Montgomery Co. Council committee mulls $15 minimum wage

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Council members want to know: What would happen if the county went ahead and enacted a $15 an hour minimum wage?

At a Health and Human Services Committee work session on Monday, it became clear getting an answer would be a challenge.

The problem, according to Montgomery County Legislative Attorney Josh Hamlin, is that while a number of jurisdictions have either enacted or are moving towards enacting a $15 dollar minimum wage, only one, SeaTac, currently has a $15 minimum wage, and because of its unique structure — SeaTac is a city of 27,875 and one third of its residents work for a single employer: the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — it doesn’t provide a good comparison.

In recent hearings on the Montgomery County bill, there were concerns from chambers of commerce that employers could have to cut jobs in order to cover the cost of an increased minimum wage. Nonprofits also voiced concerns, explaining that because of their unique status in providing services to clients, they can’t pass on labor costs to a “customer.”

Councilman Craig Rice told his colleagues on the county’s Health and Human Services Committee that the issue is complex and added, there’s a push-pull. Employers say keeping wages under the $15 dollar mark means more people can work, but in Montgomery County, it’s hard for families to manage on the minimum wage. “We want to make sure there are sustainable wages, but we also want to make sure that people aren’t losing out on opportunities,” Rice said.

Councilman Marc Elrich, the sponsor of the bill, said he believes that there may be some businesses that decide to cut jobs but said there’s a constant ebb and flow of employment patterns. “You could say there are fewer cook jobs, but it doesn’t mean that 500 people who were formerly cooks did not find jobs somewhere else in the economy,” he said.

The District has enacted legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, but that won’t take effect until 2020. Baltimore City is considering legislation to do the same.

On July 1, Montgomery County enacted a $10.75 minimum wage. The rate had been $9.55.

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