SILVER SPRING – On July 1, the county’s minimum wage will rise to $13 an hour, with the goal of becoming $15 an hour on July 1, 2021.
The rate jumps to $13 an hour for businesses with 51 or more employees. For smaller establishments, the new minimum wage will be $12.50 an hour. Workers 18 years and under, who work fewer than 20 hours per week, are not eligible for the increase.
Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1994, Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO), declared the pay hike good for all low-income workers, whether they belong to a union or not.
“It matters beyond the union. Most of our employees are above the minimum wage,” he said.
“We strongly believe everybody is entitled to a livable wage, a sustainable wage” to support their families, said Renne, whose union lobbied for the increase.
However, he added, $13 an hour is good, but not enough.
“Even with the rise in minimum wage, those workers who will obviously reap the benefits, they still are going to be struggling” to pay for rent and other necessities, he said.
Still, Renne said, “It’s progress, so I am glad it’s happening.”
Not everyone is equally pleased.
Richard Gorinson, owner of J&S Shoes in Wheaton, said last year’s hike to bring the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour hurt his business, both financially and in terms of customer service.
“I have (already) cut the number of hours that I schedule by 30 hours a week,” said Gorinson, who has owned the Stride Rite shoe store since 1990.
That amounts to a 16% drop in hours for his employees, he said.
Three of his 40-hour-per-week employees now work 30 hours each week, Gorinson said, adding, “I really have cut it as much as I can.”
At most, he said, he will eliminate another three hours from the weekly schedule, meaning fewer working hours and therefore, fewer dollars, for his employees.
This will be particularly troublesome at the end of the summer when his business picks up and lots of people come in to buy new shoes for their children for the new school year.
Should he need to replace a worker, it is very possible he will end up hiring an inexperienced person who needs to be trained, yet will still earn $13 an hour. It would be better, Gorinson said, if he could start a new person at a lower salary for the first few months. It would help his bottom line, while providing encouragement to new employees that a raise would be coming soon if they work hard.
“It’s frustrating. I have a friend in New York; he gets away with paying much less. He’s on Long Island,” Gorinson said.
Bill Hart III, general manager of the four Strosniders Hardware stores spread throughout the county, said that he has adjusted to the increased minimum wage as best as he can.
However, he said, the stores “are not as profitable” as they used to be.
Besides increasing wages for his roughly 175 employees throughout the stores in Bethesda, Silver Spring, Kensington and Potomac, Hart is also paying more for federal payroll taxes and Medicare.
“It all adds up,” he said.
Raising prices is not an option, as competition from online retailers has taken away much of his flexibility.
The minimum wage first rose to $12.25 an hour for large employers and $12 an hour for smaller ones on July 1, 2018.
Next year, on July 1, 2020, the minimum wage will rise again to $14 an hour for large employers and $13.25 an hour for smaller ones, under a law agreed upon by the former county council and former county executive Ike Leggett.
The following year of 2021, it will go up again on July 1 to $15 an hour for large employers and $14 an hour for those employing fewer than 50 employees.
Then, on July 1, 2022, the rate will reach the $15 minimum wage for larger employers and $14.50 an hour for smaller employers.