ROCKVILLE – The minimum wage in Montgomery County Council will soon begin a slow rise from its current level of $11.50 per hour to an eventual $15 an hour, ending a year filled with debate, endless amendments and compromise upon compromise among members of the Montgomery County Council, which voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve Bill 18-27.
The bill now heads to the desk of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who in January vetoed a prior attempt by the Council to pass a minimum wage bill, but said in a statement Tuesday that he plans on signing the revised legislation.
“Based on the changes from the original bill, what the County Council approved today is close enough to the conditions I laid down for my support that I will sign the measure into law,” Leggett said.
Incremental change is the centerpiece of the bill, which will require employers to incrementally increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour over the course of the next six years.
Employers with 51 or more employees will have to pay the new minimum wage by 2022, but non-profits and “mid-sized” businesses who employ between 11 and 50 workers will be allowed to wait until 2023 to make the change, while those “small businesses” having 10 or fewer employees will not have to do so until 2024.
The minimum wage will also be tied to inflation and revised annually beginning in 2022.
Despite the slow pace of the wage increases, lead sponsor Councilman Mark Elrich (D-At Large) was pleased by the outcome of the vote.
“I think this is one of the most important pieces of legislation that we passed on my time on the Council,” he said.
Four council members who voted against the original version of the bill – Roger Berliner (D-1), Craig Rice (D-2), Sidney Katz (D-3) and Nancy Floreen (D-at large) – had said they worried what the impacts would be on small business and employment. The four advocated that the County study the economic impact of a minimum wage increase before they could be convinced to vote in favor of the bill.
The results of that study were released in August, when Philadelphia-based PFM Consulting claimed the County would lose 47,000 jobs if it were to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
But after a review of the study, the firm’s executive director Dean Kaplan admitted that there was a mathematical mistake in the study discrediting the results. Leggett later agreed to not pay the $149,600 the County originally planned to pay PFM Consulting for the study.
Berliner, one of the council members who opposed the original bill, seemed pleased by the final outcome.
“From day one I thought the measures before us did not strike the right balance, and with the support of the County Executive we gained the time we needed to get this right to reconcile these competing truths,” Berliner said. “No legislation is perfect and I’m sure there will be those who find fault in this measure as amended. But it is often said that politics is the art of the compromise. It is an art that regrettably has been lost in too many jurisdictions. It is an art that is critical to governing well.”
Labor advocates who had long pushed for the bill’s passage were jubilant, erupting in chants of “Si, se puede” (yes, we can) after the final vote before convening an impromptu press conference in the lobby of the Council building.
“I think that it wouldn’t be necessarily strategic for it just to be here in Montgomery County,” said Maria Naranjo, a Service Employees International Union district director. “This is a great first step we’re going to celebrate today but we know the reality is that we have to look at other counties we have to look at the statewide.”
Still, business owners and spokespeople for the several chambers of commerce located within the County said increasing the minimum wage will cause business to cut payroll and lay off employees, even as labor advocates said the County needed to mandate employers pay their employees a “living wage.”
Montgomery County joins other jurisdictions such as Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles who have passed bills to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour.