Dozens of members of progressive advocacy and workers’ rights groups gathered outside the Montgomery County Council building in Rockville on Tuesday to show their support for a bill that would raise the base minimum wage for tipped workers.
“I believe that we haven’t been able to move the needle because the majority of tipped workers are women and women of color,” said Jibran Eubanks, an organizer with the 1199SEIU union. “They have for too long been undervalued and underpaid. Here in Montgomery County, we have an opportunity to pay workers, get full wages for their labor and fair wages for their labor.”
Lead sponsor councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-large) formally introduced the legislation Tuesday. Currently, servers and other workers who rely on tips are only required by county law to be paid $4 per hour before tips. In contrast, the county’s minimum wage for non-tipped workers is $16.70 for employers with 51 or more employees, $15 for employers with 50 or fewer employees and $14.50 for employers with 10 or fewer employees.
If passed, the minimum wage would increase up to $6 in July 2024, $8 in July 2025, and so on in increasing increments of $2 until reaching the same rate as the standard minimum wage, according to a chart provided by a council staff member. The bill is co-sponsored by councilmember Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) and will need a total of six votes from the 11-member council to pass.
“Doesn’t every worker deserve a fair wage? No one should have to go hungry or miss rent because they had a bad night and tips,” Jawando said at the press conference Tuesday. “It’s unconscionable.”
The legislation is similar to Initiative 82, which passed in Washington, D.C., last year, eliminating the tipped minimum wage. There was proposed legislation to do the same in the Maryland General Assembly this session sponsored by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles County), but it didn’t make it out of committee and timed out before the session ended in April.
“The restaurant industry is now facing the worst crisis in the history of restaurants and raising wages is the only way to really recruit,” said Naila Rosario, national policy director at One Fair Wage, a nonprofit that advocates to end sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. “Montgomery County must pass one fair wage in order to really make a difference and not have workers flee to D.C.”
The legislation has faced heavy criticism from restaurant owners.
“A statewide tip credit repeal bill considered in the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass earlier this year because of strong restaurant industry opposition and scores of servers who urged lawmakers to reject it because they make significantly more money under the current tipping system,” Melvin Thompson, Restaurant Association of Maryland Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy, wrote in a statement to MoCo360. “The restaurant industry and servers will continue to oppose such poor public policy proposals in Montgomery County and elsewhere in Maryland.”
The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a public policy think tank based in Arlington, is also opposing the bill.
“Employees, economists, and restaurants oppose tip credit elimination because it harms everyone affected,” Rebekah Paxton, director of research at EPI wrote in a statement. “In neighboring Washington, D.C., diners and employees are frustrated by the aftermath: higher menu prices, more service charges, and lower tips for employees.”
Jawando said he does not believe this legislation would negatively impact local businesses and the county economy, and that it’s vital to pass the bill to stay competitive with D.C. and retain workers.
“We have a thriving restaurant industry here. We will continue to have a thriving restaurant industry. We have a team of restaurants that are already providing a fair wage,” Jawando said. “And if you’re a worker who is in one of those top tier restaurants where you’re making a lot with tips, that will continue.”
Jawando said he’s “confident” the legislation will pass.
A public hearing on the proposed legislation will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the County Council meeting. A vote has not yet been scheduled.