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Centre County group protests state’s minimum wage

Non-violent protest turns ugly as driver nearly plows into crowd

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Approximately 20 protesters stood outside the Centre County court house on Monday afternoon to protest Pennsylvania's minimum wage.

BELLEFONTE — A group of peaceful protesters upset about Pennsylvania’s minimum wage were nearly hit by an unidentified driver as they were walking through the parking lot of the Match Factory in downtown Bellefonte on Monday afternoon.

As the protesters headed to Sen. Jake Corman’s (R-Bellefonte) office, a driver refused to slow down for the group and leader Zach Zobrist attempted to stop the driver by pushing on the hood of the car.

At that point, the unidentified male driver opened his door and screamed, “Don’t touch my car!” There was inaudible yelling, but no one was injured and the man drove off without further incident.

“I thought he was going to hit someone,” Zobrist said. “I think he intentionally sped up and was trying to hit folks, so I had to do something.”

That incident aside, Zobrist said that the “Wage the Raise” rally was productive.

“I think this was a great start. This is an emerging coalition and we’re just getting started. This is a really important time. The state budget is a clear pathway to actually raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania,” Zobrist said.

The protest, comprised of county labor unions, community groups, Penn State students and residents, began at noon in front of the Centre County courthouse.

The group is in support of House Bill 1225, which would immediately increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour and increase it to $15 per hour by 2025.

Renee Chernega was one of the organizers of the protest.

“I’m here today because I’ve been working minimum wage jobs since I was 15,” she explained. “I’m 27 now and it’s far past time that Pennsylvania steps up and increases the minimum wage to at least $12 (per hour), maybe $15.”

According to Chernega, she works three part-time jobs and two side jobs just to make ends meet.

The protest was one of several taking place as part of a statewide call to action. With just two weeks left in the General Assembly session, there’s hope that lawmakers will push for the aforementioned increase in minimum wage in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

Drivers going past the courthouse honked horns in support of the protest. In between speakers, the group chanted and sang songs.

Rev. Jes Kast, who recently moved from New York City to Centre County, spoke about the problems that minimum wage presents.

“There’s a moral obligation to increase the minimum wage for the people of Pennsylvania. Our current state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is not fair and is not just. A job should keep people out of poverty, not continue the cycle of poverty,” Kast said.

A steady rain fell throughout the afternoon. One of the organizers, Manuel Rosaldo, was pleased to see a large turnout in spite of the poor weather.

“I’m really glad that we’re coming together to help the residents of Centre County. There are a number of people who are working who cannot afford to pay their rent and that is wrong,” Rosaldo said.

In addition to stopping at Corman’s office, the group also stopped by the offices of state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin).

Calls to Benninghoff and Corman’s offices were not returned.

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