The fight for 15: Hold on, Baltimore’s coming!

Maryland may not see $15 for quite some time. But Baltimore Fight for $15 activists aren’t waiting. A current bill before the City Council would raise the minimum wage in six steps to $15 on July 1, 2022 with cost of living raises mandated after that. After a brief roll call vote on the measure Aug. 16, the bill was sent back to committee so that changes could be made.

Former Governor Martin O’Malley, in 2014 during his last year in office, had corralled a bill through that raised the minimum wage statewide to $10.10 by 2018.  The Democratic-controlled coalition that worked on this accepted that the bill could not be any better than that, even though currently, the cost of living in Baltimore for one person is a fulltime job paying $12.33 per hour (according to a Living Wage Calculator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

So, in 2016, a coalition of labor unions and community groups approached Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke to bring a new bill up for consideration.  She agreed to become the lead sponsor.  Councilwoman Clarke has served in the council as member and/or president 30 out of the last 35 years and was the first woman elected to be City Council President.  She is considered by many to be the permanent radical in that body.

Other cities that have passed $15 minimum wage laws are San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.  Montgomery County, MD is considering doing so as are the states of California and New York.

After initial approval in committee, the bill supporters discovered that out of fifteen votes in the council, there were not the eight votes needed for passage to send it to the mayor (who said she would sign it).  Therefore, Monday night in front of about one hundred supportive citizens, Councilwoman Clarke proposed to withdraw the bill ‘for amendment’.  On this vote, a majority was achieved.  The bill for an increase in the minimum wage in Baltimore will not come out of committee until after the general election in November.

And big change is guaranteed after November 8.  Six councilmembers who are retiring opposed the increase to a living wage.  Five of the democrats who are favored to win in November are solidly in support of the $15 minimum wage.  The Green Party candidate for mayor, Joshua Harris, calls for an increase to $15 per hour.  Only the Democratic mayoral candidate, Catherine Pugh, won’t express her position nor has she said whether she will veto the bill when it shows up at her desk.  According to the Baltimore Sun (August 17, 2016) she stated, “I’d love to see us be consistent around the state,” adding that this issue may come up in 2017 at the state level.

The problem with that view is that Maryland’s GOP governor is Larry Hogan, a foe of regulation and a friend of low wages.

This change in Baltimore’s city council make up is coming about after an energetic primary campaign season which ended in April.  Many of the presumptive new councilmembers are progressive as proved by their resumes.  Kristerfer Burnett, had worked against the gas and electric company merger several years ago with “Good Jobs, Better Baltimore.”  Amanda Maminski, who is running as the Green Party candidate for District #10, fought successfully with “Free Our Voice” to stop an incinerator from being built in Sparrows Point, the former steelmaking and shipping area of town.

So, although an increase in minimum wage won’t pass in 2016, there is hope, and a lot of planning for 2017.  The importance of continuing the national struggle for a living wage and a union can’t be overstated.

The real cost of low wages is permanent instability for Baltimore’s citizens.  This was pointed out by Tessa Aston-Hill, the president of Baltimore’s NAACP, after the city council hearing.  “Baltimore is rated as one of the top cities in the country in housing evictions.  Working for Baltimore City in the housing and health departments, I … witness the devastation that an eviction can bring.  Actually we need to reform the court system, but raising the minimum wage as proposed in Mary Pat Clarke’s bill would allow a family to have a budget, be able to plan, and help avoid evictions.  This bill would strengthen families.”

Photo: Fight for 15 Baltimore Facebook page


Cindy Farquhar
Cindy Farquhar

Cindy Farquhar is a progressive community activist in Baltimore.