"Fight for Fifteen" goes to Annapolis; news conference sets priority

Progressive Maryland and many allies -- including some business owners -- testified inside and outside the halls of the Assembly about the urgent need for a $15 minimum wage for Maryland, where the current minimum wage is not enough to live on anywhere in the state.

  /PM BlogSpace Report/ Jennifer Dwyer of Progressive Maryland testified March 7 before the House Economic Matters Committee, as below. Before the hearing, Progressive Maryland and allies (including well-off business owners who understand the value of a prosperous workforce) held a news conference to stress the high priority surrounding this bill, which would help struggling families who in every corner of Maryland cannot survive at existing minimum wage levels, let alone in our most high-cost communities. See coverage of the event by WJZ-TV, Maryland Reporter and Progressive Maryland’s Facebook page


Testimony in Support of Maryland House Bill 1416: Fight for $15 (House Economic Matters Committee)

 Thank you for the opportunity to testify on HB 1416. Progressive Maryland is a grassroots, nonprofit organization of more than 100,000 members and supporters who live in nearly every legislative district in the state. In addition, there are 18 affiliated religious, community and labor organizations that stand behind our work. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families in Maryland. Please note our strong support for this bill.

 HB 1416 raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023, eliminates the subminimum tipped wage by 2024, and adjusts wages based on changes in the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2025. This bill would have a massive impact on the lives of close to 1 million workers in the state who make less than $15 an hour currently. According to a study by Maryland Community Action Partnership, nowhere in the entire state of Maryland can a worker earn less than $15 per hour, only $30,000 per year at 40 hours per week, and be self-supporting. This economic reality is so blatantly obvious to residents that the majority of Marylanders, including 25% of Republicans, support raising the minimum wage to $15.

HB 1416 includes an important provision to eliminate the subminimum tipped wage, a system of compensation which is rooted in racism. Tipping was developed in America after the Civil War as a means for employers not to pay newly freed slaves, leaving it to customers in the form of a gratuity. This system has no place in modern society and tipped workers should earn wage parity. Eliminating the tipped wage also protects women, who are often forced to put up with sexual harassment from tipping customers just to ensure that they get a paycheck at the end of their work day.

 States and local jurisdictions (including Seattle, California, and New York) that have passed $15 wage laws are seeing increased job growth in their retail and restaurant industries because higher wages means more disposable income among their customer base. The idea that there is no consensus among economists about the impact of raising wages is false. The most rigorous studies consistently show raising wages doesn’t hurt employment, while those showing negative effects are based on outdated or faulty data. Hundreds of economists have endorsed a federal increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hr.

 Raising wages doesn’t hurt small businesses. The average small retailer in Maryland already pays employees nearly $15 per hour while large retailers tend to pay significantly less ($10-11/hr). Raising wages to $15 therefore levels the playing field between small businesses and their larger competitors.

 The one concern we have with the bill as drafted is the “pause button” mechanism that allows the governor to temporarily pause increases to the minimum wage during the phase-in period based on recommendations from the Board of Revenue Estimates. When the economy is slowing down is exactly the time when you need to keep raising private sector wages so that consumer spending can continue boosting growth. Giving the governor nearly unilateral authority to block a scheduled increase in the minimum wage doesn’t provide workers or businesses the stability they need, and other $15 wage proposals in economically similar states--NJ, MA, CT, VT and RI--do not include it.

 Maryland workers deserve better than to have to work in excess of forty hours per week just to meet their most basic needs. We urge you to support this bill without the “pause button” mechanism.