Credit: via Montgomery County Cable video

Although Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross has publicly supported raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, his new running mate, Julie Verratti, is the co-owner of a business that previously opposed legislative efforts in Montgomery County to increase the wage to that level.

Verratti and her wife and co-owner, Emily Bruno, now say Denizens Brewing Co. supports the revised legislation passed by the County Council that provides more time for small businesses to prepare to implement the $15 per hour minimum wage, but Bruno previously strongly opposed a bill that would have implemented the wage sooner in public testimony on behalf of Denizens.

Verratti and Bruno co-own the Silver Spring brewery with their brother-in-law Jeff Ramirez. Verratti is running for lieutenant governor on Ross’s ticket and the two have put forth an initial platform calling for progressive policies and business support.

Bruno testified against a proposed bill to raise the county’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 during a June 2016 council meeting.

Bruno said at the time that the costs of raising the wage to $15 per hour could lead the brewery to cut staff and employee benefits.

“In the longer term, it may mean we change our business model entirely to focus on production with a much smaller staff and close our taproom doors,” Bruno testified. “This is not about being progressive or conservative or standing up for workers or not, it’s about math. The numbers just don’t add up for small businesses and it’s not fair to ask us to bear the burden of a public policy experiment.”

The council approved the legislation by a 5-4 vote, but it was later vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett and the council lacked the 6-3 majority needed to override Leggett’s veto. Last year, the council passed a modified bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2021 for large businesses, 2023 for mid-size businesses and 2024 for small businesses.

Bruno said Monday she previously testified against the bill to implement the wage in the county in 2020 because she said the council asked representatives of Denizens to speak about the potential effects of raising the wage.

“The main reason Denizens participated in that conversation is to represent the opinions of small-business owners,” Bruno said.

No one from Denizens testified about the modified bill that provided a longer implementation deadline during a public hearing held by the council in September of 2017. The council approved that bill in November.

Bruno said she didn’t testify in support of the modified bill because Denizens supported the revised bill.

“We didn’t feel the need to testify again,” Bruno said. “I think the timeframe that has been proposed for small businesses makes it a much easier adjustment.”

Julie Verratti, left, and Alec Ross, right. Via Ross campaign website.

When asked on Saturday about Bruno’s previous comments, Verratti said she’s in favor of raising the minimum wage statewide, but believes it’s important that government consider the economic realities faced by small businesses when proposing policies.

“Small businesses getting regulated at the same level as Fortune 500 companies is crazy,” Verratti said. “This is an example of that.”

She said she supports the law as it was passed in the county.

“I actually applaud what the Montgomery County Council did to pass the $15 minimum wage … because they looked at it from a small-business lens as well as a workers’ rights lens and they had everyone at the table and they passed a policy that is going to move the county forward,” Verratti said. “Now I wish we could do this on the state level as well.”

Ross said in an interview Saturday, “I’m in favor of a $15 minimum wage, period. Full stop.”

On the campaign trail, the Baltimore tech entrepreneur and best-selling author has described how difficult it was to make ends meet while working as a beer deliveryman earlier in his life.

Ross said his experience working for minimum wage was different from Verratti’s experience of paying wages as a business owner.

“The difference from me and Julie, obviously, is she’s working as a small business owner, but when I was delivering beer, I was doing so for Miller, for Coors—big old companies that sure as hell could afford to pay me a higher wage,” Ross said. “My view on this is $15 an hour is a reasonable minimum wage and I hope we get there.”

Earlier this year, state Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Kensington) and Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) introduced a bill in the General Assembly to raise the state’s current minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15 per hour by 2023. A hearing on the bill is scheduled in the state Senate on March 8, according to the General Assembly’s website.

Madaleno is also running for governor. Other Democrats in the race, including former NAACP president Ben Jealous and Baltimore attorney James Shea, have called for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15.

In Montgomery County, local unions such as 32BJ SEIU and UFCW MCGEO Local 1994 as well as the immigrant-advocacy group CASA backed the local effort to raise the minimum wage, which was led by County Council member Marc Elrich, who is running for county executive.

Elrich said in an interview Monday that Denizens and other small businesses raised concerns that the council attempted to address in the version of the bill that ultimately passed.

“[Bruno] gave voice to a concern that we looked at,” Elrich said. “I think everybody was cognizant, not just of her situation, but about how it’s going to impact small businesses.”