MoCo Council narrowly passes minimum wage bill

Supporters of the $15 minimum wage celebrate outside the Montgomery County Council Building.  Photo from the Twitter account of UFCW Local 400
Supporters of the $15 minimum wage celebrate outside the Montgomery County Council Building.
Photo from the Twitter account of UFCW Local 400

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday passed by the slimmest of margins legislation to raise the county minimum wage to $15 by 2022. The 5-4 vote means that County Executive Isiah Leggett, who has expressed disappointment with the legislation, could veto the bill.

In the hours after the legislation passed, Leggett’s spokesperson Patrick Lacefield said that Leggett’s office is “reviewing” the proposal. Leggett, a Democrat, told the Washington Post over the weekend that opposition to the bill from council members and from the business community has made him reluctant to support the legislation, but he stopped short of saying what action he would ultimately take.

“I want to see how all this shakes out,” he told the Post. “I’d have to look at that and analyze it.”

During an at times testy debate Tuesday in a council room with many people holding “Fight for $15” signs, council members passed two amendments to the legislation that supporters hoped would win over Leggett or a sixth council member, which would allow them to override Leggett’s potential veto.

The legislation would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 for most workers, but council members passed an amendment to delay the increase until 2022 for businesses with fewer than 25 employees. They also approved an amendment that would create an “off ramp” that would allow the county executive to halt the minimum wage increase in the event of an economic downturn.

The minimum wage in Montgomery County is now $10.75 an hour. It will increase to $11.50 in July, but is not scheduled to increase beyond that.

Council members Marc Elrich (the bill’s sponsor), Tom Hucker, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer voted in favor of the overall bill. Council President Roger Berliner, as well as members Nancy Floreen, Sidney Katz and Craig Rice, voted against it. All the members of the council are Democrats.

Jews United for Justice Montgomery County community organizer Laura Wallace called the council’s vote an “incredibly important step forward for the county” and expressed optimism that the amendments to the bill would address Leggett’s concerns and that he would sign the legislation into law.

She added that Jews United for Justice and a coalition of progressive groups will continue to put pressure on Leggett and the other council members through phone calls, emails and a press conference outside Leggett’s office on Thursday morning.

Before the vote to increase the minimum wage, the council voted down legislation — by the same 5-4 split — to fund an economic study of the effects of an increase. On Twitter, Navarro said a vote for the study would be a “vote to delay” the minimum wage increase.

Despite the uncertain fate of the bill, local backers of the minimum wage increase and supporters of the national “Fight for $15” campaign to raise the minimum wage around the country celebrated the council’s vote.

Supporters in the room erupted in cheers after the final vote and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 tweeted “VICTORY! Montgomery Council passes $15 minimum wage in 5-4 #fightfor15” with a photo of supporters celebrating outside the council building.

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