Local BusinessWilliam J. Ford

Maryland Minimum Wage Set to Increase Friday

Nick Balmadier continues to gain coffee experience working at Vigilante Coffee Co. in College Park.

Besides learning to grind coffee beans and brew java, the 22-year-old senior at the University of Maryland also gained another skill.

“I’ve learned how to clean better since working here,” said Balmadier of Howard County, who majors in community health. “It’s those little things that have made this an overall great experience.”

Starting Friday, workers in Maryland will see a minimum-wage increase from $11 to $11.75.

State lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan last year to gradually increase the minimum hourly wage up to $15 by 2025.

For businesses with 14 or fewer employees, the figure will increase to $11.60 and up to $15 by 2026.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has hampered thousands of businesses in the state with merchants purchasing hand sanitizer stations, cleaning supplies, masks, gloves and other equipment for workers and their business. Customers are asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

In Prince George’s County, restrictions continue with no indoor dining and a decrease in the number of people at retail businesses, fitness centers and the MGM casino resort at National Harbor remain in effect through Jan. 16.

Vigilante Coffee, with up to 40 employees, situated its two businesses to not allow indoor dining. But even with some of the changes due to the pandemic, owner Chris Vigilante supports a minimum-wage increase.

He said baristas also receive a tipped wage of $5 per hour at the College Park location. The figure is slightly more in Hyattsville which has at least 25 employees and operates a roastery, production facility and a café.

“I started off in my coffee career making minimum wage, so I know what it’s like to try and make ends meet,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s important for me having grown as a barista to a café owner to try and give people a livable wage. Fifteen dollars isn’t enough, but you got to start somewhere and I think that’s a good place to get going.”

Some businesses could be affected not only by the wage increase but also by dining restrictions in various jurisdictions.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced Wednesday the jurisdiction will allow indoor service at 25% capacity for restaurants, social clubs, bowling alleys, mall food courts and other businesses that serve food.

Pittman instituted an executive order to restrict indoor dining through next month, but changed his mind after two days of hearings in the county’s Circuit Court brought by a lawsuit from four business owners.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland posted a statement Wednesday on Twitter to praise the county’s decision to continue indoor dining, but also called on officials in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City to do the same.

“Restaurants across the state have been operating safely at 50 percent indoor capacity with no evidence that they are the cause of COVID spread,” the association said. “We must all continue to act responsibly to reduce the spread of COVID so that restaurants can get to full capacity again.”

At Vigilante Coffee, Taylor Smith greeted a few customers at the front door who picked up food and drink orders.

Smith, 21, of Montgomery County and a University of Maryland senior currently studying microbiology, said Vigilante and his wife, Ashley, make the working environment comfortable.

Although Smith said she receives parental support, a minimum-wage increase would help those who aren’t baristas.

“A minimum-wage increase would be great,” said Smith, who’s not a barista and has worked at Vigilante Coffee since August. “Everyone here is hardworking. Chris and Ashley are great. They really want to make sure we’re OK and protected.”

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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