ANNAPOLIS — TJ Zlotnisky said business owners who pay their employees above the minimum wage helps boost the economy and creates longevity within a company.
Zlotnisky, CEO and chairman of iControl Data Solutions of Burtonsville, Maryland, said his lowest-paid employee receives $17.85 per hour and average more than $90,000 in salaries and benefits and receives stock options. As of April 1, he said his distribution company the lowest employee will receive $19.23 per hour.
“In my two decades of business in Maryland, I’ve learned the best way to build and sustain a company and reduce risks of business failure is by valuing workers,” he said at a press conference Tuesday, March 7 at the Lowe House Building. “Those healthy and fairly compensated workers are also great consumers … that drives even more economic activity. Weaker economic times are when we should support our workers.”
He joined more than two dozen business owners, union workers and other supporters to demand Maryland lawmakers increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The “Fight for $15” has become a national movement by low-wage workers, merchants and others that has now created legislation where a $15 minimum wage is now the law in New York and California.
Such a raise in Maryland would affect nearly 900,000 workers, said Dante Bishop, an organizer with Maryland Working Families based in Baltimore, a grass-roots organization that supports progressive legislation and endorses candidates who follow suit.
At the heart of the Fight for $15 in the state stands House Bill 1416 sponsored by Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher of Montgomery County. The current minimum wage in Maryland stands at $8.75.
According to the legislation, it would increase in increments for businesses with 26 or more employees:
• $9.25 per hour starting July 1;
• $10.10 per hour starting July 1, 2018;
• $12 per hour starting July 1, 2019;
• $13 per hour starting July 1, 2020;
• $14 per hour starting July 1, 2021; and
• $15 per hour starting July 1, 2022 and 2023.
Merchants with 25 or fewer employees would rise to $15 an hour by July 1, 2023.
In 2024, the state’s commissioner of Labor and Industry would begin to annually determine and announce the growth in the Consumer Price Index and analyze if a new state minimum wage rate would suffice, or remain at $15 per hour.
Workers who get at least $30 a month in tips but whose employers keep those gratuities would also receive $15 an hour by July 1, 2024. In the following year, “an employer may not include a tip credit amount as part of the wage of an employee.”
Ebony Johnson, 28, of Baltimore, hasn’t been employed for 2½ years due to health reasons.
“Living in a basement with my family is hard every day,” said Johnson, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Coppin State University in Baltimore. “I’m trying to get back in the workforce … and $15 an hour is something worth fighting for.”
Another piece of legislation proposed by Delegate Diana Fennel (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor seeks to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour by July 2019.
But not everyone supports the idea of raising wages.
Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said the employment growth rate in Montgomery County from his company’s industry has been cut in half that has hurt small business owners.
Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said the state has lost over 12,000 retail jobs in the past 10 years.
“That number is only going to continue to rise as stores shutter their doors and automation sets in,” she said to the House’s Economic Matters Committee. “Closely watch and monitor the operational costs and the impact they are having on businesses.”
Delegate Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville, who chairs the economic committee, had legislation withdrawn in his committee that would’ve prohibited a county, or municipality, to enact a law to regulate wages and strictly and give authority only to the state.