Some Pugh supporters say they feel betrayed by veto of $15 minimum wage

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that she will veto the bill passed by the City Council that would raise Baltimore's minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Mark McLaurin, political director for a local labor union, feels betrayed by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

During her successful campaign for Baltimore mayor, McLaurin's Service Employees International Union provided volunteers and financial support that helped push the Democrat to victory.


But on Friday, the mayor broke a campaign pledge and vetoed the $15 hourly minimum wage legislation the union backed.

"I am sad that I lost someone I genuinely considered a friend and I do regret spending the money my members gave me, that they earned scrubbing toilets and taking care of developmentally disabled adults on her," McLaurin wrote in a Facebook post. "I regret asking them to give me their weekends and evenings to knock doors for her based, largely, on my assurances about who she was and what her value system was."


Pugh angered supporters of the effort to raise Baltimore's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 when she changed her position late last week. While she supported the higher wage during the campaign, she has warned for weeks that she was concerned a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore would hurt city businesses and stretch an already tight budget.

In response, a coalition of advocates called The Fight for $15 has launched a letter-writing and telephone campaign to try to pressure 12 members of the 15-member City Council to override the veto.

"Are you mad that Mayor Pugh broke her promise to Baltimore workers? Help us override her veto!" the group said in the message.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Monday the council doesn't have the votes.

"I'm so really bitterly disappointed," McLaurin said in an interview. "We had members out for her every single weekend. I'm now getting calls from all those members asking what happened."

Pugh said she changed her position, in part, because she has encountered significant unanticipated expenses since taking office in December, including a $130 million schools budget deficit she is trying to help close.

The Pugh administration estimated the minimum wage bill would cost the city $116 million over four years, including the expense of paying city workers a higher minimum wage.

Despite some disappointment, others cheered the mayor's decision, including pro-business groups such as the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Mike O'Halloran, Maryland director of National Federation of Independent Business, said Pugh "displayed leadership and courage by standing up for the small employers of Baltimore."

"Her action vetoing $15 an hour minimum wage will no doubt save jobs in our city and create a sense of stability and predictability throughout the area," he said.

Anthony McCarthy, Pugh's spokesman, said the mayor traveled around Baltimore over the weekend explaining her decision to residents. He said many reacted positively after hearing what she had to say.

"Everywhere she went (9 events on Saturday) she discussed the minimum wage (even the MD Historical Society Gala) and was cheered," he wrote in an email. "I think some people disagreed, but understood her explanation for the veto."


The council, which next meets on April 3, would need 12 of its 15 members to vote to overturn the veto.

Three members — Eric T. Costello, Leon Pinkett and Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer — already oppose the legislation. And Councilman Edward Reisinger, a former supporter, said after Pugh's veto announcement that he would not support an override.

"The votes are not there for an override," Young said. "I voted for the bill. I did what I was supposed to do. I'm not twisting any arms."

Reisinger said the cost of the bill is concerning given the city's outstanding fiscal challenges: a $20 million deficit, a $130 million schools budget shortfall and new spending obligations associated with the U.S. Department of Justice's police consent decree.

Asked if he agreed with the mayor's veto, Young said it was a "moot point."

"The mayor made her decision. I respect her decision," he said. "This mayor and I have been partners so far. I don't want to mess up that relationship."

Young said he agreed with Pugh's argument that the minimum wage should be raised at the state level, so that Baltimore is on equal footing with surrounding counties.

He said he encouraged council members who support the wage hike to lobby the General Assembly.

Even with the veto, Baltimore's minimum wage is increasing along with the rate statewide under legislation Pugh supported while in the State senate. The rate in Maryland will rise to $9.25 on July 1 and $10.10 a year later.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun