Annapolis, MD – Home care, health care, rural, state, security, tipped and young workers from across Maryland joined faith, labor, community and businesses advocates to testify before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee in favor of the Fight for $15 bill (Senate Bill 280/House Bill 166) Thursday afternoon.

“A strong majority of Maryland residents support a higher wage – one that covers all workers, is indexed to inflation and includes tipped workers,” said Ricarra Jones of the Maryland Fight For $15 campaign. “Increasing pay for low-wage workers is the most significant policy change lawmakers can enact to make a tangible difference to those workers and for our communities overall. Raising the minimum wage is smart policy and smart politics.”

The 2019 bill would gradually raise Maryland’s minimum wage by about one dollar a year to $15 an hour by 2023 and automatically adjust it each year after that to keep up with the cost of living. According to the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, 90 percent of affected workers are at least 20 years old, and three out of five work full time. Workers who would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage include one in four Maryland working women, one in four Maryland workers of color, and 23,000 veterans.

The legislation would preserve the current Maryland law that allows communities to raise the wage higher in the future – and oppose any push to “preempt” local power. It includes a raise for tipped workers who currently can be paid as little as $3.63 an hour in Maryland.

“Working for tips is exactly like gambling. I live paycheck to paycheck and have never started a month feeling sure that if I worked full time, my rent would be paid by the end,” said Drew Koshgarian, a bartender from Baltimore. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 for tipped employees wouldn’t end tipping, but it would protect us from this unreliable and illogical model for compensating our time and hard work.”

The bill removes exemptions in current law for agricultural workers in rural parts of the state and ensures they are entitled to at least the state minimum wage. The legislation also includes younger workers under age 20 – who are disproportionately from low-income households and half of whom are facing spiraling debt as they work their way through college.

Liz Richardson, the co-owner of Indigo Ink in Howard County, which has been in business for 15 years, currently has 17 employees and pays full-time workers at least $15 per hour. She says, “Paying a minimum wage of $15 is excellent for our business because it creates great company morale – the workers feel valued. Employees are a huge asset to businesses, especially when they stick around
long term.”

Recent polling shows that Marylanders across the state support taking action: This week’s Goucher poll found that 67 percent of Marylanders support raising the minimum wage to $15.

“Wages are low on the Shore. I make $12.50 an hour. When I add up my rent, utilities, transportation and food for myself and my daughter, I barely have enough. When an unexpected bill comes up, like a doctor’s visit or car trouble, I fall behind. I don’t make enough to keep a cushion,” said Tameka Williams, a cook in Berlin. “It’s not because we aren’t working hard. Everyone I know works more than 40 hours a week and people have two and three jobs. The problem is the hourly wages are so low.”

Worker advocates are pushing to enact a “Clean 15” bill that doesn’t include loopholes that would exclude certain groups of struggling workers such as seasonal or commission-based workers. The House Economic Matters Committee held a lengthy hearing on the bill last week, with more than 200 people testifying. The House committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday, Feb. 25.

The Maryland Minimum Wage Bill is sponsored by Delegate Diana Fennell (D-Prince George’s County) and Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) and has bipartisan support. It is a top priority for the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch have also said they want to raise the minimum wage this session.