Wage hike should cover seasonal workers [Letter]

March 10, 2014

Maryland's House Bill 295 includes a gradual increase in state minimum wage, bringing the wage up from the current $7.25 per hour to eventually reach $10.10 per hour in 2017 ("House votes to raise Maryland's minimum wage," March 7).

The Sun's recent editorial on the bill ("Partial victory for the working poor," March 5) criticizes its elimination of wage indexing as well as the lack of protection it offers to tipped workers whose wages remain at $3.63 per hour. However, the piece fails to mention another group of workers who are harmed by the bill: low-wage seasonal workers in Maryland.

The proposed minimum wage hike making its way through the state legislature will not apply to workers employed seasonally in the amusement and recreation industries like traveling fairs and carnivals. The current bill exempts amusement and recreational establishments and freezes their wages at $7.25 an hour. Under the current law, recreation and amusement industries do not have a legal exemption from the minimum wage in Maryland.

Every year, thousands of migrant workers receive H-2B temporary work visas to come to the United States to work in the fairs and carnivals and other seasonal industries. Workers in the fairs work long hours with low pay. Former carnival worker Martin Davila stated: "Even though we were tired, we had to keep working because what they paid us was not enough." The work is physically exhausting and dangerous, but workers are not compensated accordingly.

Last year, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (Center for Migrant Rights) published "Taken for a Ride: Migrant Workers in the US Fair and Carnival Industry." The report details the grueling work performed by fair and carnival employees who earn a wage that does not cover even their basic living expenses: "We couldn't even support ourselves, let alone send money home," reported Pablo, an H-2B carnival worker who was interviewed for the report. "Which is why we came."

As workers in other industries see their wages slowly rising, seasonal workers who perform some of the most difficult and demanding work will continue to earn poverty wages with no increase on the horizon.

Sarah Rempel, Baltimore

The writer is policy director for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.

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