On the eve of the anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, a coalition of community organizations and unions say they want a living wage in Baltimore
MEGAN SHERMAN, TRNN: On the eve of the day marking the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody, a coalition of groups gathered outside city hall to address what they believe is one of the core, underlying issues facing Baltimore. SPEAKER: Today is the last city council meeting before the sobering anniversary of a civil unrest and our great, civic reawakening to the truth that there is no peace without justice. And crucial to the many justices required in the Herculean effort of closing the gap between the working poor and the living wage jobs which provide independent self-sufficiency, and the knitting together of an otherwise financially divided society. SHERMAN: Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is proposing legislation that would raise the city’s current minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 an hour through gradual increases by the year 2020. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a measure that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, but advocates say it’s not enough. SPEAKER: Workers needs to make $28 an hour in order just to stay on pace with BGE and the rising costs of housing in Baltimore City, so $10.10 is clearly not enough. I mean, it was a good effort. I worked on that effort personally. I was the chair on the coalition of Raise Maryland. So it was a great effort, but it’s just not enough. It’s not helping enough workers. It’s not reaching enough people. By the time we get to $10.10 we’ll be far behind. SHERMAN: The move comes on the heels of a growing movement throughout the country, fueled by low wage and fast food workers demanding $15 an hour. Recently, New York State and California enacted laws raising their minimum wage to 15. SPEAKER: There are parallel fights happening right now in at least three cities across the country, and similar fights in 40 cities around the world beyond the borders of our country. Fundamentally, the workers of this country are saying is that they’ve been forgotten. That in all the sort of fear and anxiety as businesses change in our country, we have stopped taking care of the basics. The minimum wage should have been pegged to inflation 40 years ago, and if it had been it’d be $15 today. SHERMAN: Clark’s measure has several co-sponsors who appeared with her to show their support, but outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told the Sun, she wants to see the minimum wage raised on a statewide level, not just in the city. SPEAKER: If the mayor attempts a veto, we will attempt to override her veto. I suspect that we’ll win. If I was advising the mayor, I would encourage her to think about her own legacy and what this would mean for west Baltimore, for east Baltimore, for south Baltimore and yes, even parts of north Baltimore as well. SPEAKER: So, what I’m saying is that we’ve done, we’ve went and we’ve had conversations with each council member, and I was so surprised of the overwhelming support from the council. The fact that the council president showed up today, it’s huge. And the fact that the council has said that they support this is overwhelming. So I think that the mayor will do the right thing. I think that she’s going to listen to not only the residents but, you know, her colleagues on the city council. SHERMAN: And it’s not clear if the current slate of mayoral candidates will be more supportive. Today we asked current frontrunner Catherine Pugh if she would back it. Her answer was noncommittal. CATHERINE PUGH: Well, let me just say, I have always been a supporter of workers. You see SEIU standing here. We’ve raised the minimum wage in the state. I’m certainly not in a position to currently look at what the finances of the city are, but I can tell you that when I talk about how we take our training dollars and put them towards giving people the opportunity to work, as opposed to just being trained, that is something I am going to be doing, but I have to look at the city’s budget. I support raising our wages in a way that will impact our citizens, but I’m not just talking about minimum wage. I’m talking about giving people the opportunity to enter into careers that will be far beyond the minimum wage. SHERMAN: Back at city hall there was optimism and urgency that to begin addressing Baltimore’s many ills the city needs to start with a raise for everyone. SPEAKERS: [chanting] Fight, fight, fight for 15! SHERMAN: This is Megan Sherman and Stephen Janis reporting with the Real News Network.
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