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In Episode Five, panelists Mary Pat Clarke, Marc Elrich and Carl Stokes discuss Maryland House Bill 317, a measure introduced by state Democrats that preempts cities from raising their minimum wages
KIM BROWN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. In part 1 of our interview, we took a look at the potential impact of passing a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore City, and in Montgomery County, Maryland, this year. Well, those efforts could be moot, if HB 317 is passed in Annapolis. The measure would mandate minimum wages, and benefits like, sick days only be mandated on a statewide level. Reporter Jaisal Noor, covered the first hearing for HB 317 in Annapolis, on Tuesday, February 7th. JAISAL NOOR: 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 DAVIS: I cede 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: 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. A look at Dereck Davis’s campaign donations, shows that he’s heavily backed by the restaurant industry, a fierce opponent of minimum wage increases. 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 statewide. And the local negative impact of such policies on businesses, and jobs in these jurisdictions, is the collateral damage of their strategy, to force statewide policy changes through the local level. We support House Bill 317. It’s an important step toward 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. Now, this is particularly true of small businesses that don’t necessarily have the ability to be as nimble, as flexible, in their operations, or their budget, as a larger business may have. KIM BROWN: We invited several of the bill’s sponsors, and some of its supporters, to join our discussion here, but they declined our invitation. But we’re still joined in the studio with Marc Elrich. He is of the Montgomery County Council. He’s also a leading proponent of the $15 an hour minimum wage in Montgomery County. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, long time City Council member, who introduced the $15 minimum wage bill this year and last year. And Carl Stokes, who is a former Baltimore City Council member, who abstained from voting on the minimum wage bill last year. Marc, I wanted to start this conversation with you, because not only did you say that HB 317 is unjust, but it proves that Democrats did not learn the lessons of the 2016 election. What do you mean by that? MARC ELRICH: Pretty bluntly, that Donald Trump went after, and talked about, to working people about working people’s issues, and made it sound like he cared. And the Democrats have spent the better part of a couple of presidencies, kind of ignoring core issues, and taking too much money from corporations, too much money from banks, carrying too much of their water, and assuming they could build a coalition somehow, that left out the working class. Other than them being a major betrayal of the Democratic Party, and betrayal of the base that got us here, it’s just wrong. It’s a bankrupt strategy. I’m deeply disappointed. I thought that Hillary lost, because she couldn’t get the gumption up to say, “I’m going to stand up to companies, they leave this country. I’m going to tax them.” Why could Donald Trump say stuff that Democrats used to say? And we all know we don’t believe a word he says. And on the other hand, the person carrying our banner, listens to him say that and she doesn’t have a response to it. I thought the election was horrible. I think Democrats who are afraid to talk about working people, are going to be in trouble. I think people want change, and I’ve… you’ve talked about my county earlier. I can go into Potomac, and I can go into the wealthier parts of the county, I can talk about living wage, I can talk about rent stabilization, and people get it. Even people with more money, get that you cannot survive on wages and conditions that exist for a lot of people today. And we shouldn’t be afraid about talking about things like that. People in this country understand that, if you don’t put it on the table, then why am I voting for a Democrat? If you don’t stand for that, what do you actually stand for? MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, it’s about justice… and people understand issues of justice. Whatever end of the economic spectrum they’re on, they understand it, and if they understand it well enough, and put their support behind their convictions, we can solve this problem. At least we can move forward in this country, to close this gap, or narrow this gap, between the working poor and the wealthier people, the gap is growing. KIM BROWN: Well, Councilwoman, I mean, what do you have to say, to some of the remarks that we heard in the package piece from some of the business leaders in Maryland, who were testifying in Annapolis, against raising the wage? MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, you see, these are the common arguments that go on against raising the minimum wage. Basically, the world is coming to an end, businesses will leave, nobody will be hired, everybody will be laid off, and the economy will fall apart. The evidence would suggest otherwise, from many, many locations that have raised the minimum wage, cities and counties that have done so, on their own, without an entire state to back them up. Because they’re living standards may be different from other parts of the state, for example. So, it’s our job on the Baltimore City Council, to try to take care of the people who live here, and certainly… and the people who work here, wherever they come from. And the people, who live and work here, are suffering, and our whole city suffers as a result. We know the Department of Justice, in its report, is crucial to abide by and understand, for the future of Baltimore around the treatment of… by the police, of the