ROCKVILLE – There were not enough seats in the third floor hearing room at the County Council Building Tuesday night during the public hearing for the latest bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
County residents, activist and leaders packed the County Council building during the public hearing for Bill 28-17, which would increase the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 for some businesses from its current minimum wage of $11.50 per hour. Bill 28-17 is the second attempt by Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large) and others to successfully pass a minimum wage increase into law after County Executive Ike Leggett vetoed the last bill to do so.
Bill 28-17 would also give small businesses with 25 employees or fewer an extra two years, until 2022, to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“It became a great reality of what was to come if you passed the increase in its current form, it will cause us to lose our business plan and simple,” said Ron Zimmerman, a co-owner of Ace Hardware.
Zimmerman’s comments echoed what many in the business community had told the Council before: that increasing the minimum wage would hurt businesses’ bottom lines and employees could be laid off as result.
However Zimmerman did not speak for the entire business community Tuesday night. Dana Lande, who owns the Rockville-based jewelry company Dana Designs, said she supports increasing the minimum wage.
“Based on my experiences, I believe it is possible for businesses to raise the minimum wage for their lowest paid workers in Montgomery County,” Lande said. “It is clear that workers need a higher wage, on that we don’t disagree, in order to take care of themselves and their families in a very expensive County.”
Laura Wallace, from Jews United for Justice, urged the Council to act to increase the minimum wage.
“We can’t wait for the federal government or the state government to do this for us, and we can’t wait for business owners to this on their own,” Wallace said. “If you do nothing there are no more raises for the lowest paid worker in our County – now is the time to act.”
Chip Berman, who owns Outta the Way Cafe in Derwood, said restaurants and bars like his have slim profit margins and increasing the minimum wage could potentially cause him to lay off employees.
“The only thing that creates a job is profit, if you don’t have profit, you don’t have a job,” Berman said. “It may not be popular, but it’s the truth and to get profit you have to take a risk.”
In January County Executive Ike Leggett vetoed the Council’s last bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 per by 2020, recommending changes to the bill: to delay the minimum wage increase for small businesses an extra two years, give the County Executive an ability to suspend required wage increases in times of economic downturn and fund a study to research the effects of increasing the minimum wage on the County.
While a majority of Council members supported increasing the minimum wage, including Elrich and Council members Nancy Navarro (D-4), Tom Hucker (D-5), Hans Riemer (D-at large) and George Leventhal (D-at large), six votes are required to override a County Executive veto.
Since then Council members agreed to fund a $149, 600 study to research what the impacts of increasing the minimum wage would have on the County.
While the study concluded the County 47, 000 jobs if the Council decided to increase the minimum wage, representatives from PFM Consulting, which conducted the study, admitted to a clerical error.
“I don’t think any of us on the Council at this point and time are putting a great deal of weigh if any in that study,” said Council President Roger Berliner, who voted against the last bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
“Obviously we take full responsibility for the error in our study,” said Dean Kaplan, managing director of PFM Consulting, the Philadelphia-based firm that conducted the study.
Bill 28-17 contains some of the proposed recommendations that Leggett requested, but on Sept. 13 Leggett wrote a memorandum to Berliner, requesting more changes.
Leggett asked the Council to change the definition of small business from one that employees 25 employee or fewer to 50 employees or fewer, and change the inaction date to 2022 for large employers and to 2024 for small employers.