Leggett signs county's new minimum wage law
The lengthy debate and amendment process leading to passage of Montgomery County’s new minimum wage ordinance should be an example for other Maryland jurisdictions looking to increase their own minimum wage rates, County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett said during a bill-signing ceremony on Monday.
“It establishes a foundation for the rest of Maryland and how we go forward,” he said during the ceremony, which was hosted by CASA de Maryland, an advocacy group that supports immigrants in job training and other services.
Leggett signed the bill while surrounded by supporters of the “Fight for $15” movement, representatives from labor unions, and various progressive groups as well as eight of the nine council members who passed the legislation.
Leggett’s spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said that laborers and restaurant workers will benefit most from the new law because they lack collective bargaining representation.
Council member Craig Rice – the lone council absentee at the ceremony – was an early opponent of the legislation who voted for the final version of the bill. However, his earlier opposition didn’t factor into his nonattendance, explaining that scheduling conflicts led to his absence from the bill signing.
Rice said he is happy with the compromises in the new legislation, which delays the increase for several years, but he worries about youth employment suffering.
“Statistics have shown unemployment rates are higher among younger people,” Rice said. “Folks are less likely to hire young people especially if they have to give them more money.”
Rice added that he wants to ensure that the focus isn't lost on growing opportunities for teens and connecting young people with employment.
“It's going to be a lot harder for those people to get jobs because we've increased the minimum wage,” he said.
Also notably absent from the ceremony were representatives of Montgomery County’s business community.
“Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce was not at the bill signing,” said MCCC spokesperson Ilaya Hopkins, because they did not negotiate with the bill’s key sponsor, Council member Marc Ehrich.
“[Elrich] showed no interest in and frankly was quite dismissive of concerns expressed by local employers who will be directly impacted by this second increase to the local minimum wage,” she said, referring to a 2014 law that began increasing the minimum wage to its current level of $11.50.
While Elrich – a candidate for county executive in 2018, is largely credited for the bill's passage – he declined to take credit for the new legislation while speaking during the packed ceremony, and instead thanked "the coalition," a group of stakeholders who worked with the Council to reach passage.
“This doesn't happen without you,” Elrich said while sitting with Leggett and representatives from Jews United for Justice, SEIU BJ32, Maryland Working Families, UFCW Local 1994 and UFCW Local 400, Progressive Maryland, Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO and CASA. “I'm so proud to be standing here with you, so proud to have negotiated with you and for you to have the confidence to stick with the process and see it to the end and to have not bent when you didn't need to bend. It was important to stay strong.”
County Council President Roger Berliner, who is also running for county executive, said it was a good day for the working people of Montgomery County.
“Congratulations to you,” Berliner said. “Amidst all the dysfunction and toxicity that we witness in our national politics, we can take pride in how people of good faith can come together and show how local government can work for the betterment of workers' day-to-day life.”
Berliner added that the minimum wage increase will put “real dollars” in the pockets of hard-working men and women.
“Today's wage of $11.50 will rise to $15.00 in 2021 for most workers, 2023 for more than 80 percent of workers and 2024 for everyone,” he said. “In real dollar terms, it means $560 more a month for a single mom and $1,120 a month for two hard-working parents trying to take care of their little ones.”
The assembled crowd could not have been happier, as they chanted in Spanish, “Yes we can.”
The new law – which was passed after numerous amendments, a veto from Leggett and a flawed impact study – will require businesses with 51 or more employees to pay a minimum $15 wage by July 1, 2021, businesses with 11 to 51 employees by July 1, 2023 and businesses with 10 employees or less by July 1, 2024. Non-profit organizations that have a 501(c)(3) designation have until July 1, 2023, unless they are considered a small employer.
Critics of the wage increase say it was hard to adjust to the first set of increases, and another increase will be even harder.