ANNAPOLIS — Kara Brummell works five days a week assisting adults with mental and physical disabilities to help them seek employment.
Sometimes Brummell must budget at least $60 a week for gas to drive clients around at various businesses along the Eastern Shore. Personally, she receives less than $15 an hour taking care of her 3-year-old son as she resides with her brother and his family.
“I’ve been hit. I’ve been cursed at. I’ve had people run away from me,” said Brummell, 33, an employee transition specialist. “But I’ve built trust with them and their families. It’s important work me and my colleagues do.”
Brummell and dozens of others direct support professionals, health care workers, advocates and others testified Friday, Feb. 8 for proposed legislation to gradually increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Some of the 174 people who registered to speak waited for hours in and outside the House’s Economic Matters hearing room as they donned “Fight for $15” buttons. Others wore red T-shirts that read, “Save Our Tip$.”
The formal bill, labeled “Labor and Employment – Payment of Wages – Minimum Wage and Enforcement,” almost became a reality last year.
However, a version in the more conservative Senate didn’t move forward. With about one-third of the Senate changed this year, it’s believed the long-awaited legislation may finally pass.
The current minimum wage increased to $10.10 in July.
According to the draft legislation, the minimum wage would gradually increase this way:
• $11.50 per hour starting July 1, 2020.
• $13 per hour starting July 1, 2021.
• $14 per hour starting July 1, 2022.
• $15 per hour starting July 1, 2023.
Wages would also gradually increase to $15 an hour for employees who receive more than $30 each month in tips.
Dissenters such as Brice Phillips, grandson of the late Brice and Shirley Phillips who established Phillips Seafood restaurant in 1956, said the average dinner price of $50 would increase to at least $70.
“I’m going to lose everybody,” he said. “That doesn’t work.”
Afshin Abedi, president of the Maryland Association of Adult Day Services, said without a reimbursement rate increase, his organization wouldn’t be able to pay the minimum wage hike. For instance, a $1 minimum wage increase would boost overall costs by 3 percent.
“We’re primarily a Medicaid provider,” he said. “We cannot charge our customers [higher fees] because Medicaid prevents us from doing so.”
Dissenters such as Delegate Seth Howard (R-Anne Arundel County) said small-business owners he’s spoken to are scared the legislation could force them to lay off workers.
“The conversations I am having is not about profit. It’s not about economics. It’s a genuine fear being able to offer those jobs,” said Howard, who owns Broadleaf Tobacco and Smoke Shop in Severna Park. “As an employer myself, I understand that fear. I’ve had to look at people I like very much and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s a disgusting feeling.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, one of the first people to testify in support of the minimum wage increase, had a response.
“This is not easy,” she said while sitting beside Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A), sponsor of the legislation. “We’re not saying it’s convenient. We’re saying it’s the right thing to do. It’s not that we don’t recognize that this is difficult. We’re saying in many instances this is a moral issue.”
Some support the measure, but with amendments.
Sally McMillan Guy, associate director of state affairs for John Hopkins University in Baltimore, requested $15 hourly wage be implemented one year later by 2024 to give businesses more time.
A provision in the bill prohibits an employer to take adverse actions against an employee that includes “a reduction or change in work hours.”
“Many of our workers are shift workers … who change hours all the time,” Guy said after testifying. “We are not for adverse action, but we think it’s a step too far.”