Members of the Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils introduced bills Tuesday to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, an unusual display of regional collaboration that may soon include D.C. lawmakers.
Maryland requires applicable employers to pay $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage. That amounts to about $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. Sponsors of both bills said the wage is unjustly low, especially in a region where living costs are so high.
“I think it’s time we ensure that an honest day’s work gets an honest day’s pay,” said Montgomery council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large).
“We just believe that now is the time for the residents of Prince George’s County to have an opportunity to have an increase in wages, so they can really keep up with the cost of inflation,” said Prince George’s council Chair Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale).
Elrich acted alone when he first announced his intention to seek an increase in late August. His initial proposal, which called for $12 an hour, received a chilly reception on the council.
In the past few weeks, Elrich revised the bill to make it more palatable, reducing the amount to $11.50 an hour and proposing that it be phased in over three years. The measure also includes a credit for employers who provide health insurance.
The bill allows companies to pay the previous minimum wage to new employees for three months before complying with the increase.
The Prince George’s bill, as drafted, includes only the three-year phase-in.
Elrich said he reached out to other localities because of concerns that Montgomery would hurt its ability to compete for jobs if it acted alone.
He said he first discussed joint action with Harrison at a conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City in the summer.
Elrich has also worked to enlist the District. Last month, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) vetoed a narrowly targeted measure to raise wages of some retail employees to $12.50.
Since then, four D.C. Council members have introduced bills to lift the District’s $8.25 minimum wage to as much as $12.50 an hour for all employees. Gray has expressed support for an unspecified minimum wage increase.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) confirmed Tuesday that he has had discussions with members of the Montgomery and Prince George’s councils. “We’re looking at a coordinated effort to get an increase in the minimum wage in the metropolitan area,” he said.
The bills are likely to face an uphill battle, with resistance from businesses. A “living wage” measure that requires companies working for Montgomery County to pay employees $13.95 an hour won council approval in 2002 — but only after a three-year fight.
Gigi Godwin, president and chief executive of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, did not return a phone message Tuesday afternoon. Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, said she wanted to study the bill before commenting.
Harrison said she was prepared for opposition.
“I am sure there will be some businesses that may not be as supportive,” she said, but added: “Good businesses will be concerned about their employees and about having their employees’ needs met. We will be working with the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable on the bill.”
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett’s spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said that Leggett (D) was “open” to Elrich’s bill but that his preference was to work with state legislators for an increase to about $10 — the amount in a bill that died in the General Assembly this year.
While all eight of Harrison’s Prince George’s council colleagues signed on as co-sponsors, only two of eight in Montgomery — Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County) and council President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) — joined Elrich.
“We are witnessing in this country millions of people trying to make a living on $7.25 an hour,” Ervin said.
“And we wonder why their children don’t do well in school, why they don’t have enough to eat.”
Some council members said they wanted to hear more from business leaders and economists about the impact of such an increase. Others expressed concern about Fairfax, Frederick and Howard counties gaining an advantage in economic development.
They also wondered whether the council’s political capital was better spent supporting what is expected to be a renewed effort in the General Assembly to lift the minimum wage.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is a 2014 candidate for governor, told Service Employees International Union members that he will back minimum-wage legislation next year regardless of whether it is included in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative package.
Elrich said that even in a best case scenario, the state won’t be able to raise the wage to the level needed in Montgomery.
“Getting a bill from the state is going to be difficult. And getting a number like we’re asking for is going to be hard,” he said.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report