LEXINGTON PARK, Md. — The “Fight for Fifteen” was fought and won by the Democratic held Maryland General Assembly over the 2019 Legislative Session, and starting on Jan. 1, 2020, the effects will begin to be felt all-across the Old Line State.

However, the conditions under which HB166/SB280 were passed do not mean an immediate shock to businesses and paychecks — but rather a gradual wage rate increase.

Starting this year, across all businesses, minimum wage will be increasing from $10.10 per hour, to $11 per hour. The scheduled increases are as follows:

The bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan [R] and ultimately overridden by the legislature’s democratic supermajority, received no support from Republicans across the state, and even saw some bipartisan opposition as two democrats, Harry Bhandari [D-08] and Michele Guyton [D-42B], also voted against the increases. Many GOP members have spoken out against raising the minimum wage by government mandate, including State Delegate Matt Morgan [R-29A], who was adamantly against crippling businesses in his district. 

“This is the best economy of my lifetime,” Morgan said. “Jobs are up, wages are up… [Republicans] are all for people making more money, but I don’t believe we should have an artificial minimum wage. When you artificially raise the minimum wage, it cuts jobs.”

Though previously tied for the 11th highest minimum wage in the country at $10.10, Maryland will now be following the trends set by New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and D.C. to reach $15 per hour over the next five to six years.

“I think it’s pretty crazy for areas of Southern Maryland like Ridge to have the same minimum wage requirements as Manhattan,” Morgan explained.

In addition to pushing higher costs onto business owners, reports from the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) have pointed out that in order to increase the wages of state workers to meet self-compliance, the state’s spending will increase by approximately $84.3 million annually, once the minimum wage rate is $15.00 per hour for an entire fiscal year.

While there are minor concerns about how raising the wage rate could impact local jurisdiction’s employees, the legislature has anticipated minimal effects. However, the issue has still raised concerns among local politicians such as St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan, who is worried about how these changes will force small businesses to adapt.

“When I look at my small businesses in the local area like retail or restaurants, I think [raising minimum wage to $15] is going to really hurt them a lot over time,” Todd Morgan said. “You go to a fast food restaurant now and everything has an automatic kiosk… or you go to grocery stores and they say use the cash register by yourself. But at the same time, for small businesses, their cost of doing business is going to go up exponentially… Are they going to raise their prices to get that $15 an hour, and risk losing the people who patronize them not coming back to their place?”

Currently, with regards to non-compliance, the Maryland Wage and Hour Law says:

If an employer pays less than the wages required, the employee may bring an action against the employer to recover (1) the difference between the wage paid to the employee and the wage required; (2) an additional amount equal to the difference as liquidated damages; and (3) legal fees. If an employer shows to the satisfaction of the court that the employer acted in good faith and reasonably believed that the wages paid to the employee were not less than the required wages, then the court must award liquidated damages of an amount less than the difference in wages or no liquidated damages.

An employer or another person who violates the Maryland Wage and Hour Law is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction is subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

Though some consider the fines harsh, more people appear to be concerned with the effect this law is going to have on more rural areas across the state. But a big question many people will be watching for is if this will be a step forward for Maryland, or a slash in Hogan’s pro-business agenda.

“The economy is doing really well right now and I think that is going to make the minimum wage increases more tolerable,” Matt Morgan said. “But I still think it puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to our neighboring states.”