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  February 7, 2017

Baltimore Introduces $15 Min. Wage Bill Ahead of State Hearing on Measure Blocking Such Measures

Baltimore gears up for a showdown with a trio of state-level Democrats who want to strip cities of the ability to control minimum wage and sick days
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JAISAL NOOR: The Baltimore City Council introduced a $15 minimum wage bill on Monday, setting up a showdown with the trio of Democratic state legislators, who on Tuesday are holding a hearing for a measure that would ban cities in Maryland, from raising the minimum wage. Councilwoman, Mary Pat Clarke, introduced the measure, which is also being supported by Council President, Jack Young.

MARY PAT CLARKE: Baltimore City is finally setting out to correct the injustices, which have kept our city divided for generations. High on the agenda must be to close the growing economic gap, between the haves and have-nots in our city government, and private sector workforces.

JACK YOUNG: I had few calls today with some business people who were not happy about my stance. But, we can't have it both ways. This is a compromise bill, and I'm looking forward to moving this bill through the Council, making sure that we get this thing done, and maybe the state will follow the city once again. Thank you.

JAISAL NOOR: A measure for a $15 minimum wage fell short in 2016. But this measure has received broader support –- with a major concession. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, wouldn't reach a $15 wage until 2026. The bill would also not apply to workers under the age of 21. Several new council people supported the measure, including Shannon Sneed, of District 13.

SHANNON SNEED: I'm here to support Maryland working families. I'm excited that it's coming to the Labor Committee, and so we look forward to talking about it there. And I will be looking forward to folks putting input, who are Maryland working families. Thank you all.

JAISAL NOOR: Mayor Catherine Pugh's office said they have not taken a position on the bill, but it already has 10 co-sponsors. If 12 members back it, it would have a veto-proof majority. The move in Baltimore is in line with measures passed across the country, and states like New York and California, that would also reach 15, by 2022.

We could not reach an economist for immediate comment on the impact of delaying the $15 minimum wage for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, but Mary Pat Clarke said it would affect about a quarter of the work force. They would get 15 an hour by 2026. A study done on the impact of last year's version of the bill, found it would lift wages for almost 100,000 workers.

On Tuesday, The Real News will be covering a hearing in Maryland State House, over House Bill 317. That would pre-empt cities from raising the minimum wage, or giving sick days, it is being spearheaded by three Democratic state legislators. Including Dereck Davis, the Chairman of the powerful Economic Matters Committee. Davis's office has told us he's not speaking to the media until tomorrow's hearing.

MARY PAT CLARKE: Which would take all, pre-empt, every local subdivision in the state of Maryland, from setting minimum wages. Now, we set minimum wages here under our authority in Baltimore way back, for example, in 1964, when we finally said -– I wasn't around, actually –- when they finally said, "Hey, everybody, the feds aren't doing anything, and we're starving to death, let's raise the minimum wage." That's a good tradition to follow.

Cities are leading all over the nation. We're a veritable Women's March, in terms of taking action and coming together, to take care of one another. That's what people said we needed to do in this environment, and that's what we plan to do here, in this Baltimore City Council.

JAISAL NOOR: Such measures are normally backed by the far right. A similar provision was included in North Carolina's Anti-LGBT Bill, passed last year. Many opponents of Raise the Minimum Wage said it put small businesses at a disadvantage. But economists we have spoken to say those concerns are unfounded.

DAVID COOPER: Let's talk through what happens when you raise the minimum wage. We have a pretty good understanding of all the various effects, because we've raised minimum wages, hundreds –- literally hundreds –- of times over the last 35 years. What we know happens when the minimum wage goes up, is that low-wage workers earn more. On the business side, turnover tends to go down, because workers are earning a little bit more, they don't feel like they need to go out and find another job.

And that's actually a large expense for a lot of small businesses, dealing with turnover costs, because the low-wage labor market is full of churn, people moving in and out of jobs all the time. Prices do tend to go up slightly, because businesses do have to absorb these additional labor costs. But, the price increases that we've seen from previous increases in the minimum wage, have been very small. We're talking on the order of a few cents on the dollar.

So, you know, most businesses are able to absorb those additional labor costs through the combination of savings they're getting in their recruitment, hiring and training costs, as well as passing on some additional cost onto consumers, in the form of higher prices.

In terms of the job effects, because they're able to absorb those costs in that way, we've never seen any significant loss of jobs from increases in the minimum wage. And I think it's because of those offsets that the businesses are able to achieve. As well as the fact that they might actually start to see some higher demand for their goods and services from the additional dollars that are circulating in the local economy, as a result of the higher minimum wage.

JAISAL NOOR: Stay tuned to for updates on this story. This is Jaisal Noor.




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