Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Breaks Promise, Vetoes $15 Minimum Wage Bill

Bruce Vail March 28, 2017

Supporters of a higher minimum wage are now left floundering for a new strategy. (Fight for $15 Baltimore/ Facebook)

BAL­TI­MORE – Bal­ti­more May­or Cather­ine Pugh dealt a shat­ter­ing blow to the Fight for $15 cam­paign, veto­ing a new min­i­mum wage law passed over­whelm­ing­ly by the City Coun­cil just last week.

The effect was ampli­fied as it quick­ly became clear that Pugh, a Demo­c­rat, had suc­ceed­ed in lin­ing up the votes nec­es­sary to pre­vent a threat­ened coun­cil over­ride of her veto. Despite the fact that the min­i­mum wage bill passed the coun­cil with the sup­port of 12 of its 15 mem­bers — enough to over­ride a veto — the sol­i­dar­i­ty of the pro-Fight for $15 mem­bers dis­in­te­grat­ed under pres­sure. Accord­ing to reports, sev­er­al sup­port­ers of the high­er min­i­mum wage switched sides and are now pledg­ing to sus­tain the mayor’s veto.

Pugh’s action rep­re­sents a rever­sal from a promise she made dur­ing last year’s may­oral cam­paign to sign a $15 min­i­mum wage bill if passed by the coun­cil. That rever­sal is engen­der­ing bit­ter­ness from some min­i­mum wage proponents.

Cather­ine Pugh not only went back on this promise, but it tells us that every­thing she said (dur­ing the cam­paign) is in ques­tion,” says Char­ly Carter, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the pro-labor Mary­land Work­ing Families.

Sup­port­ers of a high­er min­i­mum wage are now left floun­der­ing for a new strat­e­gy. There does not appear to be a prac­ti­cal path for­ward leg­isla­tive­ly, either at the city, state or fed­er­al lev­el, Carter says. The best approach may be to con­cen­trate on mak­ing pro­gres­sive gains in the 2018 statewide elec­tions and to renew the fight at the state lev­el in 2019.

Cur­rent­ly, the Mary­land min­i­mum wage stands at $8.75 an hour. Under leg­is­la­tion passed in 2014, it is sched­uled to rise to $9.25 an hour in July and to rise again to $10.10 in 2018.

As part of her remarks announc­ing the veto, Pugh said, it is in the inter­ests of the city that we fol­low the state,” in adopt­ing min­i­mum wage leg­is­la­tion. Such a com­ment sug­gests that Pugh and oth­er elect­ed offi­cials from Bal­ti­more can be induced to sup­port a rise in the statewide min­i­mum wage after 2018, Carter says.

The veto is the lat­est in a string of seri­ous blows to the Fight for $15 cam­paign in Mary­land. As report­ed by In These Times, an effort to enact a local min­i­mum wage in pop­u­lous Mont­gomery Coun­ty went down in flames in Jan­u­ary when coun­ty exec­u­tive Ike Leggett vetoed the bill. As in the case in Bal­ti­more, all the impor­tant elect­ed lead­ers in Mont­gomery Coun­ty are Democ­rats, and the high­er min­i­mum wage pro­pos­al fell because pro-busi­ness Democ­rats split with more pro­gres­sive Democrats.

Legget­t’s veto was imme­di­ate­ly fol­lowed by the intro­duc­tion of the Bal­ti­more bill, which had been scaled back sig­nif­i­cant­ly from a min­i­mum wage pro­pos­al that was nar­row­ly defeat­ed in the coun­cil last year. The new Bal­ti­more pro­pos­al con­tained gap­ing loop­holes designed to gar­ner sup­port from small busi­ness­es, but even those con­ces­sions were not enough to con­vince Pugh and others.

Ricar­ra Jones, a polit­i­cal orga­niz­er for the 1199SEIU Unit­ed Health­care Work­ers union, says the Pugh rever­sal is a lit­tle mysterious.

She says she met with a lot of peo­ple before mak­ing her deci­sion, but she refused to meet with us, and she didn’t meet with any of the labor groups or faith orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port­ed [Fight for] $15,” Jones said. I guess that means that she met with cor­po­rate lob­by­ists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of big com­pa­nies. Who knows what kind of pres­sure they exert­ed, or what kind of promis­es were made.”

SEIU has been in the fore­front of the min­i­mum wage fight in Bal­ti­more since it began and is now re-assess­ing cam­paign strat­e­gy, accord­ing to Jones.

Fight for $15 is a nation­al move­ment. We have suc­cess­es and we have revers­es. We are not fold­ing up our tent because of this set­back,” she said.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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