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  January 27, 2017

Baltimore City Councilers Slam Maryland State Democrat's Plan to Block Local Minimum Wage Increases


Progressive members of the Baltimore City Council are calling for mass opposition to a proposal that strips away the ability of local jurisdictions to raise the minimum wage law - measures passed in over a dozen states nationwide and backed by the conservative lobbying group ALEC.
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ZEKE COHEN: And I am deeply insulted that someone who doesn't live in Baltimore would try to tell Baltimore how to run its city. That is not acceptable. We are here to say Democrats need to stand up on racial and economic injustice.

JAISAL NOOR: Slamming state legislators, as corporate Democrats who failed to learn the lessons of the 2016 elections, a coalition of progressive Baltimore city council members railed against Maryland House Bill 317, introduced this week in the State Legislature, that would prevent localities from raising the minimum wage, offering sick days, or other benefits.

MARY PAT CLARKE: This is a right of law we have had for generations in Baltimore City. In Baltimore that law, minimum wage law, has brought us the first living wage law in the United States. And prevailing wage equality for construction workers and many other benefits for city residents.

RYAN DORSEY: Never has it been more clear that amidst decades of neo-liberal and conservative policy failings, we true Democrats, but more importantly we, the people, are our own greatest hope and must determine our future, as we see how little we can rely on higher bodies: the governor who balances his failed budget on our backs, the president who will strap us with his debt looking to build a wall.

JAISAL NOOR: Over a dozen, mostly Republican states, have passed such restrictive measures in recent years. North Carolina's infamous Bathroom Bill also contained a provision blocking cities from raising the minimum wage.

KRIS BURNETT: The push to ban higher local minimum wages is being driven by the far right, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. Democratic lawmakers in Maryland should not be taking a page from the ALEC playbook and joining states like Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Missouri. This would be a major step backwards. Increasing the minimum wage will help workers and families, and will boost local spending, benefiting local businesses.

JAISAL NOOR: Such measures are often sponsored, like the Koch Brothers backed ALEC, Legislative Exchange Council. The difference in Maryland is that the proposal was introduced by three Democrats.

MARC ELRICH: If Democrats are confused about why they lost the last election, the number one reason, people don't think we stand for anything. They don't believe we stand up for working people. They don't see any difference between us and the Republicans, except the Republicans will make them happy on social issues, which we apparently we won't do.

But we need to act like Democrats. We should not be taking the playbook of the right wing and fostering that, and having Democratic leadership put forward right wing ideas that have no place in Maryland, and, frankly, no place in the country, and then wondering what's going to happen to the Democratic Party. Where do we stand?

JAISAL NOOR: The push for House Bill 317 is being led by delegate Derek E. Davis, from Prince George's County. He chairs the Economic Matters Committee. Delegate Davis's office told The Real News he was declining all interviews until a public hearing scheduled in Annapolis, for February 7th. A look at Derek Davis's campaign donations shows that he's heavily backed by the restaurant industry, a fierce opponent of minimum wage increases.

Baltimore is a city marked by pockets of wealth contrasted with large swathes of disinvested communities, that advocates say was a product of intentional policies, like red-lining and mass incarceration. A measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Baltimore was narrowly blocked in 2016, and with eight new council people this year, many believed it could pass.

Just this week, the Montgomery County Executive blocked a measure raising the minimum wage there to $15 by 2020. Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich also spoke at the press conference.

MARC ELRICH: I'm tired of this discussion about that somebody who flips burgers shouldn't make $15 an hour. This is not about $15 an hour for flipping burgers. This is about the money that comes home to families, that lifts them out of poverty, and lets parents stay with their kids.

There are multiple studies that show the damage done by poverty to schoolchildren, the damage done to families, the psychological damage done to adults, the increased depression caused by poverty and the bad decisions that are a result of complete depression.

If people want to talk about the cost of $15, then lets talk about the cost of poverty.

JAISAL NOOR: Though delegate Davis declined our interview request; he earlier told the Baltimore Business Observer he's concerned raising the minimum wage will hurt local businesses. Quote, "We still have to balance the fact that our businesses compete in the entire region, the entire Atlantic seaboard and nationally." But economists we have spoken to at The Real News, say there's little evidence to support this claim.

DAVID COOPER: The truth is, there's not a lot of evidence of this happening in previous instances where cities raised their minimum wages. Part of the reason for that is because, while it is true that workers from outside the city may try and find a job inside the city, if that happens, employers outside of the city are going to have to start raising their own wages just to hang on to the staff that they have and to attract workers in their jurisdictions. And when that happens, whatever divide there was in terms of the wages being paid inside the city and outside the city, is going to start to moderate. It's going to start to go away.

JAISAL NOOR: Stay tuned to The Real News for ongoing coverage of this story. This is Jaisal Noor.

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