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Dozens Speak Out on Fight for $15 Legislation

WASHINGTON INFORMER —  Kara Brummell works five days a week assisting adults with mental and physical disabilities to help them seek employment.

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Dozens fill a hearing room in Annapolis to testify about proposed legislation to raise Maryland's minimum wage to $15 an hour on Feb. 8. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

By William J. Ford

ANNAPOLIS — Kara Brummell works five days a week assisting adults with mental and physical disabilities to help them seek employment.

Sometimes Brummell must budget at least $60 a week for gas to drive clients around to various businesses along the Eastern Shore. Personally, she receives less than $15 an hour taking care of her 3-year-old son as she resides with her brother and his family.

“I’ve been hit, I’ve been cursed at, I’ve had people run away from me,” said Brummell, 33, an employee transition specialist. “But I’ve built trust with them and their families. It’s important work me and my colleagues do.”

Brummell and dozens of direct support professionals, health care workers, advocates and others testified Friday for proposed legislation to gradually increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville said 174 people registered to speak at the hearing.

The designated slogan, “Fight for $15,” almost became a reality last year but a version in the more conservative Senate didn’t move forward. With about one-third of the Senate changed this year, it’s believed the long-awaited legislation may finally pass.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the hearing room with more outside wearing  “Fight for $15” buttons. Other sported red T-shirts that read, “Save our Tip$.”

The minimum wage in Maryland increased to $10.10 in July.

According to the draft legislation, the minimum wage would gradually increase this way:

• $11.50 per hour starting July 1, 2020.

• $13 per hour starting July 1, 2021.

• $14 per hour starting July 1, 2022.

• $15 per hour starting July 1, 2023.

Tipped wages would also gradually increase to $15 an hour for employees who receive more than $30 each month in tips.

Dissenters such as Delegate Seth Howard (R-Anne Arundel County) said small-business owners he’s spoke to are scared the legislation could force them to lay off workers.

“The conversations I am having is not about profit. It’s not about economics. It’s a genuine fear being able to offer those jobs,” said Howard, who owns Broadleaf Tobacco and Smoke Shop in Severna Park. “As an employer myself, I understand that fear. I’ve had to look at people I like very much and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s a disgusting feeling.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, one of the first people to testify in support of the minimum wage increase, had a response.

“This is not easy,” she said while sitting beside Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A), sponsor of the legislation. “We’re not saying it’s convenient. We’re saying it’s the right thing to do. It’s not that we don’t recognize that this is difficult. We’re saying in many instances this is a moral issue.”

Some support the measure, but with amendments.

Sally McMillan Guy, associate director of state affairs for John Hopkins University in Baltimore, requested $15 hourly wage be implemented one year later by 2024 to give businesses more time.

A provision in the bill prohibits an employer to take adverse actions against an employee that includes “a reduction or change in work hours.”

“Many of our workers are shift workers … who change hours all the time,” Guy said after testifying. “We are not for adverse action, but we think it’s a step too far.”

The hearing, which started just after 12:30 p.m., continued beyond 5 p.m.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer

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