The statewide $15 minimum wage bill with no exclusion for tipped workers that is backed by progressives is heard tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 21) by the General Assembly's Senate Finance Committee, an important stop on the way to floor debate and passage during this Assembly session. Progressive Maryland's Jennifer Dwyer is among those testifying in support, and the organization's testimony is previewed here. As Dwyer notes, the measure has wide popularity among Marylanders across party lines.
Testimony in Support of Maryland SB 280
Labor and Employment - Payment of Wages - Minimum Wage and Enforcement (Fight for Fifteen)
TO: Sen. Kelley, Chair, and members of the Senate Finance Committee
FROM: Jennifer Dwyer, Director of Policy and Development, Progressive Maryland
DATE: February 21, 2019
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on SB 280. Progressive Maryland is a grassroots, nonprofit organization with 9 regional chapters from Frederick to the Lower Shore and more than 100,000 members and supporters who live in nearly every legislative district in the state. In addition, there are dozens affiliated community, faith, and labor organizations across the state 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.
SB 280 raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023, eliminates the subminimum tipped wage by 2026, and adjusts wages based on changes in the Consumer Price Index thereafter. 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.
SB 280 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 up 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.
Raising wages also helps small businesses to compete with larger ones, since small businesses on average already pay higher wages. The average small retailer in Maryland currently 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.
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 hour.
The success of $15 wage laws at the city and county level across the country also speaks to the importance of allowing local jurisdictions to raise their minimum wages above that of the state. Having data from these regions that demonstrates the benefits of a $15 per hour minimum wage allows our state to proceed with confidence in raising its minimum wage. Preempting local authority to act as laboratories of democracy on wage issues, a political maneuver from the ALEC playbook intended to keep wealth concentrated in the pockets of the wealthy, would be a disservice to Maryland residents both in terms of economic policy and in minimizing the ability of their local elected officials to represent the interests of their constituents.
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 a favorable report on SB 280.
Readers whose legislative districts include a member of the Senate Finance Committee are urged to call their offices (follow the link) and express support for SB 280. And don't forget our Lobby Night March 4; bring your voice to your legislators face to face.