FF$15 coalition urges improved minimum wage bill at news conference

Fight_for_15_lights.pngAt a news conference Monday evening the coalition urging a "clean $15" minimum wage bill -- one that does not exclude tipped workers and other marginalized groups -- made their case forcefully and with testimony from affected workers. The Senate, they said, should repair the damage done by the House.



 

/By Woody Woodruff<>PM BlogSpace Report/ A $15 minimum wage for Maryland – the whole state – moved forward in the House of Delegates last week, although with exclusions of marginalized groups that cut into its effectiveness and kowtowed to powerful business lobbies. The focus now turns to the state Senate, where the Finance Committee is considering what version it will send to the Senate floor. Progressives pushed back on the House action and urged the Senate to pass a “clean $15” bill along the lines of the original House version (HB 166)

floor_debate_tally_reduced.jpgMembers of the FF15MD coalition, including Progressive Maryland, rallied at a news conference Monday in the House office building to push Senators to undo many of the exclusions added by the House Economic Matters Committee, a powerful and very conservative panel loaded with pro-business Democrats as well as a minority Republican group largely from the rural Shore and far Western Maryland.

That panel added exclusions to remove tipped workers – already the most exploited, female and minority employment sector – from the $15 wage, leaving them at a shameful $3.63 per hour and enforcing a continuation of a servitude culture imposed after Reconstruction. That enforced subordination, noted FF15 organizer Ricarra Jones, meant that tipped workers “are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior” from customers to keep their jobs. Diana Ramirez of the Restaurant Opportunities Center pointed out that one of every eleven US workers is in the food service industry and that the powerful National Restaurant Association lobby, “the other NRA,” has “been blatantly trying to oppress their workers” as a business strategy since the early days of Jim Crow.

The House panel’s other exclusions included young workers, who remain subject to lower wages, as well as agricultural workers. The Economic Matters committee also removed an automatic cost-of-living increase after the wage rose to $15 that would be indexed to inflation. Instead the scale-up to $15 by 2023 was slowed to 2025 instead.

Workers at the news conference noted that economic analysis showed that no workers anywhere in the state could live on less than $15.15 per hour now and that when the wage scaled up to $15 (whether 2023 or 2025) inflation would have already overtaken it.

Members of the FF15 coalition denounced the move. Roxie Herbekian, president of UNITE-HERE Local 7, noted that while the state minimum wage rose from 2014 to 2018 for non-tipped workers, that for tipped workers was “frozen” and resulted in the median wage of less than $25,000 a year in high-cost Maryland. She led a call-and-response with the minimum-wage workers lined up behind her at the news conference “during that time, did the rent go up? [YES!]; did the utilities go up? [YES!]; did the transportation go up? [YES!]…” Tipped workers and others excluded from the bill, she noted, would all remain “frozen” because the previous minimum wage will had reached its maximum, $10.10 per hour, in 2018.

ff15.jpgAn indexing provision such as the one removed by the House committee would avoid having another legislative struggle over the minimum wage when it next maxed out, FF$15 proponents noted.

Workers at the news conference testified about the effects of being locked into a “frozen” tipped wage. A restaurant worker at BWI recounted the uncertainty of income from week to week depending on the fortunes of the business and lamented “how can I save for retirement” on those wages. “Your service and the food is what brings customers back” to the establishment, she said. Even if the food is not good, the service can bring customers back anyway, she added.

But if the restaurant prospers because of her work, she still is guaranteed only $3.63 an hour plus whatever luck brings.

 Worker anxiety as a management strategy remains dominant in the House version of the minimum wage bill, and the FF15 coalition is urging progressives to make sure that the Senate delivers a different outcome, a “clean $15,” for the 600,000 Maryland workers affected by a raise in the minimum wage.PM_Logo.png

Progressive Maryland activists dispersed throughout the four floors of the House office building after the news conference, distributing informational fliers to House members urging acceptance of the better, restored bill the coalition will work to preserve in the Senate.