After Major Victory on Paid Sick Days, a Minimum Wage Increase is the Best Way to Support Working Marylanders

January 19, 2018 by Shamekka Kuykendall in Blog, Economic Opportunity

Working Matters press conference supporting paid sick days.

Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders will soon be able to earn sick days, thanks to state lawmakers that overturned the governor’s veto.

This is a major victory for working Marylanders and for the state, as a growing body of research demonstrates that a healthier workforce leads to greater productivity due to workers recovering faster when they stay at home and reduced spread of illness in the workplace – a good thing for business and the economy.

The new law applies to Maryland businesses with 15 or more employees. When it goes into effect in the next few months, employees who currently have no paid leave will be able to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. As a result, most working Marylanders will be able to earn up to five days of paid sick days a year – and more if their employer opts to provide more generous benefits. People who work at very small businesses will still have important protections that ensure they can at least take unpaid leave when they are sick, without risking being fired.

Policies such as paid sick days provide critical support to Marylanders of color, women, and low-wage workers, as these populations are more likely to work jobs that do not offer paid sick days. With this law, Maryland is enacting a more equitable policy that supports a healthy economy that offers a widely shared, rising standard of living.

As the 2018 legislative gets into full swing, there will be other opportunities to make Maryland a better place to work.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, legislators, union leaders, and advocates launched a campaign to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023. If they succeed, Maryland will join with other states, like California and New York, that have passed legislation to increase their minimum wages to $15.

Currently, under legislation enacted in 2014, Maryland’s minimum hourly wage is set to peak at $10.10 per hour this July, with no further increases scheduled. Montgomery County is leading the way for the state with its recently enacted $15 minimum wage increase, which will go into effect for large employers in 2021, and a bit later for small employers.

This carefully crafted increase has provided a great boost to Maryland workers. However, it is already not sufficient to afford a basic standard of living in even the lowest-cost parts of the state, particularly for families with children. Policymakers must ensure wages keep pace with the costs of housing, child care, food, health care, and other necessities.

The paid sick days policy will be a boost for low-wage workers, who until now have had to risk their income or their job in order to care for themselves or a sick family member. However, it won’t be enough to ensure that people working hard for low pay can afford to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table as costs continue to rise. Only rising wages can do that.