Local, state, national officials gather in Bethesda to talk minimum wage -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected on Aug. 14, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

Boloco, a burrito eatery in downtown Bethesda, had some guest workers helping out behind the counter Thursday afternoon.

They might have picked up a few tips on making guacamole, but that’s not why U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez of Takoma Park, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) were there.

They were there to talk about the minimum wage.

“I applaud the efforts of the governor and the county executive for their work on the minimum wage,” Perez said. “Maryland is one of 13 states and the District of Columbia that have raised the minimum wage.”

Perez is helping with President Barack Obama’s effort to raise the national minimum wage, now $7.25 per hour, to $10.10, with future increases indexed to inflation. O’Malley signed legislation this year to increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 through a series of increases beginning Jan. 1, and reaching $10.10 in 2018.

And in November, the Montgomery County Council went further, increasing the county’s minimum wage to $11.50 per hour. That increase will be phased in, starting in October and completed in 2017.

Boloco of Boston, which has a chain of burrito restaurants, has a starting salary of $9 per hour and an average salary of $11.50, said CEO Patrick Renna.

“We pay what we feel is the right amount to start people in the job and the right amount to meet their needs,” Renna said. “Our mission is to positively impact [workers’] lives.”

The upside for Boloco is more engaged employees and lower turnover, Renna said.

“The true benefit is they’re happy and they’re providing great service,” he said.

Kelsey Neydorff recently moved to Bethesda from New Hampshire where, she said, she worked for Boloco. She was happy to be able to transfer to the Bethesda restaurant. “They just treat everyone fabulous,” she said. “Everyone is a team.”

Linda Hudson of Silver Spring said she found her job online and has been with Boloco since it opened two years ago.

“My spirit said this is where I should be,” she said.

Boloco is a model for the rest of the nation, Perez said, emphasizing the benefits of higher wages and what they mean to the local economy.

“We are here today to say, ‘Look what they’ve done ... look at Montgomery County, look at Maryland,’” he said.

The restaurant seems to have earned the national attention it is getting.

Avory Joseph of Silver Spring said he has worked there for about a year, and the higher wages allowed him to quit a second job and concentrate more on this one.

“What they pay you, it makes you feel good,” he said. “It gives you a sense of responsibility. You have to own up to what you are worth.”

pmcewan@gazette.net

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect number for the federal minimum wage.