Cities and coun­ties lead the way on wages

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY WADE HEN­DER­SON AND CHRISTINE OWENS Wade Hen­der­son is pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights. Christine Owens is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project.

One of the most in­spir­ing move­ments in re­cent his­tory has been the Fight for $15, led by low-wage work­ers who or­ga­nized to win higher wages and other ben­e­fits in their work­places, com­mu­ni­ties and states. With the re­trench­ment of work­ers’ rights and civil rights we now face at the fed­eral level, lo­cal ini­tia­tives such as the Fight for $15 are even more im­por­tant for en­sur­ing good jobs that sup­port fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

But now, in Mary­land, the Fight for $15 finds it­self un­der at­tack from a sur­pris­ing source: Mary­land Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince Ge­orge’s). Davis in­tro­duced harm­ful leg­is­la­tion that would block cities and coun­ties in the state from rais­ing the min­i­mum wage higher than the state’s pal­try level of $8.75 per hour or adopt­ing other ba­sic worker safe­guards, in­clud­ing paid sick leave.

Leg­isla­tive lead­ers in An­napo­lis must re­ject this wrong­headed pro­posal — and in­stead strengthen pro­tec­tions for vul­ner­a­ble work­ers across the state.

Cities and coun­ties have been lead­ing the push for stronger worker pro­tec­tions in the United States in re­cent years. The Fight for $15 started in New York and spread to San Fran­cisco, Seat­tle, Los An­ge­les, Chicago and the Dis­trict. Cities and coun­ties have led the way in en­sur­ing that work­ers are en­ti­tled to paid sick leave, a ba­sic pro­tec­tion that most states, in­clud­ing Mary­land, still do not guar­an­tee.

Mary­land’s cities and coun­ties have long been lead­ers in this move­ment. In the 1960s, Bal­ti­more was among the ear­li­est cities to en­act a lo­cal min­i­mum wage. Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties have had higher lo­cal min­i­mum wages since 2014. Last year, Mont­gomery County be­came the first com­mu­nity in the state to guar­an­tee earned sick leave.

In in­tro­duc­ing his leg­is­la­tion, Davis ar­gued that the state needs a uni­form busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. But the ex­pe­ri­ences of the more than 40 lo­cal­i­ties that have adopted lo­cal min­i­mum-wage laws in­di­cate that these mea­sures help work­ers and are man­age­able for em­ploy­ers.

One key role they play is to al­low higher-cost re­gions to adopt min­i­mum wages that bet­ter match their costs of living. Mary­land’s D.C. sub­urbs are among the na­tion’s most ex­pen­sive places to live, with living costs com­pa­ra­ble to New York, San Fran­cisco and Seat­tle. Ac­cord­ing to the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, in 2014, a sin­gle worker with­out fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties living in the D.C. sub­urbs needs to earn at least $20 per hour on a full-time ba­sis just to make ends meet. Par­ents need sig­nif­i­cantly more.

Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties raised their min­i­mum wages to $10.75, go­ing to $11.50 this year. The Mont­gomery County Coun­cil re­cently passed a bill in­creas­ing the min­i­mum to $15. (The county ex­ec­u­tive ve­toed it.) Davis’s leg­is­la­tion would block these lo­cal ef­forts and harm work­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Lo­cal wage laws al­low a safety valve for ad­dress­ing worker pay when the state is un­able to act. For ex­am­ple, with Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) likely to veto any ac­tion by the leg­is­la­ture to raise the min­i­mum wage sig­nif­i­cantly, lo­cal laws may be the only way many Mary­land work­ers will get a raise in the near fu­ture.

Davis’s pro­posed ban on lo­cal wage laws would have an es­pe­cially se­vere im­pact on work­ers of color. As a re­cent re­port by the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project high­lighted, more than half of African Amer­i­can work­ers and al­most 60 per­cent of Latino work­ers strug­gle to make ends meet on less than $15 per hour. Thou­sands of home health aides, se­cu­rity guards and fast-food work­ers across the state would be locked in poverty wages if Davis’s leg­is­la­tion passes.

This bill is com­ing from a Demo­crat who has of­ten sup­ported work­ers. Typ­i­cally, red-state Repub­li­cans team up with cor­po­rate in­ter­ests such as the Koch broth­ers-backed Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil to block cities from rais­ing their lo­cal wages. And it has been com­mu­ni­ties of color and civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the South­ern Chris­tian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, the NAACP and faith groups that, with worker-rights groups, have cham­pi­oned lo­cal ac­tion to pro­tect work­ers rights and en­sure that they are not left be­hind.

Work­ing fam­i­lies in Prince Ge­orge’s County and through­out Mary­land need Davis to lead in the fight to raise wages and pro­tect work­ers — not to try to lock work­ers in poverty.


Sup­port­ers of a $15 min­i­mum wage await the Mont­gomery County Coun­cil’s vote to raise pay for work­ers.

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