society. We also know that we cannot live in an economically divided city and be one community, which we must be. I… this is for the people who live here. That’s why we put the money into bringing the jobs here. That’s why we cleared the inner harbor of all the fish coming in, and everything that was kind of deteriorating around us, and built a tourist attraction. Not because, just because we love to see people come and visit us –- which we, of course, do –- but to provide jobs, decent jobs, to replace manufacturing for the population. And those jobs are here now, but they’re not decent in most cases, for the people who live here. They are… they work hard, they have two, three jobs, they still can’t make ends meet. This is not good for Baltimore City. We have 100,000 -– 98,000 residents who work here — who are, as we say, underwater, from working. And the wages that they’ll bring in, even under the highest state wage of 10.10, they will be thousands of dollars short of being able to meet basic minimum household expenses. KIM BROWN: Carl, from the remarks that we saw from the people testifying on behalf of the business community in Annapolis, one of the gentlemen said that, you know, businesses like things to remain stable. They don’t like a lot of change. They don’t like uncertainty. As a former elected official yourself, obviously representing the people of Baltimore City, but at the same time, having to walk that line of how to make Baltimore a productive and conducive place for businesses to want to come and set up. Obviously to employ the many thousands of people in Baltimore who are either unemployed, or underemployed, as the Councilwoman articulated, how does government do that? CARL STOKES: Well, first of all, a better bill in 317, would have been a one-rate, one-state… one state, one rate bill. In other words, we shouldn’t create these islands, not that I believe that the bill creates an island. But, it shouldn’t be Montgomery County, it shouldn’t be Baltimore City, taking the lead and being the only ones. The state should kick that bill away, 317, and instead put in a bill that says, here is the minimum $15 an hour rate that gets there by 2020, the original… the entire state. Everybody buys in to the same thing. The economy moves together. Folk get a chance to step up together. Rather than say, we’re pre-empting individual counties and cities to do it, let’s do it together. That’s what we’d like to have. Everybody can sign on that. I think that should pass overwhelmingly. Because what my colleagues are talking about, is absolutely right. You know, it’s a two-pronged issue, also. Again, you know, I’ll say it: we also have to help people build their skills. Now, they should get a good strong rate to begin with, but we should also not be looking five years down the road, and saying these same people should be stuck in a minimum wage job, but we should help to build their skills. The folk who are their employers now should begin to pay –- I know that becomes … -– into supporting, or by working, with people that they raise their skill level. You know what’s happening a lot in some of these places that my colleagues are talking about, the big employers, they are importing workers into Baltimore City, and they will import –- again, I know they’ve heard this argument also… KIM BROWN: Import them from where, from the county, from out of the country? Or…? CARL STOKES: From the counties, from other countries. Trust me. People who are making $11 an hour, in Howard County, or in Baltimore County, when we go to $15, will say, “Why don’t you take me, a more experienced employee, into Baltimore City?” And I’m not saying that we’ll lose employee jobs, but we may, because people with more skills, more experience, will be competing with people with maybe not as a high a skill level in the city. MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, let me interrupt and say this is a lovely train of conversation here. But the notion that the state of Maryland, the general assembly, is going to adopt a statewide rate of $15 by 2020 is like Donald Trump’s going to come down and help the Governor sign that bill. CARL STOKES: But isn’t the state full of liberal Democrats, and why wouldn’t they do it? MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, they should have, and we wouldn’t have to go through this pain. CARL STOKES: That’s my point. MARY PAT CLARKE: But we cannot let them deprive us of the opportunity to bring justice… CARL STOKES: I’m not going to support it. MARY PAT CLARKE: And feeling… CARL STOKES: I don’t support it. That’s my point. MARY PAT CLARKE: What? CARL STOKES: I don’t support the pre… MARY PAT CLARKE: I know you don’t. CARL STOKES: Okay. Exactly… MARY PAT CLARKE: But, I mean, we go off talking about what the state should do, and we know very well… there is no change in the world. They will do that. They’re stuck at 10.10. And they’re going to stick there for three years in a row… CARL STOKES: But why are they stuck, when a Baltimore City and a Montgomery County… MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, because they’re… because they haven’t… CARL STOKES: …Prince George’s… MARY PAT CLARKE: …because they can’t put it together, and they won’t put it together. CARL STOKES: Okay. I’m… KIM BROWN: Well, Marc, I want you to jump in here because, I mean,… MARY PAT CLARKE: … going to run. KIM BROWN: …is Annapolis too beholden to the business community, in the sense it just… even the fact that this bill is even being floated in Annapolis HB 317? MARC ERLICH: You got way too many Democrats, who get too much money, from people whose interests are not passing this bill. And anybody who’s trying to fund campaigns is saying, “What’s the easiest way to get elected? How do I pile up the most money? Do I pile up money by asking the poor residents of Baltimore City to contribute to my campaign? Or can