Testimony Research

This research analyzes public testimony given before the Pittsburgh Wage Review Committee. This committee was convened by former City Councilman Burgess to examine wages in the region and included our own Jeff Shook as a Committee Member. These public records demonstrate how hospital workers and hospital administrators differ in their justifications about wage levels and wage advocacy in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Research Objectives

  1. Gain an understanding of claims-making arguments made by hospital low-wage workers and experts in the impacts of low-wages.
  2. Describe the types of hardships described by low-wage hospital and the strategies used to mitigate these hardships.

Sample

156 hospital workers and 20 experts who testified in two-days of hearing at the Wage Review Committee appointed by Pittsburgh City Council in 2015.

Research Method

  • Iterative thematic analysis
  • Qualitative descriptive analysis

Funders

  • School of Social Work UG Research Initiative Social Science Research Initiative, University of Pittsburgh
  • The Heinz Endowments

Products from this Research

Examining Experts’ Arguments for Increasing the Minimum Wage: Insights for Social Work Advocates –   Elizabeth Steiner, Sandra Wexler, & Rafael Engel. (2021). Advances in Social Work, 20(3).

Abstract: The struggles of low-wage workers have increasingly become the focus of public debate, legislative activity, and widespread advocacy. Advocacy can be viewed from the vantage point of claims-making, that is, how individuals and groups define and shape a social problem to influence policy. This paper describes the wage-related claims posted online by 17 experts who testified to a City Council Wage Review Committee in Pittsburgh. Our primary aim was to understand how experts constructed their claims; secondarily, we were interested in the rationales they offered for raising wages. We thematically analyzed the testimonies to identify how they shaped and defined their claims in favor of increasing wages. Experts described the challenges faced by minimum wage workers and their families as well as by the community. They cited economic considerations, social and economic justice concerns, and moral justifications for raising the minimum wage, often combining arguments. Social work advocates are important claims-makers, yet how they “speak truth to power” is not often systematically assessed. Our analysis suggests social work advocates must be prepared to provide multiple arguments and to put a human face to any data presented. Appeals should be made to both the heads and hearts of decision-makers, while keeping social and economic justice arguments front and center.

“It is Truly a Struggle to Survive”: The Hardships of Living on Low Wages – Sandra Wexler, Rafael Engel, Elizabeth Steiner, & Helen Petracchi. (2020). Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 101(3), 275-288.

Abstract: Many low-wage workers struggle to make ends meet despite working full-time. Surveys find that they confront material, financial, and medical hardships. This article presents hospital workers’ descriptions of living on low wages, giving voice to their fears and challenges. These workers (N = 156) testified to a city council-created Wage Review Committee, which posted the testimonies online. We qualitatively content-analyzed the testimonies to identify and describe their struggles. Hospital workers’ testimonies brought depth and new understanding to arguments for raising wages. Low-wage workers can be effective advocates for their own interests.

“We’re not the Enemy and We’re not Asking for the World”: Low-wage Hospital Service Workers’ Advocacy for Fair Wages – Sandra Wexler, Rafael J. Engel, Tal Laufer, & Elizabeth Steiner. (2020). Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XLVII, 123-148.

Abstract: A number of states and localities have increased the minimum wage beyond that set by the federal government in recognition of the material and health challenges faced by low-wage earners. Academics, economists, and activists have offered microeconomic, economic justice, and moral rationales to support increasing the minimum wage. These justifications can be understood from the vantage of claims-making, that is, the ways individuals and groups attempt to define and shape a social problem to influence policy. This paper examines the wage-related claims-making of low-wage hospital service workers. These workers (N=156) testified to a City Council-created Wage Review Committee, which posted the testimonies online. We qualitatively content analyzed these workers’ testimonies to identify their rationales for higher wages and fair wage rates. Hospital workers’ testimonies brought depth and new understanding to arguments for raising wages. Low-wage workers can be effective advocates for their own interests.

“It is Truly a Struggle to Survive:” The Hardships of Living on Low Wages. Sandra Wexler, Rafael J. Engel, Helen E. Petracchi, Elizabeth Steiner (Under review – Families in Society)

“Robbing Peter to pay for Paul”: Low-wage workers’ hardships and survival strategies. Sandra Wexler, Rafael J. Engel, & Helen E. Petracchi.  A paper presented at the 24th Society for Social Work Research Annual Conference, January 2020, Washington, D.C.

“We’re not the enemy and we’re not asking for the world”: Low-wage hospital workers advocacy for fair wages.  Sandra Wexler, Tal Laufer, Daniel Jacobson, Jeffrey Shook, & Rafael Engel.  Paper presented at the 23rd Society for Social Work Research Annual Conference, January 2019, San Francisco, CA.