Supporters of $15 Minimum Wage Plot Path Forward After Veto

Supporters of $15 Minimum Wage Plot Path Forward After Veto

Local union president expresses disappointment in county executive's decision

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Supporters of a $15 minimum wage in Montgomery County a November rally at the County Council Office Building in Rockville

Andrew Metcalf

The labor groups and County Council members who worked to pass a $15 minimum wage bill in Montgomery County are vowing to move forward with a new bill after County Executive Ike Leggett vetoed the legislation Monday.

Gino Renne, president of the county employee union Local 1994 MCGEO, on Tuesday described Leggett’s veto as a “huge disappointment.”

Renne said the county executive had assured local labor leaders that he didn’t want to veto the legislation, but then did so anyway.

“Democrats are about assuring that workers get raises,” Renne said. “Why Ike Leggett, who is head of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, is acting like a Republican, there’s no explanation for it.”

Leggett responded in a phone interview with Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that while he did tell Renne he did not want to veto the bill, he wasn’t willing to approve it due to his objections to specific parts of the legislation.

“I think we can move forward,” Leggett said, “but my objections are pretty clear and straightforward.”

Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents about 7,000 county employees, is part of a coalition of local labor unions and advocacy groups that supported the bill, which would have raised the minimum wage to $15 for most workers in the county by 2020. The bill passed the all-Democrat County Council by a narrow 5-4 vote last week. A minimum of a 6-3 majority is required to override a county executive’s veto.

The labor coalition—which includes the Latino advocacy group CASA, the service union 32BJ SEIU, Progressive Maryland and the Metro Washington Central Labor Council, among others—issued a statement Monday vowing to continue to lobby council members to support the bill.

“Working families who fear life under the Trump presidency need not wait for the White House to make their lives harder—their own local leaders have already started,” the joint statement says. “By vetoing the $15 minimum wage, which enjoys overwhelming public support, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has chosen to yank back a critical lifeline and leave working families only a payday away from poverty.”

Leggett wrote in a memo that he wants the county to study the economic impact of raising the wage, consider exempting small businesses and to wait until 2022 to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Leggett is also concerned about the possible economic competitive disadvantage with neighboring jurisdictions who have not kept up with the county in raising the minimum wage.

On Tuesday, he said the study would help the county determine the impact that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would have on nonprofit programs the county subsidizes as well as other ancillary effects of the legislation. He noted the county still has five months before the final minimum wage increase scheduled under a 2013 law goes into effect. Under that law, the county’s minimum wage will rise to $11.50 in July, from the current $10.75.

“I don’t see the downside to obtaining more information,” Leggett said, adding that had the council waited to vote on the bill, he probably wouldn’t have had to veto it because a compromise could have been negotiated.

“They wanted to hurry and get the bill out and thought I would capitulate and sign it, but I told them I would not and I did not sign it,” Leggett said. “I did not want to veto it.”

Council President Roger Berliner was among the four council members who voted against the bill. On Monday, he said the veto gives the council time to modify the bill so members can garner more support.

“This allows us to rest the conversation and find a more balanced approach that will allow us to get to yes,” Berliner said. “That’s always been my goal.”

Leggett said the county study could be completed as soon as July, and Berliner said a new bill could be introduced and voted upon as soon as this fall.

The local chambers of commerce and many small business owners testified against the bill during public hearings last year, saying the raise would negatively affect the local economy. One Dunkin Donuts’ franchisee said the raise could impact as many as 130 jobs at the stores his company operates.

Council member Marc Elrich, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday that he’s concerned the debate over the bill focuses more on its effects on small businesses rather than the working poor.

“The only concern is business, not the people who need to put food on the table and support a family while making minimum wage,” Elrich said.

He noted the council members who supported the bill added amendments designed to give small businesses more time to deal with the wage increases and address Leggett’s concerns. He described his colleagues who voted against the bill as similar to “Republicans in Congress” who offered no ways to improve the bill in order to gain their support.

Despite this, he’s hopeful he can get secure the support of another colleague or two to make a new $15 minimum wage bill veto-proof.

““We’ll listen to what [Leggett] said, put together a package and see if it addresses some of the council’s concerns,” Elrich said. “At the end of the day, this isn’t about us. It’s about doing something for people who are in these low-wage brackets.”

Council member George Leventhal, who voted for the original bill, said he plans to schedule two Health and Human Services Committee hearings in mid-February to hear from constituents who make the county’s current $10.75 minimum wage. Leventhal chairs the committee.

He also predicted the impact study wasn’t likely to change anyone’s position on the issue—the business community would remain opposed to any increase in the minimum wage, while labor and progressive groups would continue to press for the increase.

“The facts will fundamentally be the same before study or after the study,” Leventhal said.

Meanwhile, Leventhal added, he’s concerned that state lawmakers may pass legislation in this year’s General Assembly that prevents local jurisdictions from setting the minimum wage. Leggett, though, said he wasn’t concerned about that possibility.

The state’s minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour, but is scheduled to rise to $9.25 in July and then to $10.10 in July 2018. The bill approved by the council last week would have continued annual incremental increases until the wage reached $15 by 2020. The county’s minimum wage is higher than the state’s due to the 2013 law approved by the council. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

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