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Health care workers 'fight for 15' outside Governor's Mansion

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Hundreds of healthcare and property service workers gathered in Annapolis today to call on Governor Larry Hogan and the state legislature to support a livable minimum wage and give hope to tens of thousands of workers who make too little to support themselves and their families.

Concerned union members from across the state marched around the Governor's Mansion - and even rang Gov. Hogan's doorbell - to press him and the state legislature to back legislation (SB 543/HB 664) that would raise the state's minimum wage from $10.10 (as of July 1, 2018) to $15 by 2023.

"On a daily basis, I have to decide whether to send my eight-year-old son to daycare, pay a bill or eat," said Denisha Proctor, an SEIU member who works at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a unit associate. "We need to raise the minimum wage so I can stop making impossible decisions about what I can afford to give my son so he can have the best life possible. Anyone working a demanding 40-hour week should be able to provide a decent life for their children."

Today's rally was sponsored by Fight for $15 Maryland Coalition, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and 32BJ SEIU Property Service Workers. Speakers argued the state could not afford to turn its back on the hard-working men and women who had committed themselves to helping care for Marylanders and often cannot make ends meet on their current salary even though they work 40 plus hours a week.

"I see the struggle my low-income patients go through every day," said Sophia Atu, a registered nurse at the University of Maryland Prince George's Hospital Center. "When they get sick, they are often scared to call out of work and get the healthcare they need because they lose a day's income. Then they can't afford to pay for a prescription. A $15 minimum wage would be a lifesaver for these patients and would mean a better Maryland for all of us."

Under the provisions of the legislation, Maryland's lowest legal wage would become $11 in July next year, and rise $1 every year until 2023. The bill would benefit an estimated 573,000 workers in Maryland, nearly one-quarter of the state's work force. Furthermore, economists estimate a $15 minimum wage will benefit over 700,000 households in Maryland.

Although opponents of the bill state that workers earning low-wages are mostly teens in entry-level jobs who don't need to earn a living wage, an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute proves this wrong, finding that the typical worker who would benefit is an adult woman who works full time but still cannot make ends meet.

"My son and I live with my mother, but often I have to sleep at the airport to ensure that I earn enough to be able to feed myself and to pay for my son's day care," said Kelsey Jackson, a 32BJ member and single father who works 90 hours a week fueling planes at Baltimore Washington International Airport for the contractor Menzies. "With $15, I could afford an apartment so I don't have to sleep at the airport and I could spend time with my son. He's always asking to see me again and I don't know what to tell him."

National Employment Law Project analysis of cost of living data shows that throughout much of the state of Maryland, even single workers without children already need more than $15 an hour just to cover the basics, and that workers with families to support need even more. The economic evidence from other states shows that, if phased in gradually, a $15 minimum wage would be manageable for employers.

Union members and the Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition have made the case for gradually raising the wage by highlighting Seattle as a case study for how this bill could grow the economy. Seattle was the first major city to adopt a $15 minimum wage, and the region's unemployment rate hit an eight-year low of 3.6 percent in August 2015, significantly lower that the state unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, following the initial wage increase in April.

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