The Montgomery County Council today introduced Bill 28-17, which is the County Council’s second try at gradually increasing the County’s minimum wage to $15.
The lead sponsor of the bill is At-Large Councilmember and 2018 County Executive hopeful Marc Elrich, who serves as chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee and serves on the Education Committee, said the following regarding the need for the legislation, “I know that some of my colleagues had been hesitant to support the $15 minimum wage. I think this revised bill addresses some of the major concerns.”
He is joined by co-sponsors Councilmembers George Leventhal, Hans Riemer (both At-Large) Tom Hucker (District 4) and Nancy Navarro (District 5) in pushing to increase the minimum wage.
Last fall, Elrich, and his four co-sponsors approved Bill 12-16 by a 5-4 vote. Councilmembers Roger Berliner (District 1 – Bethesda/Poolesville), Nancy Floreen (At-Large), Sidney Katz (District 3 – Rockville/Gaithersburg) and Craig Rice (District 2 – Germantown/Clarksburg/Damascus) voted against the amended bill which would have raised the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. However, the bill was vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett because it was “too much, too soon.”
The current minimum wage in Montgomery County is $11.50 per hour. It increased on July 1, 2017, in accordance with the County’s existing Minimum Wage requirements enacted in 2013.
Critics of the previous attempt to raise the minimum wage said it that it would make the cost of doing business in and with Montgomery County too high compared to neighboring communities, with the exception of the District of Columbia which already has a higher minimum wage requirement.
Leggett shared those concerns, “Montgomery County’s minimum wage is, and will continue to be, higher than both the federal and State minimum wage, as well as that in all surrounding jurisdictions except the District of Columbia. I remain concerned, however, about the competitive disadvantage Bill 12-16 would put the County in compared to our neighboring jurisdictions.” Leggett said that unlike other cities that have already passed a $15 minimum wage, Montgomery County is not a “destination city” like New York City or Seattle drawing a large amount of business travelers and tourists able to afford high costs for short term visits. “Our residents will essentially shoulder the bulk of the cost,” wrote Leggett.
In introducing the new Bill, Elrich said, “We are all aware of the consequences of having a large portion of our population subsisting on substandard wages that do not reflect the costs of living in the Washington metropolitan area and in Montgomery County in particular.”
“This legislation is not about the dollar amount,” said Elrich, “It is about the broad impacts of a minimum wage. It is not about whether someone flipping a burger deserves to be paid $15 per hour for that work. It is about whether she can use that wage to support herself and her family.”
“For our residents, minimum wage jobs do not afford a decent life nor dignity in work,” the statement said. “People work hard, often in the most unpleasant jobs available, but they do not get ahead on a minimum wage job. While it’s great to acknowledge hard work, in these cases it's not just hard work – it’s endless work. And endless work is not good. Low paid endless work has consequences.”
The newly introduced Bill 28-17, still calls for the minimum wage to reach $15 for most employers by 2020. But it attempts to address concerns raised by opponents of the original version by softening the impact on certain segments of the County economy. The legislation gives non-profits, adult day care providers and companies with fewer than 26 employees until 2022 to comply. The following year, in 2023, the minimum would increase based on the consumer price index for urban workers.
“I have visited our shelters where working people,” continued Elrich, “people with real jobs, seek housing because they cannot afford an apartment, or cannot get an apartment because of damaged credit that left then unable to qualify for an apartment. Apartment owners keep records of tenants who are habitually late in their payments – which should not be a surprise when people are spending 50 percent or more of their limited income on housing – because they cannot make the full rent on one paycheck.”
“A substandard minimum wage allows businesses to shift what should be their costs onto the public and onto the taxpayers. This bill addresses the concerns of small businesses by giving them more time to adjust, but it moves in the right and necessary direction. We talk too much about the cost of minimum wage to businesses and not enough about the costs borne by the public and by families to compensate for inadequate wages.”
Last month a report from the University of Washington, found that when wages in Seattle increased to $13 in 2016, some companies responded by cutting low-wage workers' hours. The study that workers clocked 9 percent fewer hours on average, and earned $125 less each month after the most recent increase.
Elrich said that poverty costs the government in many ways. “In Montgomery County, we have more children on free and reduced meals than the District of Columbia has children in school,” he said. “These affects are not felt on the periphery; they are felt at the core of our community.
“We spend more and more on education interventions for children. We deal with the social and emotional struggles that our students bring to school, and our counselors bear heavy workloads. We pay for poverty with our social services, sliding scales for county programs, housing programs, summer meal programs, school provided breakfasts, and a myriad of social services where the common denominator for many is poverty. Poverty is expensive, and taxpayers foot the bill,” said Elrich.
Not all members of the Council were 100 percent behind the reworked bill, Germantown’s representative Craig Rice said that the new bill did nothing to address his main concerns with the last version.
“To this day, out of all the concerns that are highlighted, the ones that I have espoused since the very beginning still don’t get mentioned,” said Rice at the Council meeting as the bill was introduced. “My concerns continue to be our young people who are unemployed, typically ages 16 to 25, who are not represented as a part of this bill.”
“I continue to remind people that a $15 minimum wage does not help a person who does not have a job. Unless we are purposeful in terms of making sure that those folks can continued to be linked to the workforce and employed we will continue to have challenges in our community,” said Rice.
“Equitable wages are fair and important for everyone, not just for some — not just the working mother with two kids trying to support her family — but it is equally important for the young person that has never had a job and needs to learn responsibility; who needs to understand and learn what it means to show up and have people rely upon you. Those are life changing things that many of our young people miss out on these days. Unless we are real about those kinds of conversations in this same context, we will continue to have the challenges with gangs. We will continue to have the challenges with equity gaps and employment gaps.”
After last year’s attempt to raise the minimum was introduced last year, Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce president Marilyn Balcombe, who has since declared herself a candidate for an At-Large Council seat in the 2018 election cycle wrote in an Op-Ed posted on Germantown Pulse in September of 2016. “The primary impetus for raising the minimum wage to $15 is to help low-wage, low-skilled workers make a living wage. I think we can all agree that it is expensive to raise a family in this Montgomery County. However, at this point, we really don’t know what the full impact of a $15 minimum wage will have on the very population that it is targeting.”
“We have heard from our businesses on this legislation, and many of them will be greatly impacted,” wrote Balcombe. “Without exaggeration, some of them will need to reduce staff and or benefits, some might leave the County, and unfortunately some will go out of business. These people are working very hard to build a business, create jobs, and raise a family.”