BALTIMORE — “An act of treason against the poor!” That is how one civil rights leader reacted to Baltimore Mayor, Catherine Pugh’s, veto Mar. 24 of a bill that would have raised the minimum wage here to $15 by the year 2020.
Pugh vetoed the measure last Friday even though campaigning a year ago, she promised if elected to sign the $15 minimum wage bill. On a candidate questionnaire she wrote, “Yes, I would. I am aware of the current initiative to raise the minimum wage in the city council to $15 and if it reaches my desk I will sign it.”
Ricarra Jones, chair of the Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition said, “We are deeply upset that Mayor Pugh has broken her campaign pledge by vetoing this legislation which promises to give tens of thousands of workers higher wages and the opportunity to lead self sufficient lives….Today, she made clear that promises are to be broken. The voters will remember her turnaround.”
Pugh justified the veto by citing Baltimore’s fiscal distress starting with the $150 million shortfall in revenues for city schools. She echoed the line of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) and other corporate wage-cutters that a higher minimum wage will worsen unemployment by driving businesses out of Baltimore to the surrounding counties where wages are lower. GBC President, Donald Fry, praised Pugh for having “stayed true to the priority that Baltimore must remain competitive for growth and jobs.”
The bill, authored by Councilwoman, Mary Pat Clarke, was approved by the City Council 11 to 3 with one supporter of the bill absent. It will require a supermajority of 12 of the 15 member council to override Pugh’s veto and already one councilmember who voted for it has announced he opposes an override.
Clarke told the Baltimore Sun, “It was my hope with the Freddie Gray aftermath and all our resolutions to do better that we would bring fair wages to the people who built this city, whose lives could have been changed for the better. Shame! Shame!”
Freddie Gray is the unarmed African American who died in police custody last year touching off a citywide rebellion and trials of the police officers who arrested him—all acquitted.
Mark McLaurin, political director of the Baltimore local of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said, “This is an awful and sad day for low wages workers across the city. My members knocked on doors, made calls, and covered polls for (Pugh) from every corner of this city.”
The Rev. Cortly CD Witherspoon Sr., president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council said Pugh has “abandoned her constituents interests in exchange for the interests of her financiers—big business.” Her veto was “an act of treason against the poor, the working poor, the underemployed, returning citizens, and single parents. Her veto is the equivalent to a vote in favor of utility shutoffs, evictions, homelessness, and hungry children.”