Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown told union members Monday that he will back legislation to increase Maryland's minimum wage in the 2014 General Assembly session whether Gov. Martin O'Malley is on board or not.
Brown, who was in Baltimore to accept the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union for governor, said that if the O'Malley administration does not include such a bill in its legislative package, he will support such a measure on his own.
Unlike his chief rival, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Brown did not call for an increase to a specific level. Gansler has called for an increase from the current $7.25 an hour to $10. Brown said the administration was still in the process of developing proposals for the session.
"I'm excited about the possibility of an administration bill that I'll back," Brown said. "If there's not an administration bill, there will be a Brown-sponsored bill to raise the minimum wage," he said.
O'Malley, who cannot run again because of term limits, has publicly spoken about the need for a higher minimum wage but has not embraced a specific figure. A third candidate in the race, Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, co-sponsored legislation this year that would have raised the wage to $10. The bill failed.
Maryland has not raised its minimum wage since 2006, when the General Assembly -- with Brown voting yes -- overrode former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of a bill increasing it to $6.15. That put the Maryland minimum $1 higher than the federal standard, but in 2009 Congress pushed that rate to $7.25, overtaking the state.
While Brown's position may lack specificity, he stated it with fervor Monday, joining SEIU members in a chant of "raise our wage."
Joined by his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Brown happily accepted the support of the SEIU Maryland-D.C. State Council. The union represents more than 30,000 workers in Maryland.
All three leading Democratic candidates had sought the backing of the powerful union, which represents security workers, health care workers and public employees. The SEIU is known for taking an active role in elections, providing their chosen candidates with funding as well as volunteers. Jaime Contreras, president of the SEIU state council, said Brown could count on that level of support as he seeks the party nomination in the June 24 primary.
"When we get in, we get in to win," Contreras said.
The union leader had a simple explanation for why the SEIU chose Brown.
"Our members like him better and we believe he's going to be a good governor and he has the right stuff," Contreras said.
The Gansler campaign released a statement discounting the importance of the state council's endorsement and pointed to the support he received from the SEIU's Local 500. Campaign manager Matthew "Mudcat" Arnold said the decision was driven by SEIU Local 1199, the health care workers. He dismissed that group as having "far more members in New York than Maryland."
"The fact remains that the largest, fastest-growing, statewide local with the most Maryland members, SEIU 500, cast their vote for Doug Gansler, proving once again that hard-working families in Maryland want a candidate with ideas and who isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo to get things done," Arnold said.
Contreras said the endorsement decision was made by a majority of locals and was reached by Maryland members after interviews with the three candidates.