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by Judith Hruz
With promises to continue working to make sure that all Montgomery County employees earn a living wage, county officials, union leaders, employers and employees on July 1 celebrated the minimum wage reaching $15 per hour for large employers.
Sponsored by then-County Councilman Marc Elrich and signed into law on Nov. 17, 2017, Bill 28-17 raised the minimum wage incrementally, each July 1, reaching $15 per hour this year.
The number of workers employed by a business will determine the amount of the increase.
The county’s minimum wage rises to $15 for employers with 51 or more employees and $14 for employers with 50 or fewer employees; a small employer, with 10 or fewer employees, is required to pay $13.50 hourly.
Elrich, now county executive, said he was proud to champion the increase in minimum wage when he was a member of the County Council.
“Montgomery County has been at the forefront of minimum wage policies and this increase will not just help those earning minimum wages, but will also increase wages for all hourly workers throughout the county,” he said. “People who work deserve to earn a decent wage. This will help them earn enough to put a roof over their heads, feed their families and not have to choose between putting food on the table and medical visits. A decent wage is the path to more opportunity and improved equity.”
Elrich said the idea of $15 per hour was considered radical when the county first began discussing the increase several years ago.
Now, he said, “It’s no longer radical, it’s no longer fringe. It’s mainstream.”
He said the need for higher wages “reflects the staggering cost of living in this county,” and most of region.
County Council President Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 5) said the minimum wage increase is “coming at a pivotal moment for workers when they need a boost,” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the workers receiving the wage increases “are the workers who just got us through a pandemic.”
Hucker said the increase raises the standard of living and the money goes back into the local economy.
He said it is “not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for giving our economy a boost.”
Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz (D-At large) said it is “truly remarkable and important” to be celebrating the minimum wage increase, but added, “we know that $15 is the floor.”
“This is an important step forward, but not the end,” he said.
Elrich, too, said, “All of us know this is not the end of the road.”
He added, “I’m going to continue to work on this.”
James Stowe, director of the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights, said now it becomes his office’s responsibility to enforce the increase.
“Our first obligation is to get compliance. That’s our objective,” he said. “We will be working with employers and employees in that regard, and make sure that we are all marching to the same step for every employer in Montgomery County, ensuring employees get a fair wage.”
Scott Nash, CEO and founder of MOM’s Organic Market, said raising the minimum wage will help the economy and his business.
“There is no higher return on investment than investing in people,” he said. “Our workforce is more productive and engaged, and our retention rates have soared over the years. Longer-term employees also offer more expertise and better customer service, which helps increase revenues. Customers love shopping at places with engaged employees.”
Providing a living wage is “providing dignity to our residents,” Albornoz said.
Employees age 18 and under, working under 20 hours per week, are exempt from this rate. Employees under 18 years of age must earn at least 85 percent of the state minimum wage rate.
In Maryland, the minimum wage rate at businesses with 15 or more employees is $11.75 per hour. The rate will increase to $12.50 on Jan. 1.
The minimum wage rate at businesses with 14 or fewer employees is $11.60 per hour. The rate will increase to $12.20 on Jan. 1.
For more on Maryland wages, visit https://www.dllr.state.md.us/labor/wages/minimumwagelaw.pdf.
For more on Montgomery County’s minimum wage increase, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/humanrights/Resources/Files/Wage-NOTICE-Flyer_2021.pdf.
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