$15 minimum wage proposal faces better odds after November election

At least five City Council candidates favored to win in November said they would back a proposal to raise Baltimore's minimum wage to $15.

That support would be enough to get the eight votes needed to win passage of legislation the council sent back to committee Monday. The council action indefinitely postponed a vote on a bill that would require city businesses to pay the highest minimum wage in Maryland.


State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee for mayor, declined to say Tuesday whether she would sign or veto the legislation if approved by the council when new members take office in December.

"I'd love to see us be consistent around the state," Pugh said of the minimum wage proposal, adding that she expects legislation to be discussed in Annapolis when the General Assembly returns in January as part of a national Democratic Party push to raise wages.


Pugh would not say what dollar amount she would support on the state or city level.

The legislature acted in 2014 to raise Maryland's statewide minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2018. The rate increased to $8.75 an hour last month.

Under the council proposal, the rate in Baltimore would reach $15 an hour in 2022 with cost-of-living increases after that. Pay would hit $9.50 an hour next July and jump $1 a year, reaching $13.50 in 2021.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the bill's chief sponsor, said she has requested a meeting with Pugh to discuss the legislation and the exemption it makes for small businesses with fewer than 25 workers and less than $500,000 in gross annual income.

Clarke said she believes she can continue to build support for the proposal over the coming months. If the bill does not come back to the floor for a final vote by early December, she will have to file new legislation to present to the new council.

"I am hoping with a little time to think and talk, we can get the votes," Clarke said. "We need to move a little more aggressively; it's been generations of being stuck."

Alan Walden, the Republican nominee for mayor, opposes a $15 minimum wage and said arguments that it would benefit low-wage workers are wrong. People working in or looking for entry-level positions would be the first ones hurt, he said.

"You could assume, if you wish, that those already employed at the bottom of the pay scale will benefit because their salaries will be raised, but that assumes that they would continue to be employed," Walden said. "The last thing employers are looking for are the employees that will cost them at the entry level."

Opponents have pointed to 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.

If Green Party candidate Joshua Harris beats Pugh in November's election, he said, he would eagerly sign legislation to create a $15 minimum wage. He accused the current council of intentionally stalling.

"It's time that we stop with the shenanigans and move forward and allow the citizens to move forward," Harris said. "Fifteen dollars is a good starting point. I would like to see higher."

Clarke said she believes odds of approving a $15 minimum wage will improve after the general election, when eight new members will join the council. She is expected to win re-election to North Baltimore's 14th District.


On Monday, the council voted 8-6 with one abstention to return the bill to committee. Among those who oppose the measure are outgoing council members Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Warren Branch, Helen Holton, William "Pete" Welch, James Kraft and Carl Stokes.

Democratic nominees John Bullock, Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey and Shannon Sneed all support a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore. In heavily Democratic Baltimore, they are favored to win in the general election.

Dorsey, the nominee for Northeast Baltimore's 3rd District, said Baltimore officials should be willing to take the lead statewide in increasing salaries.

"Anything that results in a full-time worker still living below the poverty line is not what I call a victory or progress," he said. "In that respect, $15 should be considered the floor, not the ceiling. … We need to get this taken care of so we can move on to other workforce issues like better health care and paid sick leave."

Bullock, who is running in West Baltimore's 9th District, said he paid close attention to the arguments on both sides of the issue.

"I still support the $15," he said. "The minimum wage, even nationwide, has been artificially low for quite some time. It has not kept up with cost of living. This would benefit Baltimore."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.


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