DC Metro Area Lawmakers Give Final OK to Regional Minimum Wage Hikes

WASHINGTON —By a 13-0 vote, the Washington, D.C., City Council gave final approval on Dec. 17 to increasing the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by mid-2016, a hike in line with increases that the national capital’s two large Maryland suburban counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s, previously passed.

The D.C. increase, which Mayor Vincent Gray (D) promised, reluctantly, to sign, is yet another win for low-wage workers nationwide.  The measure also includes paid sick leave for restaurant workers, who previously were ineligible for paid leave.

The same day, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) signed his county’s identical minimum wage hike.  Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett (D) previously approved that county’s hike.

With the Maryland counties agreeing to the same figure as D.C., low-wage businesses, notably fast food restaurants, have fewer options to decamp from the city in order to pay their workers less, or to play off local governments against each other.

The D.C. decision comes as yet another national poll shows strong support for raising the federal minimum wage – legislation the GOP majority in the U.S. House previously rejected.  The federal minimum, $7.25 hourly, hasn’t risen since the George W. Bush administration.

D.C.’s present minimum is a dollar more, while the Maryland suburbs are at the federal minimum.  The Maryland legislature may try to overturn their increases, and Congress could conceivably override the city’s ordinance after Gray signs it.  Virginia law bars the city’s suburbs there from raising the minimum wage on their own.

The Metro D.C. AFL-CIO called the council’s vote “a major win for local labor and community activists.”  Metro Washington Council Assistant Political/Legislative Coordinator Alya Solomon told the activists “we couldn’t have done it without out you!”

Meanwhile, a Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,005 adults nationwide shows a 2-to-1 margin for raising the federal minimum wage.  Democrats supported it by an 85%-14% score, while independents backed a hike by a 2-to-1 ratio.  Even Republicans favored a hike, 50%-45%.  The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

Asked what the new minimum wage should be, respondents averaged a figure of $9.41 hourly, around a dollar less than the figure the House GOP rejected earlier this year.  Independents averaged a $9.42 figure for the new minimum, while Democrats averaged $10.06.  The Republicans lagged behind: Their average for a new minimum wage was $8.57 hourly.