When the Maryland General Assembly finally passed the bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on April 7, it was a tremendous victory for hundreds of thousands of workers across the state who will finally get a raise. After all, it was just over a year before that Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee shut a nearly identical bill by a 3 to 8 vote and it didn’t even get a vote in the House.
But even with the support of Governor Martin O’Malley, getting a raise for nearly half a million Marylanders wasn’t easy. First, we had to overcome both the bill’s history and recalcitrant leadership on the key House and Senate committees. In previous efforts to raise the wage in 2011 and 2013, the bill died in the House Economic Matters Committee and Senate Finance Committee respectively
So how did we do it? It took smart organizing and harnessing the strong desire of Marylanders to raise the wage. By the time the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session began, we had secured support of our bill from the majority of House members and nearly a majority of the Senate. Maryland Working Families, the main organizer of Raise Maryland, had canvassed more than 40,000 doors, gathered 8,000 personal letters from voters and generated more than 25,000 petition signatures, not to mention countless phone calls and emails to legislators. And Raise Maryland’s two-year campaign to raise the wage benefited from the work and leadership from our coalition of more than 60 organizations.
While the coalition was successful in winning on our primary goals of reaching $10.10 per hour, we should note that many of the more progressive aspects of the original bill didn’t make the final version. The phase-in date was moved from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2018 and our proposal to index the minimum wage so that it would rise to keep pace with the cost of living was amended out of the bill. Wages for tipped workers were frozen by the House at $3.63 per hour, a measure sought by the restaurant industry. Legislators also approved carve-outs for amusement park workers and those ages 19 and under.
The campaign to raise the wage has started a conversation about income inequality and workplace conditions. We will be continuing this work to expand justice and rights for Maryland workers.