ANNAPOLIS – Thousands of Maryland’s lowest paid workers are due to get a one dollar an hour increase in their wages after the state Senate voted Tuesday to override the governor’s veto of a bill raising the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour. The House overrode the veto last week.
The increase will take effect in 30 days, according to Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr., D-Montgomery, who was one of the three delegates to sponsor the bill. Had the bill not been vetoed last year it would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2006.
The Senate vote marks the second time in less than a week that the Democrat-controlled Legislature has overridden a veto by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, on a bill that was strongly supported by organized labor. The first came on Thursday when both houses of the General Assembly mustered the necessary three-fifths majority to override Ehrlich’s veto of a bill aimed at forcing Wal-Mart to pay more for its employees’ health care.
William Burns, a spokesman for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said that both actions “send an anti-business message across the country” about Maryland.
But Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, said overturning the veto was the right thing to do.
“It means a whole lot for working families that were able to sustain themselves on a $5.15 an hour minimum wage,” Mason said. “Maybe it means that they will have to work one less job to make ends meet.”
During Tuesday’s Senate debate, Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, said the needs of working and middle-income families have changed since the bill was first discussed last year.
“When you look at all the consumer prices that working families are facing, I think this impacts more than just a working, poor family,” he said. “It’s taken a new dimension.”
The minimum wage bill’s supporters argued that the increase would bring Maryland in line with some of its neighboring states. Delaware already established a $6.15 minimum wage and Washington, D.C., has a minimum wage of $7, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Web site.
In his veto message, Ehrlich said small business owners would be harmed the most because they would no longer be able to afford to pay their employees and may have to fire some of them.
Ehrlich’s message also said that he did not “believe that Maryland should break from its long history of respecting the federal government establishing a minimum wage.”
But Middleton said that working families were suffering and could not wait for the federal government to address the issue.
“If you leave it to the federal government,” he said, “it’s not going to get done.”
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Republican from the upper Eastern Shore, said the Legislature could not overturn the law of supply and demand regardless of what bills it passes. “If you make something more expensive, you get less of it,” he said. “What we’re doing here today is raising the cost of wages to employers and we’re going to have less employment of a people that we all want to help.”