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Don’t freeze planned minimum wage increase | COMMENTARY

Maryland state Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, speaks last year in favor of increasing the state's minimum wage. .
Maryland state Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, speaks last year in favor of increasing the state's minimum wage. . (Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun)

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us all a powerful lesson on the importance of front line workers to our state and national economy.

Over the past few months, we have watched as grocery staff, nursing home professionals, hospital personnel and other front line workers have continued to ensure that the basic needs of people across Maryland are met. And they do this while many of us are able to enjoy the safety of our homes during the pandemic.

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But the fact of the matter is that many of these essential workers make minimum wage or close to it.

Despite all that they are sacrificing, we have seen a number of special interest groups call on the state Board of Public Works to freeze the upcoming minimum wage increase slated for Jan. 1. This would be a major setback for our state.

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For those who aren’t already aware, the minimum wage will go up to $11.75 per hour on Jan. 1. For employers with 15 or fewer employees, the minimum wage will increase to $11.60 per hour. Last year, I highlighted that many of the people who will benefit from the minimum wage increase are black or brown. And the majority of the workers who will directly benefit from the wage increase are women.

This is an especially important fact to consider when we think about the systemic issues that plague some of the highest poverty areas in Baltimore City, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. As the senator representing the 45th District, I understand the personal benefit for neighborhoods such as New Broadway East, Berea, South Clifton Park and so many others looking for a hand up, not a hand out.

As we discussed the statewide minimum wage increase — during legislative testimony and floor debates — many of us emphasized that no Marylander should have to work two jobs in order to sustain themselves or their families. One job should be enough. During the debate, we highlighted that when members of our community have more money in their pockets, they use it to fuel the local economy with purchases at our gas stations, grocery stores, book stores and other businesses. Put simply, there are a number of direct and indirect benefits when we ensure a decent wage for our neighbors because when we all win, we all win.

Now is the time to remind Maryland’s Board of Public works of these previous discussions — and to respectfully request that our governor, state treasurer and comptroller not consider freezing the minimum wage. If it is placed on the agenda, it is of the utmost importance that we galvanize the support necessary for at least two of the members of the board to vote “no” to a wage freeze.

Across the country, we have been inspired by demonstrations about law enforcement accountability and the continued marginalization of underserved communities. We have been reminded, once again, that the American dream is far out of reach for many in our communities. Keeping the minimum wage increase on schedule is an opportunity to ensure that policy focused on helping our state’s working class will carry the day. The folks depending on this increase are looking for a way toward the road of opportunity for their families and neighbors.

My colleagues in the House of Delegates have already led by example by encouraging the Board of Public Works to advance the will of the General Assembly and keep the schedule that we already set for the minimum wage. But that’s not enough. I believe it is important for all of the advocates who fought to get the minimum wage passed in General Assembly, and fought to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, to continue to fight to ensure that COVID-19′s front line workers get their scheduled increase on Jan. 1.

Sen. Cory V. McCray (corymccray@gmail.com) represents the 45th District, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

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