives as minimally as possible and rarely leaves home — for both safety and financial reasons.

They also applied for other jobs in the restaurant industry but didn’t have any success. A new job could come with added health risks. At the microbrewery, Mx. Qutyan said there’s no indoor dining, no room for outdoor tables and no haggling with customers over putting a mask on.

“I feel safe but I’m the only person I know that works in a restaurant that feels safe,” they said. “But the sacrifice that I’m making for not having to deal with that is not making as much money as I used to make.”

Reporting Lauren Rosenblatt
Portrait Tyger Williams/The Philadelphia Inquirer



‘It’s gratifying that they trust you with someone they love’

For much of his childhood, Francis Adams lived with his grandparents in the tiny coal town of Westland in Washington County.

His grandfather Sell Francis Adams descended into a mine at 7 a.m. and emerged, soot-covered, at 8 p.m. Sell’s eyes, straining all day in darkness, burned in sunlight. Coal dust filled his lungs. Francis Adams’ grandmother Berdella Adams cleaned houses for a living.

“Even today, when I think about them, it brings emotion,” said Mr. Adams, 71, who now lives in Washington, Pa. “I don’t know if I could be the man that my grandfather was.”

Sell and Berdella Adams were hardworking people who, despite having little money, “would always give first,” Mr. Adams said.

He finds echoes of the couple’s mindset in the profession he’s chosen. Mr. Adams works as a home health care provider. “It’s more of a giving profession than it is a way to get rich.”

In fact, Sell and Berdella Adams provided their grandson with a path into the profession. By the late 1970s, coal mining had taken a toll on Sell Adams. He suffered from black lung disease and blindness. When Berdella died of a heart attack in 1980, responsibility for Sell’s well-being fell on Mr. Adams’ shoulders.

At the time, Mr. Adams was laid off from his job at Washington Steel, so the timing was right, he said. He looked after his grandfather until Sell Adams’ death in 1983.

Mr. Adams liked providing care, so he began picking up home health care jobs. On occasion, Mr. Adams returned to his job at the nearby steel mill, but that work was erratic. Layoffs were frequent, he said. Then, in the late ’90s, his aunt became ill with cancer. Once again, he found himself taking care of a relative.

“She became really debilitated the last couple of years of her life,” he said.

Mr. Adams learned he could receive pay for taking care of his aunt. “There was a need; this was a job,” he was told. The pay came through a hospice agency, he recalled. After his aunt’s death, Mr. Adams threw himself into home health care on a full-time basis. And for years, he worked with a steady array of clients. Now, he works on an “on-call” basis.

“That way I can have some free time,” he said. “But you never know. It can get pretty hectic and pretty busy at times. You really can’t get comfortable because you never know when the call is going to come. I can be in the middle of grocery shopping, and I’ll get a call.”

One recent morning, for example, Mr. Adams received a call at 5:30. A man with Parkinson’s disease was having difficulty getting out of bed. Mr. Adams drove to the man’s home to assist. The man began experiencing difficulty breathing, so Mr. Adams called an ambulance.

At times, his job requires him to change colostomy bags and catheters. Other times he helps with laundry and household cleaning or picks up prescriptions from a pharmacy.

His pay is around $11 per hour.

The work is “underpaid and undervalued, period,” he said. “We need to be able to unionize all home health care workers,” he said. Mr. Adams is represented by United Home Care Workers of PA. “It’s very important that we be able to negotiate our pay and health care, for our future.”

Mr. Adams sees value in his work, even if it brings in little pay. It allows people to stay in their homes as they age or experience health problems and offers relatives a break from providing care for loved ones.

“It gives people time to do the things they need to do for their families and their jobs,” he said. “It’s difficult if you’re working and your parents need you every day. Maybe you need to take your child to a soccer game or to the doctor. It’s hard for them to find people they can trust. I have keys to people’s homes — when they give you that kind of trust, it’s gratifying.

“It sounds silly, but it’s the way I was taught by my parents and grandparents.”

Reporting Steve Mellon

“Do you need somebody to talk to? I’ll be here all night”

Quite often, Angela Brock is the first person you see as you walk through the glass doors of Four Allegheny Center on the North Side. She’s the security guard stationed behind a desk.

The building is 10 floors of glass and steel that houses programs offering intensive psychiatric care, and Ms. Brock, 56, sees a lot of regulars — staff members who work in the building and those who come seeking treatment. She greets many by name. Her interactions vary. People are often kind and polite. Sometimes they can be difficult.

For example, one woman, a regular in the building, usually entered with an attitude. “She was always very rude,” Ms. Brock recalled.

Ms. Brock couldn’t figure it out. One night, she had reached her limit and decided to find out what was going on. She confronted the woman about her rudeness and asked, “Do you need somebody to talk to? I’ll be here all night.”

It was an empathetic approach, forged through years of struggle. Ms. Brock has faced plenty of adversity. She’s in recovery — “I’m 28 years clean,” she said — and understands that visitors to the building can be weighed down with personal problems. In this instance, the approach eventually softened the woman’s attitude. Ms. Brock discovered she had recently lost both of her parents.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Ms. Brock said. “My life has changed. … I can see addiction, I can see mental health problems. Because of my own personal experience, I’m more compassionate. I try to stay kind and polite, and sometimes I go beyond my call of duty to help people because they’re in a crisis. It makes me feel good about myself, to make somebody smile.”

Her security job has other challenges. When the weather warms, people sometimes use drugs near the building’s entrance. Ms. Brock tells them to leave, and they usually comply because she doesn’t approach them aggressively, she said.

And then there’s COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, her hours were cut in half. She returned to full-time work in July, she said. She considers herself and her colleagues in the security business as front-line workers, putting their health at risk during a major health crisis. “We greet you, we escort you anywhere you go in the building,” she said. “If somebody comes here without a mask, I give them a mask.”

Ms. Brock works the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Thursday and Friday she works 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. On a recent Tuesday shift, a colleague called in sick, so she worked a double shift. “It’s mandatory,” she said. “If it’s mandatory, they should compensate us for it, give us an incentive. There’s no overtime pay.”

Her pay now is $14.60 an hour. “You have to learn to budget your money,” she said. “Thank God I’m married, so there’s another income in the house. Otherwise, I couldn’t make it on my own.”

Reporting Steve Mellon