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University System of Maryland approves $15 minimum wage for most employees

The sweeping change for permanent workers will take effect in the new year

The University System of Maryland will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for union employees at its institutions, including the University of Maryland in College Park. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

The University System of Maryland will increase its minimum wage to $15 for most of its employees, joining a growing number of universities across the country offering higher wages to workers.

The system’s Board of Regents voted Friday to enact the sweeping measure, set to take effect Jan. 1. It will affect full-time permanent workers across the state’s public higher education system, including Maryland’s flagship university in College Park and three historically Black universities. The University of Baltimore, part of the state system, increased hourly wages to $15 in July.

“It’s the right thing to do for the university system because we rely every day on hard-working, highly skilled employees,” said Jay Perman, chancellor of the university system. “In this climate, if we don’t pay them a competitive wage, we do risk losing them to other organizations.”

The announcement follows a months-long campaign by the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents 30,000 Maryland state, university and private-sector workers. Maryland raised the minimum hourly wage for state employees in July, which left the university system the last major state employer offering wages below $15 an hour, according to the AFSCME local chapter leaders.

More than 500 union workers — housekeepers, groundskeepers, office staffers and more — will see their wages grow. The minimum hourly wage within the group of public institutions is $12.79, or $26,663 per year, data from the system show.

Maryland is on its way to raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 for most hourly employees by 2025, but union leaders have demanded that universities act sooner. As part of that effort, union members rallied at the University of Maryland in College Park and said a higher minimum wage “would lift all workers out of poverty across campuses.”

The fight for increased pay also became one of gender and racial justice. The union this year released a report, based on 2019 salary data, that showed male employees are paid more than female employees, and White workers earn more than Black and Hispanic workers.

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The system’s decision to raise the minimum hourly wage represents a victory for AFSCME. It follows another win after state lawmakers this week overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto on a bill that will allow the union to negotiate a single contract with the entire university system. The union previously had to negotiate pay, safety policies and other workplace standards with individual schools, a process union leaders criticized for being costly and time consuming.

“The universities themselves would try to negotiate, but they couldn’t make any decisions for themselves. They always had to go back to the University System of Maryland to get approval,” said Patrick Moran, president of the AFSCME local chapter. “Finally we will be negotiating with the decision-makers and not the conduits to those that make the decisions.”

Several campuses have moved to increase wages this year. Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, both outside the state university system, moved this year to pay hourly workers at least $15 an hour. Beyond the Washington region, other schools such as the University of Michigan, University of Kentucky, University of Colorado at Boulder and Case Western Reserve University have also unveiled similar plans.

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The changes reflect pressure on employers throughout the country to offer competitive wages. More large companies, including Target, Amazon, Whole Foods and Costco, are paying hourly workers at least $15. And advocacy groups such as Fight for $15, a movement started in 2012 when fast-food workers in New York demanded higher wages, continue to gain momentum.

“Now $15 is widely understood to be the bare minimum workers in all corners of the country need to get by,” said Allynn Umel, a Fight for $15 campaign director. “And it’s thanks to the workers who walked off their jobs nine years ago and the tens of thousands who followed them.”