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  March 31, 2017

UPDATED: With Veto Override in Jeopardy, Advocates Say Action Needed to Save $15 Wage Effort

Advocates say now only mass grassroots efforts can save Baltimore's $15 wage bill that would lift wages of 100,000 workers
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JAISAL NOOR: Fifteen-dollar minimum wage advocates are vowing to keep up the pressure on elected officials in Baltimore, after the city's Democratic mayor vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill last week. Supporters' say now is the time for the public to lobby their city council people, to support an override of the measure.

MARY PAT CLARKE: Time is not only running out. Time doesn't even exist.

JAISAL NOOR: Mary Pat Clarke has introduced a $15 minimum wage bill for the past two years. She says the measure can't be watered down anymore than it already is, with exemptions for businesses with under 50 employees, they reach $15 in 2026.

MARY PAT CLARKE: And there's not much we can do with the legislation to have it mean anything... we can't extend it any longer than we have. We can't prepare for it any longer than we have. We can't take care of the small businesses any better than we have...

JAISAL NOOR: And it's already a compromise measure.

MARY PAT CLARKE: It's already a way big compromise measure.

JAISAL NOOR: We got a response from new Councilman Kris Burnett. He supports overriding the mayor's veto.

KRIS BURNETT: We want small business owners to thrive, but their business model also can't be rooted in paying people a poverty wage. Right? You can't have that. If that's your business model, then you should consider a new one.

JAISAL NOOR: Clarke said she's disheartened to see the failure of an initiative that's aimed to help address some of the deep inequities, laid bare by the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, and subsequent uprising.

MARY PAT CLARKE: We talk and talk and talk about the aftermath of Freddie Gray, and the need to change our ways in dramatic fashion here in Baltimore, in order to bring the city together -– in fairness and justice. The Department of Justice has its requirements, and I think that's a positive step in the right direction. But aside from that, what do we have that's really any different in people's lives?

JAISAL NOOR: The mayor is set to introduce her veto to the City Council on Monday, April 3rd. According to the City Charter, the Council must hold a vote to override the veto in 20 days. But the next Council meeting isn't scheduled for 21 days from now, so a special session must be called, either by the City Council President, who's already said he'll decline to do so, or ten council members. Clarke says she's working on gathering those votes now.

MARY PAT CLARKE: But I'm hoping to have ten, so that we can at least bring a close to this chapter if we lose –- or win, if we can.

JAISAL NOOR: What's your message for supporters of the $15 minimum wage? What should they be doing now to ensure that a vote even happens?

MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, you could ask all the council members to please support a special meeting that meets the deadline.

JAISAL NOOR: For their part, advocates of a $15 minimum wage have vowed to continue to pressure city council members, the city council president, and mayor, to call for a special meeting in support overriding the veto. As of right now, the council does not have the 12 necessary votes.

In a statement, Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, who was organizing a rally at 5:30 for city hall said, quote, "I think we shouldn't allow the mayor to renege on her campaign promise, particularly when she received campaign donations, in kind donations and campaign volunteers from organized labour under the contingency that she work diligently to pass the $15 living wage."

Activists also say they may disrupt the mayor's public appearances to show their disapproval of her veto. When the measure passed in the city council, it had 12 supporters, enough votes to override a mayoral veto. But as the Jewish Times first reported, Ed Reisinger, who we reached by phone, says he no longer supports the $15 minimum wage, because the Finance Department calculated it would cost the city more than $100 million over the next four years.

EDWARD REISINGER: It's that, plus just a lot out of payables. I mean, I voted twice, you know, things have... are fluid. I mean, I changed my mind, but I mean, that's it.

JAISAL NOOR: But many analysts say this calculation is deeply flawed -– and contradictory.

DAVID COOPER: Yeah, the Finance Department's report is full of holes and questionable methodological choices, to the extent that they reveal any sort of methodology. They assert that businesses will no longer locate in the city, as a result of the higher minimum wage. They simultaneously assert that all of these low wageworkers from the surrounding jurisdictions will flood into the city to seek jobs, therefore crowding out the local work force that the bill is intended to help.

And I just think it's interesting that you can't have all the jobs leaving the city, and all of the workers from outside the city flooding into the city to take jobs. You know, those two assertions can't co-exist.

JAISAL NOOR: Catherine Pugh dismissed questions by The Real News, challenging the economic justifications she provided for vetoing a bill she said she would sign during her campaign. But the mayor's spokesperson said she's tired of hearing The Real News question the data she based her decision on.

ANTHONY McCARTHY: But, for you all, she's explained it. Go to the city council. Ask them if they're organizing to override that budget. Ask them if they're ready to override it. That's where your questions should be aimed. Not trying to be the brightest student in the class, and show the mayor how much research you've done. Okay?

JAISAL NOOR: That comment came after repeated questions by The Real News, challenging the mayor's assertion a $15 minimum wage would kill jobs, and increase unemployment. Peer-reviewed studies of nation-wide minimum wage raises have not found those impacts anywhere wages have been raised.

CATHERINE PUGH: I base my decision on the fact that when I talk to my surrounding jurisdictions, nobody is raising the minimum wage. And so, we're working together, and we will be pushing just as hard as we can at the state level. But, you know, nobody wants us to stand here alone, because we've got too many people who are unemployed in our city.

JAISAL NOOR: I can understand that. But there's been peer-reviewed studies business MIT and others that have shown that there is no job loss, that the economic impact that you're worried about just hasn't happened in over a hundred places where the minimum wage has been raised. There hasn't...

CATHERINE PUGH: But it is being raised. You're talking about 2026, so you don't know whether it's going to be raised by 2026, or not.

JAISAL NOOR: I'm talking about raising the minimum wage in a city, higher than the surrounding jurisdictions.

CATHERINE PUGH: I'm saying that you don't know what's going to happen in 2026. If you got a barometer that sees where we are in 20206? Good luck to you.

JAISAL NOOR: But a plethora of studies, including those done by the non-partisan think tank, Economic Policy Institute, have shown that a $15 minimum wage would also raise wages for surrounding jurisdictions, not just the some hundred thousand whose wages would be lifted in Baltimore.

DAVID COOPER: It's interesting; leadership from the surrounding jurisdictions would be against Baltimore raising its minimum wage. I can only assume that that's partially because they know if Baltimore were to raise its minimum wage, it would put pressure on businesses in their communities to also raise their wages, in order to hang on to their workforce.

So, in some ways, there's this sort of collusion among local governments to keep wages low.

KRIS BURNETT: And so, I would imagine that someone working at a McDonald's in Catonsville wouldn't mind driving down Edmonton Avenue to make a higher wage. But I would argue that that's actually what would put pressure on the McDonald's in Catonsville to raise its wages, in order to remain competitive and have a quality workforce.

And so, I think that, that... you know, which would put pressure on the county itself to meet that demand and make sure that they have workers, quality workers, as well, that aren't flooding the city. And so, I think in the short turn there may be some truth to that thinking, but in the long run, it's also important that folks in the county make a livable wage, too.

JAISAL NOOR: Stay tuned to for updates to this story.




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