Montgomery County approves raising minimum wage

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - Following a hotly contentious final reading, the Montgomery County Council voted 8-1 to approve a minimum wage bill that will impact an estimated 83,000 private sector and county employees. The bill, which County Executive Ike Leggett has confirmed he'll sign into law, will spike wages from $7.25 to $11.50 an hour.

The unprecedented 59 percent increase will be phased-in over the next four years. The rate would be $8.40 per hour on Oct. 1, 2014, $9.55 per hour on Oct 1, 2015, $10.75 per hour on Oct. 1, 2016, and $11.50 per hour on Oct. 1, 2017.

"We have a moral obligation to our residents to do the right thing. This is the right thing," Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D) said.

Prior to Tuesday vote, dozens of low-income workers and labor union members held a rally outside the council chambers. The group chanted in a circle, hoping their voices would be heard.

"We can't even support ourselves. We need this, it's so important for so many of us," housekeeper Charlotte Samen, an immigrant from Cameroon, said.

Samen, who earns $1,000 a month, told ABC7 she can barely afford the $500 a month Silver Spring apartment that she share with her young niece. Construction worker John Cloude, a husband and father of three, was also at Tuesday's rally, carrying a similar financial burden on his shoulders.

"How can I live? How can I buy the food? How can I buy the rent?" Cloude said clinching onto a white and purple sign sharing his plight.

The bill's final reading, which got underway at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, included much deliberation and a fair share of insults among councilmembers.

"I've lost track of the number of times Mr. Rice has changed his position," Councilman George Leventhal (D) stated about Council Vice President Craig Rice (D) who fired back calling Leventhal's maturity into question.

Another theme during Tuesday nearly four hour final reading, eleventh-hour amendments, seven to be exact:

Apply the county minimum wage to tipped employees by requiring an employer to pay a base equal to 50 percent of the state minimum wage with an obligation to make up any shortfall in tips up to the county minimum wage. Delete the health care credit.Add an exemption for a person under the age of 19 who works 20 hours or less in a week.Add a provision requiring the county executive to delegate enforcement to a state agency that enforces the state wage and hour law and is authorized to enforce a county minimum wage law.Add an anti-retaliation clause.Amend the applicability to clarify that a worker must perform the work in the county.Apply the county minimum wage to county employees.

The bill, which was spearheaded by Councilmember Marc Elrich (D) of Takoma Park, drew it's fair share of public criticism along the way. Many local businesses stood, and continue to stand ardently against the measure, citing the law's inevitable impact on their margins of profit.

Bob Daly, who is a co-owner of the California Tortilla restaurant in Rockville Town Center, was terribly disturbed to learn about the council's vote.

"This will definitely hurt us big time. I can tell you I will not open another business in Montgomery County ever again," Daly said with authority.

Daly, who pays most of kitchen employees between $8 and $8.50 an hour, told ABC7, the council's move will be detrimental to his business.

"Last year I had $700,000 in sales, which may sound like a lot until you see I had $800,000 in expenditures, and that was before this vote," Daly added.

Councilman Phil Andrews (D) was the lone "no" vote. Although the Gaithersburg resident has publicly stated a desire to raise the minimum wage, the democrat felt Montgomery County should follow Annapolis' lead.

“Last month, I joined all of my colleagues in passing a resolution urging the state to significantly raise the minimum wage. That was, and still is, the best approach. I am disappointed that the county council has rushed ahead and unnecessarily adopted a minimum wage bill that is so flawed," Andrews said.

During Tuesday's final reading, Andrews seconded a motion by Council Vice President Rice to table a vote until the Maryland General Assembly took-up the matter in January.

"The county minimum wage bill doesn’t apply to employers within several municipalities within the county, including Poolesville, Laytonsville, Barnesville, Chevy Chase Village and Glen Echo. Other municipalities that are currently covered by the bill could choose to opt out. In contrast, a state minimum wage law covers all municipalities and counties, and all of the businesses in them doing business anywhere in Maryland."

Maryland's current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or $15,000 a year, leaves employees well below the federal poverty line. Twenty-one states have raised their minimum wage above Maryland's rate.

Last week the Prince George's County Council halted a vote on a similar bill, waiting to see how Montgomery County would act. It's no coincidence Prince George's County will vote on its minimum wage bill at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. The DC Council will vote on its minimum wage bill on Dec. 3.


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