Minimum wage rally

Sandro Baiza, 44, of Silver Spring, (with blue and white sign) stands next to Catonsville resident Pam Wilt at a minimum wage rally held outside of Atwater's Naturally Leavened Bread Bakery and Café in Catonsville on Thursday March 20. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio / March 20, 2014)

A group of more than 50 joined Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings to rally in support of raising Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour at Atwater's Naturally Leavened Bread Bakery and Cafe in Catonsville on Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The rally was one of many being held across the state to support pending legislation in the state senate.

Ned Atwater, the owner of the bakery, said he pays his 145 employees more than minimum wage and supports the increase.

 "We have to increase our minimum wage to make our economy grow and help pull people out of poverty who are working hard," O'Malley said before the crowd in a parking lot next to the bakery and cafe. 

"We're not talking about a golden parachute. We're talking about raising the minimum wage. It's something we do from time to time," O'Malley said.

 "Prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top -- never has never will. It's built from the middle up and from the middle out," he said.

 Maryland's minimum wage equates to roughly $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. The wage hasn't seen an increase since it received a boost in 2009 from $6.55 an hour. 

While some businesses have voiced their opposition of an increase saying it will hurt them, the bill has already cleared the House of Delegates.

 Legislation to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2017 passed the House of Delegates on Friday, March 7, with a vote of 89 to 46.

“Raising the minimum wage is about giving people a shot – a shot at supporting their families, a shot at lifting themselves out of poverty and into the middle class, and a shot at sharing in the success of our state,” Cummings said before the crowd.

"Congress has failed to act -- now Maryland has the opportunity to be a national leader, demonstrating the strength and positive results that come with investing in our workforce. The state senate needs to act on this. Maryland deserves a raise," Cummings said.

 While legislation has been passed by the house, it's currently being held up in the senate as Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, chairman of the finance committee, stalls the bill in order to boost the pay of caregivers of the developmentally disabled.

Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, wants to tie an increase in the minimum wage to increasing pay for caregivers who currently make $9.82 an hour, which is 35 percent above the current minimum wage.

If the wage is increased to $10.10 those workers would be making less than the minimum wage. The governor proposed a 2 percent increase for disabled caregivers, but their wages would still fall under the minimum wage with the increase.

 "I think the senator sees this as an opportunity to go even further than we've already gone. So I'm going to continue to work with him on that," O'Malley told reporters after the rally.

With the end of the legislative session approaching, O'Malley said, "This is crunch time and we need to work together."

Another issue that remains is whether to increase the pay of tipped workers from 50 percent of the minimum wage or $3.63 an hour. The bill passed by the house keeps the hourly pay of tipped workers intact, although the governor proposed to increase that rate from 50 percent to 70 percent of the minimum wage.

 Despite the delay, O'Malley said, "I feel we have momentum with the bill coming out of the house."

O'Malley said he's willing to work with Middleton, but there's not a lot of room in the budget.

"I'll keep working with him. I think that all of us need to be cautious about bringing this bill down by adding too many other conditions," O'Malley said.