Testimony on Montgomery County Bill 12-16

To: Montgomery County Council
Date: June 21, 2016
Position: Support

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on bill 12-16. I am here on behalf of Progressive Maryland, one of the largest grassroots advocacy organizations in the state representing working families. We have over 120,000 members, supporters, and affiliates statewide, including over 36,000 here in Montgomery County.  We ask the Council to support bill 12-16 to raise the minimum wage to $15.

The $15 minimum wage is quickly becoming the national standard. At least 16 jurisdictions including DC, New York state and California have passed legislation to raise wages to at least$15. Fifty-three members of Congress and 200 economists have expressed support for a national minimum of $15 because the simple reality is workers are being priced out of their communities.

This bill would continue the pay raise that was implemented in 2013 until it reaches $15 in 2020 and would then be indexed to inflation. Montgomery County is consistently ranked as one of America’s most expensive regions with an area median income of $109,000. By comparison, a full-time minimum wage worker only earns $19,864 per year. Increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour would mean a raise for struggling workers while also benefiting businesses and the local economy. We know that minimum wage workers spend most of their incomes on everyday goods and services. That means more money going into retail businesses and restaurants and is consistent with evidence we see in cities that have already adopted this increase.

Progressive Maryland is also concerned about the plight of tipped workers and would like to see an amendment to include them in the minimum wage increase. Tipped workers–including servers, bussers, and bar-backs–earn a subminimum wage of $4/hour making them almost solely dependent on tips to meet their basic needs.

We’ve talked to dozens of workers in Montgomery County and continue to hear the same stories with regard to tipped workers. They never know how much money they’ll earn in a week and rarely is their pay reflective of the level of service they provide. According to the Restaurant Opportunity Center, 70% of tipped workers in Montgomery County are people of color, nearly 60% are women, and a third are parents. This two-tiered wage system only serves to widen the gender and racial pay gap, making it harder for Montgomery County’s most vulnerable workers to provide for their families and achieve a decent standard of living.

Even though employers are supposed to compensate their tipped workers for any amount under the minimum wage not earned in tips, we consistently hear stories of wage theft in which employers simply do not pay workers what they are due. Workers are often fearful of losing their jobs or being assigned fewer shifts and therefore do not challenge their employers over stolen wages. It is also common practice for servers to pay a portion of their tips to bussers and other back-of-house staff, meaning what they earn is not actually what they take home.

Relying on tips makes workers economically insecure and makes for an unsafe work environment. Research shows that 90% of women working as servers have experienced sexual harassment on the job from either a customer or a supervisor. But because any challenge to the status quo may mean being assigned to a slower shift or fewer hours, these women feel forced to choose between tolerating workplace harassment or the prospect of not being able to feed their families.

This is a critical issue for working families in Montgomery County. I strongly urge you to support this bill with an amendment to provide a significant raise for tipped workers. Thank you.

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