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  February 8, 2017

Maryland Democrats Spar Over Measure Blocking Baltimore Minimum Wage Hikes

The contentious hearing involving state and local Democrats took place the day after a majority of Baltimore's city council said it supports raising its minimum wage to $15 by 2022
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JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News. I'm Jaisal Noor here in Annapolis where in the state capital today we are seeing a battle for the future of the Democratic Party. Today was the first hearing of HB 317. It is a bill that would pre-empt cities like Baltimore and counties like Montgomery County from raising their minimum wage or granting sick days.

Yesterday in Baltimore a $15 minimum wage bill was introduced that has the support of the majority of the city council. But if HB 317 is passed, it would prevent Baltimore from raising its minimum wage.

The hearing started off with testimony from Dereck Davis. He's a Democrat, which is significant, because many similar pre-emption measures passed around the country have been pushed by conservatives and backed by the billionaire right-wing Koch brothers and their Legislative Exchange Council called ALEC.

DERECK E. DAVIS: I say nothing to no legislator in this state when it comes to wage and benefits for our working people. The issue for me is I'm not here, really, to be honest, I'm not here about minimum wages, I'm here about trying to maximize wages. That's my goal. I don't want our people to just get by. I want our people to thrive. And so my issue is how do we bring those jobs, those good-paying jobs to our state?

JAISAL NOOR: We also heard testimony for and against the measure.

MELVIN THOMPSON: Members of the committee, I'm Melvin Thompson, and I represent the Restaurant Association of Maryland. The way we see it is that labor advocates have been using local jurisdictions almost as incubators for labor policies that they want enacted state-wide, and the local negative impact of such policies on businesses and jobs in these jurisdictions is the collateral damage of their strategy to force state-wide policy changes through the local level.

Maintaining state-wide uniformity for wage and benefit laws and regulations is also critically important for preserving a level economic playing field among Maryland businesses, and also for reducing compliance confusion for businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions.

MARC ELRICH: I share your desire to have better jobs here, but you have the jobs that you have, and people at the floor deserve to make at least a decent wage – at least a living wage – and I'm glad you mentioned 1939, because when that bill was introduced originally it was meant to be a living wage. And I went to college at the University of Maryland in the mid-'60s I only worked minimum wage jobs. I paid tuition out of my minimum wage job, I paid my rent out of my minimum wage job, I bought food and I bought beer at the Varsity Grill. So... there is no contradiction in the old days about the link between the minimum wage and the ability to meet your basic needs, and what's happened is – and this is on the business community – they successfully lobbied the federal government to decouple the minimum wage from inflation, and that is what has created the problem today. If this had remained coupled, we wouldn't be having this issue, we'd be looking at small increments every year.

DERECK E. DAVIS: For me, this isn't about are we helping the business community, or it's not about that, it's about how best do we bring the types of jobs that we all desire for our workers here?

DONALD C. FRY: We support House Bill 317. The thing is it’s an important step to a creating consistency and uniformity in the key employment area, obviously wages and benefits.

Businesses thrive on predictability and certainty. If a business knows the rules, knows who's making the rules, knows who to work with regarding the rules, and knows that the rules place all businesses on equal footing, they can plan and adjust their business plans accordingly. This is particularly true of small businesses that don't necessarily have the ability to be as nimble or as flexible in their operations or their budget as the larger business may have.

SHANNON SNEED: Black people are nearly twice as likely to live below the poverty line than white people, and we're more likely to work low-paying jobs in areas such as food prep, healthcare support and personal care services. Fifty-six percent of the public assistance recipients are households where one person works. The state and the federal governments have to subsidize low wages, employees that are hard workers, because they are not paid enough to cover their basic needs. The state alone spends more than one billion annually on healthcare and cash assistance to working families.

Many in Baltimore City rely on public assistance for food, to pay bills, but I haven't even mentioned the fees families have to pay if two more parents are working in the home.

