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Charm City fights for $15 minimum wage — again

With the arrival of eight new Democrats to the Baltimore City Council, a previously unsuccessful bid to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 may gain new momentum. The bill was sent back to committee last August after being short one vote in order to pass.

However, after the November elections, three of the new-coming council members will be replacing incumbents who had previously opposed the measure. They are John Bullock (West Baltimore), Zeke Cohen (Southeast Baltimore) and Shannon Sneed (East Baltimore).

The bill’s chief sponsor, councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (North Baltimore), held a rally last week at the Blue Point Healthcare Center. Many advocates and low-wage workers attended, sparking the renewed effort for a higher minimum wage in Baltimore. When the bill returned to committee back in August, Clarke pledged to continue to gather support.

The bill, introduced by Clarke earlier this year, will likely be re-introduced next January. It proposes a gradual increase of Baltimore’s minimum wage, in order to reach $15 per hour by July 2022. It also aims to increase the wages of tipped workers, who presently earn $3.66. Additionally, the bill proposes cost of living adjustments, so that wages would continue to increase.

Currently, Baltimore does not have its own minimum wage: it follows the standard set by the state of Maryland, where the minimum wage is now $8.75, higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25). That value is part of an incremented increase stipulated by legislation passed in 2014, which aimed to gradually increase wages from $8.25 in 2014 to $10.10 by July 2018.

The push in Baltimore comes amidst nationwide calls for a $15 minimum wage. Workers from the restaurant, healthcare, airport and other industries have engaged in protests across the nation. In some cases, the protests have been called “disruptive,” leading to dozens of arrests in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, among other cities.

Despite the incoming wave of support both in and out of City Council, some constituents, particularly small business owners, seem resistant to the change, with many saying that they would close their doors or reduce hours for workers if the proposed increase takes place.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has said he is against the proposal. In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, he said the City should not attempt to increase wages above $11.50/hour, arguing that a higher minimum wage could negatively affect Baltimore’s economy. He and other opponents have also argued that raising Baltimore’s minimum wage makes no sense if other suburban communities continue to have lower wages.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had said she would sign the bill into law if it reached her desk back in August. However, since the bill went back to committee, that task would go to mayor-elect Catherine E. Pugh. Pugh has said she would prefer counties to establish consistent minimum wages across the state.

Sharon Sneed, who has just been elected to City Council for District 13, is in favor of the push.

“In my district, we have many people living below the poverty line; people who have to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet. Back in 2014 people said the sky would fall if we raised minimum wage — and guess what, it didn’t.”

Sneed pushed for wage increases in her campaign, saying that worries about the increase are unfounded, as the money earned would be injected back into the community.

Baltimore follows the lead of San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. — all jurisdictions that have approved a $15 per hour minimum wage.