New ef­fort to raise city’s min­i­mum wage be­gins

Coun­cil new­com­ers to soon con­sider bill at $15 an hour

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

With eight new Democrats join­ing Bal­ti­more’s City Coun­cil in De­cem­ber, pro­po­nents of a $15 hourly min­i­mum wage re­launched their cam­paign to hike wages for the city’s low-in­come work­ers.

Af­ter fail­ing by one vote in Au­gust, ad­vo­cates for a higher min­i­mum wage feel more con­fi­dent now that three coun­cil mem­bers who op­posed the mea­sure are be­ing re­placed by new mem­bers who’ve pledged to sup­port the in­crease.

The ad­vo­cates and the bill’s lead spon­sor, Coun­cil­woman Mary Pat Clarke of North Bal­ti­more, held a rally at the Blue Point Health­care Cen­ter to kick off the new ef­fort. Dozens of low-wage work­ers and sup­port­ers at­tended.

“We have air­port work­ers, heath care work­ers, home care work­ers who are all go­ing to let our elected of­fi­cials know that

we de­mand $15 an hour,” said Ri­carra Jones, a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­nizer for a lo­cal health care union. “Last year our bill in Bal­ti­more had a de­lay, but this year we’re back at it. We have a plan to add Bal­ti­more to the grow­ing list of the cities and states that have in­creased the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour.”

The rally came amid a na­tional ef­fort for a $15 hourly min­i­mum wage. Work­ers across the coun­try on Tues­day en­gaged in what ad­vo­cates called “their most dis­rup­tive protests” at air­ports, fast-food restau­rants and other busi­nesses.

Dozens of peo­ple were ar­rested as they par­tic­i­pated in protests in cities in­clud­ing Chicago, Detroit, Hous­ton, Los An­ge­les, Min­ne­ap­o­lis and New York. In many cities the pro­test­ers blocked busy in­ter­sec­tions. There were no ar­rests or dis­rup­tive protests in Bal­ti­more.

Demo­cratic politi­cians, in­clud­ing Sen. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont, Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and Sen.-elect Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia, sent out mes­sages of sup­port on Twit­ter.

“Not long ago the es­tab­lish­ment told us that a $15 min­i­mum wage was un­think­able. But a grass­roots move­ment re­fused to take no for an an­swer,” San­ders wrote.

In Bal­ti­more, Jal­isha Wash­ing­ton, a 26-year-old cook and mother of two, said it would change her life “dras­ti­cally” if her wage was in­creased a few dol­lars an hour.

“Twelve dol­lars an hour is not mak­ing ends meet at home,” she said. “It’s not.”

With an in­flux of new, younger City Coun­cil mem­bers who take of­fice next month, Clarke said no per­sua­sion is needed to get some of them to join up with sup­port­ers al­ready on the coun­cil.

“It’s been part of their cam­paigns to be sup­port­ive of a $15 min­i­mum wage,” Clarke said. “They’ve been cam­paign­ing on it.”

The in­com­ing mem­bers in­clude John Bul­lock of West Bal­ti­more, Zeke Co­hen of South­east Bal­ti­more and Shan­non Sneed of East Bal­ti­more, all of whom re­place mem­bers who op­posed the in­crease.

The $15 min­i­mum wage bill that Clarke plans to in­tro­duce in Jan­uary pro­poses to grad­u­ally raise the min­i­mum wage in Bal­ti­more to $15 an hour by July 2022 and tie it af­ter­ward to the cost of liv­ing, so that it will con­tinue to in­crease. The leg­is­la­tion also calls for in­creased pay for tipped work­ers, who cur­rently earn $3.63 per hour.

In Au­gust, sup­port­ers of the pro­posal failed to muster the votes needed for pas­sage on the 15-mem­ber coun­cil, which in­stead voted 8-6 with one ab­sten­tion to re­turn the bill to com­mit­tee and an uncertain fu­ture.

Clarke pledged at the time to look for the ad­di­tional votes needed to pass the meas- ure, even if that meant wait­ing un­til a new coun­cil takes of­fice.

“I said that we would bring it back and that’s what we’re plan­ning to do,” Clarke said Tues­day.

City Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Ed­ward Reisinger said he plans to sup­port the leg­is­la­tion again.

“There’s a lot of city em­ploy­ees who are work­ing two, some of them three jobs, and in cor­po­ra­tions and com­pa­nies [where] the CEO, COO and CFO are mak­ing mil­lions,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Ad­vo­cates es­ti­mate nearly 100,000 work­ers — about 27 per­cent of work­ers in Bal­ti­more — would ben­e­fit from the law. They ar­gue a higher wage would help ad­dress en­trenched poverty in Bal­ti­more, where about a quar­ter of res­i­dents live be­low the poverty line and more than a fifth of house­holds re­ceive food stamps.

“So­ci­ety would save money, be­cause fam­i­lies would be in­de­pen­dent,” Clarke said. “Our whole econ­omy im­proves when there’s more spend­able cash around.”

The min­i­mum wage in Mary­land is cur­rently $8.75 per hour, higher than the fed­eral rate of $7.25. The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly passed a bill dur­ing its 2014 ses­sion that will raise the state’s min­i­mum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2018.

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young has said he doesn’t be­lieve the coun­cil should vote for a bill that raises the city’s min­i­mum wage any higher than $11.50 per hour. He and other op­po­nents say they worry about how it would af­fect Bal­ti­more’s econ­omy.

In a sur­vey of 322 Bal­ti­more busi­nesses by the Bal­ti­more De­vel­op­ment Corp., 97 said the bill would cause them to re­duce hours for work­ers, 69 said they would lay off work­ers, 56 said they would close and 33 said they would move out of Bal­ti­more.

Young and other op­po­nents have ar­gued that rais­ing Bal­ti­more’s min­i­mum wage doesn’t make fis­cal sense when sub­ur­ban coun­ties will con­tinue to have a lower min­i­mum wage. Mayor-elect Cather­ine E. Pugh has said she would pre­fer if coun­ties had a “con­sis­tent” min­i­mum wage across the state.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, de­clined to com­ment Tues­day. Pugh did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Bal­ti­more is the lat­est ju­ris­dic­tion na­tion­wide to con­sider a min­i­mum-wage in­crease. The Dis­trict of Columbia, Seat­tle and San Fran­cisco all have ap­proved in­creases to $15 an hour.

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