Baltimore Poised to Pass $15 Min. Wage as Business Lobby Launches Nationwide Rollback Campaign
The American Prospect’s Justin Miller says corporate lobbyists working with Republicans and even some Democrats are trying to undermine the highly popular and successful Fight for $15 movement across the country
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Monday March 20th, the city of Baltimore’s poised to pass an historic $15 minimum wage bill giving workers in a city marked by both opportunity and immense economic inequality pay bumps until $15 minimum wage is reached in 2022, and for businesses with less than 50 employees by 2026. What makes this all the more significant is the wave of anti-minimum wage efforts being pushed by the restaurant and business lobby in numerous states across the country.
Today’s guest, Justin Miller, is a writer for “The American Prospect” where he has tracked these efforts in a new piece titled “Emboldened by Trump Minimum Wage Hike Opponents Fight Back.”
Thanks so much for joining us again.
JUSTIN MILLER: Thanks for having me.
JAISAL NOOR: So, I wanted to start in Maryland, which is interesting for a number of reasons. Monday, Baltimore is expected to pass a $15 minimum wage measure. It seems like it’s going to have a
veto-proof majority. The Mayor who’s a Democrat hasn’t taken a position on.
And then in two other jurisdictions, both P.G. (Prince George) and Montgomery County they’re also considering a $15 minimum wage. And what makes it all the more interesting is that in this legislative session a democrat, Derrick Davis of P.G.(Prince George) County, he proposed a measure that is a pre-emption measure that would have blocked minimum wage increases. And it’s something that’s out of the Koch brothers’ playbook. Out of the Alec playbook. At a hearing, he was slammed for proposing this in Maryland. Can you talk a little bit about these sort of measures and efforts that are happening as far as pre-empting minimum wage increases across the country?
JUSTIN MILLER: Sure. So, one of the leading progressive strategies in recent years has been to push for local minimum wages by passing legislation at the city and county level to institute higher minimum wages than is set at the state level. And state Republicans, where GOP controls the majority of the states and has deep majorities in a lot of state legislative chambers, have responded in kind by pushing and passing legislation in laws that ban the right of cities, and counties, and municipalities, to institute local labor laws. Specifically minimum wage laws, paid sick leave policies, and things like that.
So, that trend has kind of accelerated since 2010. And now about almost half the states in the country I think have some kind of local pre-emption law on the books.
JAISAL NOOR: And so, the business lobby argues, and has across the country, you know, they’ve argued that raise the minimum wage on a local level is going to cause businesses to flee out of those jurisdictions. It’s going to cause businesses to lay off workers. Those seem to be their main arguments against this. But, if you look at what the impact has been in all the places that raised the minimum wage; including Seattle, in California, in Santa Fe, New Mexico and in other places, that’s never quite happened. And that’s one of the reasons why, in a number of states, ballot measures were passed to increase the minimum wage.
And the reason why a $15 minimum wage failed last year, and is going to pass this year in Baltimore, is because there was seven new council people that got voted. The old council people that blocked it, most of them got voted out. And there’s a new council in here. So, talk about what the business lobby efforts look like now, knowing that it seems like public opinion is in favor of these policies of raising the minimum wage.
JUSTIN MILLER: Right. Right. And, as you mentioned, the key line of argument coming from the business lobby, big groups, and the restaurant industries, is that local minimum wage laws will kill small businesses. Profit margins will make them hard to do business, and will kill jobs, and will also kind of create a patchwork of regulations across the state, and make it harder to operate business. Time and time again it has been proven to be a bunk argument and doesn’t really mesh well with reality.
Minimum wage increases have been astoundingly popular when put directly to voters. In 2014, minimum wage increases passed on the ballot in four red states. And just this past November 2016, they passed four more ballot measures in Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Maine. All by pretty substantial margins to increase the state minimum wage level.
So, it’s pretty clear that it’s become a very effective strategy for labor advocates to try and put this issue directly before voters and kind of provide an end run around the business lobby in their lobbying state legislature and local political bodies.
And so, in Arizona, for instance, the ballot measure passed in November by 58%. And pretty quickly after the Arizona Chamber of Commerce industry filed a lawsuit claiming that the ballot measure was illegal because it didn’t stipulate how the state would fund it. A lower court in Arizona ruled against the business lobby. And then they appealed before the Supreme Court and just earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down the Chamber of Commerce’s argument. But it shows you just how desperate business groups are to stop these state-wide ballot measures after they’re being approved by the vast majority of voters.
JAISAL NOOR: And what’s interesting, also, is that in Maine the tip wage was abolished and now the Federal tip wage is something like $2.13. In many places the tip wage isn’t included when the minimum wage is increased for normal wageworkers. And so, there’s an effort underway in Maine right now to reinstate the tip wage, which affects restaurant workers and other low-wage workers that are often immigrants as well. Can you talk about that?
JUSTIN MILLER: Yeah. So, in Maine, the ballot measure was approved by voters in November to increase the same minimum wage and slowly phase out the tip minimum wage, which I believe is currently at $2.75. And pretty quickly the Maine Restaurant Association, which is the state chapter of the National Restaurant Association, has pretty aggressively gone after legislators in the state house, convincing them to push legislation that would abolish the aspect of the ballot measure that phases out the tip minimum wage.
And in the State Senate, which is Republican- controlled, they have a pretty wide base of support. But in the State House of Representatives, which is clearly controlled by Democrats, they’ve been lobbying even more aggressively trying to peel off support for doing away with the tip minimum wage increase for Democrats. And, so far, they’ve succeeded and they’ve managed to get somewhere between six and eight Democratic House members to voice support, and potentially vote, to roll back the tips minimum wage increase.
JAISAL NOOR: And in Maryland when it was three Democrats that co-sponsored the bill, the pre-emption measure, which it now seems to be withdrawn from committee after the outpouring of anger against it. It caused many, especially local elected officials, to question whether these are true Democrats that are supporting these measures. The $15 minimum wage is part of the Democratic Party platform and it’s something that would directly impact and lift up in Baltimore alone. Something like almost 80,000 workers will be impacted and directly uplifted by these kinds of measures.
Do you think that is, you know, troubling or is that a sign of potential rift in the Democratic Party whether people support these measures or not?
JUSTIN MILLER: For the past five or six years, the pre-emption game has been primarily played by Republicans who have control of state legislatures. But in Maryland, where you have a Democratic-controlled legislative body, business obviously need to play ball with Democrats. And there are a lot of Democrats across the country that have close ties to industry special interests. And I think the introduction of that legislation, even if it didn’t end up getting on committees, and the indication that there are Democrats who are willing to abide by these arguments coming from the industry, that it will kill jobs and that it will cripple small business.
So, I think in Maryland, and in Maine, are the first couple of instances of Democrats really being so clearly on the industry side on this issue. And whether or not that has a ripple effect across the country remains to be seen.
Currently in Minnesota, the newly controlled Republican legislature, the House just passed a pre-emption bill that would block cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul from instituting minimum wages. And the newly Republican-controlled State Senate will soon be voting on that. Then they’ll go before Mark Dayton, the Democratic Governor. So that’ll be another test on state-wide levels of where Democrats stand on this issue.
JAISAL NOOR: All right, Justin Miller, thank you so much for joining us.
JUSTIN MILLER: Thanks for having me.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.