M. FISHER: While I am from... well, I do live in Calvert County and proudly represent Calvert County, I was born and raised in Baltimore. And I just remember the time when we had Domino Sugar and Bethlehem Steel and General Motors and McCormick all manufacturing stuff in the city. And I'm just curious: I mean, what comes first? The wage or the job? And I just want to hear that.

KRIS BURNETT: And I also remember my parents working at Wendy's and Dad working making $3.00 an hour in 1986...

M. FISHER: And I grew up in...

KRIS BURNETT: ...making the minimum wage, as well.

M. FISHER: Baltimore, poor.


M. FISHER: Poor. And so, let's not go there. So, what comes first? The jobs or the wages?

KRIS BURNETT: I think they go hand in hand. When workers make more, they spend more. This is what the data shows not only in Baltimore, not only in Maryland, but across the country. So I think we can create jobs by helping people support themselves.

M. FISHER: Thank you.

MARY PAT CLARKE: Can I just add, if I may, delegate... that actually we have added 12,000 jobs in Baltimore City in the last three years, and we are doubling the increase of our economy over the state's increases. So we're not here as beggars, we're asking for you to leave us alone, if you would, as partners...

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

MARY PAT CLARKE: we can share the wealth, and then close the gaps.

MAN: May I also add that while we may not have Bethlehem Steel anymore, we do still have Domino Sugar, and they don't start any of their workers below $18 an hour.

WOMAN: Amen.

MAN: And the truth is, is that... is that it is the people at the bottom of the economic spectrum who are the fuel of our economy. The money comes in and goes out as fast as it is because it has nowhere else to go. They can't sit in banks gaining interest. It has to go immediately back into our local economies to support these families and to support the businesses working in our communities, hiring our local people.

BOBBY BARTLET: HB 317 is a truly remarkable piece of legislation. In the sense that it manages to violate both conservative and progressive principles. Conservative in the way that it undermines principles of federalism and devolution of authority and progressive in the sense that it undermines wage equality and the empowerment of the working and middle class. What this bill would do is to increase the power of the state to the end effect of holding families down in poverty. It serves no constituency except for the wealthy interests that force the public to subsidize their profit margins with the public services that pick up the slack for their sub-living wages.

MAN: Let me ask for Mr... Bartlett to come back, please.

DERRICK E. DAVIS: Oh, I got this one.

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

DERRICK E. DAVIS: I appreciate the fiery rhetoric and the sound bites, the clips, but the reality is a lot of what you say is... your rhetoric doesn't match the reality of what's going on. For example, you stated that this would make state action less likely. In fact, the state did it twice.

We're just short of the Jerry Springer Show. And politics that, you see, I can go fiery rhetoric, too. But that's all we are. We yell and we scream and we try to say pejoratives, and we provoke, and all of that, but we don't want to sit down and talk about what's going on.

JAISAL NOOR: Bobby Bartlett didn't get a chance to respond, so we caught up with him and asked him his thoughts about the comments of Dereck Davis.

BOBBY BARTLETT: The point that I had made in the testimony was that Donald Trump and Larry Hogan, the Governor of Maryland, in large part won their elections due to low turnout among Democrats. I mean, I don't think that's an opinion I'm putting forth. I think that is... that's a fact. And I think the fact the data backs that up. And, you know, the Democrats have traditionally been the party of the people, the party of the working class, and the party of labor -- and we've seen them get away from that. And a lot of people have economic anxieties these days, and the Democrats don't seem to have much of an answer to that, much of a solution. You know, they talk about, "You can't say who's a Democrat, who's not." The only reason I bring it up is because that's what's in the official party of the Democratic platform. That's supposed to be what this party claims that they stand for. And it's just...

JAISAL NOOR: That was just past this last summer.

BOBBY BARTLETT: Yeah. Passed this past summer. Absolutely. So, if the Democratic Party wants to energize its people to get them to show up, they need to start doing something about the issues that matter to those people. You know, I see and hear a lot of talk about caring about income and equality, but the actions just don't back that up.




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