I get large checks from the restaurant industry, or from other affected industries? Which saves me a whole lot of door knocking, and a whole lot of time, and I know my competitors will never be able to raise the money I can raise. And so, if I sit comfortably with the special interests, I can continue to ignore the general public, because they do not have the political clout, and have not risen up yet.” Which is what they really need to do. MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, basically I hear what you’re saying, but I keep thinking about 2018. That’s, you know, that’s when we elect the state representatives again. It would be great if they could pull themselves together to do this for the entire state, and we could all go home and worry about other issues that are pending, and important here in Baltimore City. But if they won’t, then don’t deprive us locally, of the right to help our own communities when it’s so desperately needed. KIM BROWN: So, Councilwoman Clarke, what is the status of the $15 an hour minimum wage bill, in the Baltimore City Council? MARY PAT CLARKE: Well, it’s, we’ve got 10 co-sponsors, and we don’t have any rampant opponents in the Council. I mean, there are some people that, like Carl, you know, how you… oh, I’m not sure. CARL STOKES: Hey, hey… MARY PAT CLARKE: But… KIM BROWN: Carl was only a passive opponent… MARY PAT CLARKE: He was a passive opponent. What I’m saying is, we don’t have anybody out there banging away, bang, bang, and that’s always nice. It’s… we’ll be heard. Its public hearing will be on the 1st of March. That will be in the Labor Committee of the new City Council, and it would be chaired by Councilwoman, Shannon Sneed, the Chair of that committee. So, I’m looking forward… come on out, tell us all why you need it, tell us why it’s the ruination of us, and let us hear the testimony. KIM BROWN: Well, last year, when the bill was up for the Council, then-mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said that if it landed on her desk she wouldn’t sign it… MARY PAT CLARKE: … sign it. KIM BROWN: So, have you received such reassurances from new mayor Catherine Pugh? MARY PAT CLARKE: No, I haven’t, but I have not received the kind of pushback that I was watching for. So, she’s been collegial about it, and not threatening at all. I like the way she conducts herself. I like the way she conducts her mayorship. And so, no, I’ll be meeting with her. And we’ll all be talking with her about it. But that’s what she asked for, and she had the bill before it was introduced. I made sure of that. I hand-carried it there. So, we’ll work with each other. KIM BROWN: Indeed. And in Montgomery County, Marc, I know you suffered… or the bill, at least, suffered a defeat, when it was vetoed by County Executive Leggett there, what are your intentions for reintroduction of this bill, and what do you think of its likelihood that it could, this time, receive the consensual approval of, not only the Council, but the Executive? MARC ELRICH: A bill will absolutely pass. The Executive said he’s going to do a study. He’s compressed a timeline for the study. Lot … so, he’s probably gong to focus on what it’s going to cost the county, which is fine. I don’t think it takes months to do that. We can figure that out pretty quickly, and they’re going to deal with the couple of these other issues I raised before. And then we’re going to come back with the bill, and the bill’s going to have 15 –- it’s not going to be a different number. We’ll have the debate over how many small businesses, or what’s the size of a small business, that should get an extended period of time. And we’ll talk about a start date, and the full implementation date. But I am confident that we’ll get a bill, and if we can make the Executive happy, I can deal with five votes. And if there are six people on the Council are satisfied, we can do it with six votes. But I absolutely believe we’re going to get there. And the Executive… I mean, I’ve been in forums where, after Yves, when he’s been doing these budget forms, and he’ll call me up to speak at the end of the forum, and we make a point of the fact that we aren’t agreeing about this right now, but we’re working toward a resolution. And I have a lot of respect for somebody calling somebody, who disagrees with you. Up to the front of the room, to explain why you don’t agree with the Executive, and then we both say we’re going to work on it. I actually believe we are going to get there. KIM BROWN: Mm-hmm. And Carl Stokes, let’s say that $15 an hour minimum wage passes, in both Baltimore City, and Montgomery County. What do you predict would happen in the state if both of these things were to occur at the same time? CARL STOKES: I think the sun will still come out tomorrow. I’ll deck the hall. Be very happy. I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s certainly, that we get the greater majority of folk, who are not able to sustain themselves, let alone an entire family –- this must happen for them. I’d like to see it sooner rather than later, but I’d also understand the politics of it all, and the compromise that is necessary. KIM BROWN: Indeed. So, for all those who are interested, there is going to be a rally for the $15 an hour minimum wage in Baltimore, on February the 16th, at 6:00 p.m., at the new Waverley UMC Church, located at 644… MARY PAT CLARKE: … District. KIM BROWN: …East 33rd Street, Baltimore, Maryland. So, if you’re interested in checking out that, you should check that out. So, I’d like to thank our panel — thank you guys so much for your wonderful comments, expertise, and best of luck to everyone here. MARY PAT CLARKE: Thank you. MARC ELRICH: Thank you. KIM BROWN: All right? Well, thank you for checking out the Real Baltimore, for The Real News Network, on behalf of our fantastic staff here, I’m Kim Brown. Thanks for watching. ————————- END