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ANNAPOLIS — After the Maryland Senate Finance Committee passed an amended version to the minimum wage enforcement bill that will increase the state minimum wage to $15, the Senate Finance Committee considered other legislation that would affect wages on March 7.
The original proposal on the table was that the state minimum wage would also be raised gradually by $1 per year until it reached $15 by 2023. Tipped employees would have had their pay increased to $15 by 2026.
While it was proved favorable to many workers and county leaders, including Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, especially at an eight-hour public hearing at the beginning of February, there were still concerns from others about how well small businesses would be able to keep up with the increase.
Although the House of Delegates approved the original legislation, the Senate Finance Committee passed an amended bill that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2028 for businesses with 14 or fewer employees but now excludes tipped employees.
“We are thrilled that this bill continues to advance in both the House and Senate, bringing us one step closer to giving hard-working Marylanders a much-needed raise,” said Ricarra Jones, head of the Fight For $15 coalition.
While excited by the advancement of the bill, Jones said it is “unfortunate that the current amendments to the bill leave out an increase for tipped workers” making Maryland the first state to not include a raise for tipped workers with a minimum wage increase.
“We need to do more to reduce the gender and racial pay gaps and help working families who continue to have to decide between paying rent, utilities, childcare or prescription drug costs. We will continue fighting to ensure these safeguards make it into the final version of the bill that gets passed by the legislature.”
Although the Fight For $15 is still up for debate, the Senate Finance Committee met Thursday to hear opinions from the public on several pieces of legislation which would also affect employee wages.
Senate Bill 738 on Wage History and Wage Range would prohibit an employer from determining an applicant’s salary based on previous wage history and requires the employer to provide on request to an applicant for employment, the wage range for the position for which the applicant applied.
According to the bill’s sponsor Sen. Susan Lee from District 16 representing Montgomery County, this bill was originally a part of the 2016 Equal Pay For Equal Work Act before it was removed. On its own, it passed in the House of Representatives and was stalled in the Senate for two years without a vote.
“This bill takes a very different approach to close the wage gap than the 2016 pay equity act which focused on victims of discrimination being able to bring a case to court to enforce their rights,” Lee said. “This bill is more of a proactive measure that helps employers stop pay disparity from developing in a workplace,to begin with.”
According to Lee, Maryland has the fourth-highest wage gap in the country. However, “we shouldn’t discourage these applicants from these jobs just because they are afraid a low wage job back in their 20s or 30s will equate to a lower rage for the rest of their lives.”
Other states such as California, Hawaii and Connecticut, as well as Washington, D.C., have all enacted similar bills, and the Maryland bill is supported by the The National Women’s Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union Maryland, the Maryland Commission for Women and more.
The legislation was met with support from most of those who spoke to the committee, from everyday citizens who have experienced what the bill is trying to prevent to members of organizations such as the Montgomery County Commission for Women, because of effects the practice of asking for salary history has on women and minority employees.
“This equal pay legislation addresses employment practices unjustifiably perpetuating gender and racial pay disparity harming Maryland families and the state economy,” said Kate Stevenson, president of American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Maryland.
However, there was some opposition which claimed that the bill does not take into account factors such as the hiring practices of small businesses and restaurants.
The committee also heard opinions on Senate Bill 500, which establishes a Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program administered by the Division of Unemployment Insurance. It will provide up to 12 weeks of benefits to an employee who is taking partially paid or unpaid leave from employment because of caring for family members, the employee’s own serious health condition or a qualifying exigency arising out of a family member’s military deployment.
Based on an employee’s average weekly wage, this weekly benefit ranges from $50 to a $1,000 cap that is indexed to inflation.
Representatives from organizations such as Better Balance, Institute for Women’s Policy and Research in D.C., The National Partnership For Women’s and Families and more testified to the benefits of the bill such as providing the ability for employees to care for children and the elderly as well as improvements to businesses overall.
“I think it’s going to be affordable for businesses and I also think it’s going to be very beneficial for businesses across the state,” said Aaron Seyedian, owner of Well-Paid Maids, a living wage home cleaning company serving the D.C. and Baltimore areas.
However, counter-arguments from those opposed centered around the extra cost that could negatively impact small business employers.
“There is an employer mandate, not to belabor the point but this is coming on top of paid sick leave that was passed three years ago and now we’re talking about $15 minimum wage this year, and now we’re talking about more labor cost to the employer,” said State Director of National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Maryland Mike O’Halloran.