Mayor’s $15 Veto has Unions Rethinking their Support of Democrats
Union leaders say Catherine Pugh’s veto of a $15 minimum wage bill has them considering supporting independent or third party candidates in future elections
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
MAN: For a living wage!
JAISAL NOOR: On April 3rd, faith leaders and supporters of the $15 minimum wage held a prayer vigil at Baltimore City Hall, appealing to city leaders to at least hold a vote over a possible override of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto, of a $15 minimum wage bill.
REV. TY HULLINGER: Oh, Holy One, who looks upon this creation and sees the promise of righteousness, justice and peace shine forth for all of your children. Help continue to inspire the brave women and men and youth of our city, who have put their lives on the line to advance the causes, not just of themselves, but of their fellow neighbour.
Almighty, give them the strength and the courage to persevere, that the fight for justice will not end in disappointment, but will meet with completion. And so, we stand here today, ready to listen, to act, and to keep our promises to you and to one another. And we also ask for the strength and the perseverance to hold one another accountable, to the promises we make to our fellow brothers and sisters.
CORTLY CD WITHERSPOON: It’s an insult to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, who are trying desperately to put fuel in the car so they can get their grandchildren from point A to point B. It’s an insult to them to say to them that they are not worth $15 per hour.
JAISAL NOOR: Though the bill passed with the support of 12 council people, a veto-proof majority, since the veto, that number has dwindled.
MARY PAT CLARKE: We can’t just say, “Well, gee, we really tried. And we couldn’t get…” I need ten votes walking in here. I’ve got seven. And I’ve tried. And I have seven. So, there’s not going to be a special meeting. And so, there’s probably not going to be an override, unless the president decides to call one. But there will be $15 in Baltimore, whatever it takes to do. Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: Meanwhile, supporters from the powerful union, SEIU, are acknowledging missteps in backing Pugh, after she campaigned on a pledge to sign the measure, when it reached her desk. As reported by the Baltimore Brew, unions spent nearly a million dollars supporting the mayor in a crowded primary field.
MARK McLAURIN: The money is important, and we certainly gave plenty of money to her, both independently, and in a coordinated fashion with the campaign. But, one of the things that SEIU was known for, is that when we support a candidate, we put boots on the ground, and so we had our members volunteering for her.
Every weekend, we had 30, 40, 50, 60-person canvasses that were out on the doors, talking to voters, about why Catherine Pugh was the best choice. And so, that was based on her promises to us, and so it really amounts to a betrayal.
JAISAL NOOR: So, what are the lessons from this loss?
MARK McLAURIN: Well, I think it’s difficult because, it’s not like she didn’t have a track record. She had been in Annapolis for 12 years; she had been a relatively progressive voice on economic issues. I mean, normally I would say look at the track record. You know, we looked at her track record. She was a friend to us.
I think the lesson may be, watch who a new mayor surrounds her, or himself, with. Because I think what happened is, she got advisors around her like County Executive, Jim Smith, and like Legislative Director, Karen Stokes, who’s a Republican. She got those folks around her so, when they’re in the room making the decision about signing or vetoing, there’s no one in the room to hold her true to what her roots are, and to who her supporters were.
And the fact that one of the things she cites as the fiscal impact of the city, I guess ostensibly from having to raise city workers who aren’t making $15 up to $15 an hour. Without even getting into the scandal that it is that a municipal worker in this day and age would make less than $15 an hour.
You have to remember that, as she says, this bill wouldn’t depart from the state-wide bill until 2019, so there’s no fiscal impact at all in the city, for two and a half years. So, for her to pretend that, as a result of the school shortfall, or as a result of the consent decree, there’s not the money to do this in the city, it’s just a disingenuous argument.
And I think it reflects poorly on her. And I think one of the mistakes they’re making, I think, is that they think of the best defence is a good offence. So, she has this kind of, “I’ve explained it enough already, and I’m not going to explain it any more,” and…
JAISAL NOOR: …specifically… her spokesperson told me not to ask any more questions.
MARK McLAURIN: Yeah, I saw that. That’s a real mistake. See, this is about accountability for something that she said. There are ways -– I wouldn’t agree with them –- but there are ways to couch a reversal that says, “You know, I feel awful, I know what I said, but I didn’t know this,” but there’s none of that reticence, or even regret. It’s just, you know, this is what I did, and you know, you take it or leave it.
Don’t… quit trying to be the smartest person in the class. You know? I saw that clip. I think it’s a mistake. It’s a real mistake to react with such arrogance. I didn’t put my hand on the Bible, you know? It’s just not the way to deal with a reversal here. I think she’s getting bad advice all around.
JAISAL NOOR: And as far as the Fight for $15 movement, and SEIU, what… talk about what you might do in the future to…?
MARK McLAURIN: Oh, well, we won’t… we won’t…
JAISAL NOOR: …considering different strategies…?
MARK McLAURIN: Absolutely. No, we won’t stop. I mean, this is our international union’s number one priority across this country. This doesn’t stop in Baltimore City. We’re going to go back to Montgomery County; we’re going to pass a bill next year. We’re going to go to Baltimore County, we’re going to go to Howard County, and we’re not going to stop in Baltimore City, either.
This is a matter of justice, and the folks assembled in this room, are not going to take no for an answer from this mayor. We had 12 votes in that chamber, for a $15 minimum wage bill. We are calling on the 12 votes in that chamber to stand up behind their convictions, and not knuckle under to this mayor.
JAISAL NOOR: You know, the next election is not going to be for another four years.
MARK McLAURIN: Yeah. Three and half years, I’m counting the days.
JAISAL NOOR: So… what does that… how is that going to impact your strategy?
MARK McLAURIN: Well, I never… I never… you know, as the political director of SEIU, I never threaten. What I will say is, that this certainly will be taken into account in three and a half years, and that it’s not helpful to her if she’s running for re-election. It’s not helpful to folks that seem to have flipped on us, who voted for it initially. You know, I don’t make threats. We just do.
JAISAL NOOR: And the Democratic Party, on a state level, they tried the pre-emption bill, now the mayor, a Democrat, is vetoing the bill. There are other parties like the Working Families Party and the Green Party; they all support this measure unequivocally. Would SEIU consider supporting other candidates, not Democrats?
MARK McLAURIN: Well, certainly. I mean, I think we’ve always been open to supporting any candidate who stands with us, and has a viable chance of winning. I don’t think that that’s going to change at all. But, me personally? I’m a Democrat. I’m staying in this Democratic Party, and I’m holding it to its roots and I’m holding it accountable.
And so, I can’t go to another party and ask them to come with me, when I haven’t held the Democrats accountable. And 2017 and 2018 in Maryland is going to be about accountability within the Democratic Party, make no mistake. 2020 also.
JAISAL NOOR: This is Ricarra Jones, the head of the Fight for 15 movement, in Baltimore.
RICARRA JONES: So, I mean, we’re really disappointed that we have a Democratic mayor that would veto such important legislation that’s part of the Democratic platform. That has so much support in Baltimore, and 90% of the voters in the city support this.
As well as, something that she campaigned on and said that she was going to do, and, you know, went back on her word. She broke the promise to the residents of Baltimore City, so next step for us is that we know folks are not going to forget this. We also know that she’s not going to be able to move this city forward, if she doesn’t… by forgetting about, you know, low-wage workers.
So, we know that city council president, he could call for the vote if he wanted to, so we’re still calling on him to do that. We feel like this is the fourth quarter, and it’s time for him to show some leadership, and stand with the people that he said he supported, when this bill was first introduced.
JAISAL NOOR: Now, we just talked to the political director of SEIU, who backed Pugh, spent a lot of… not only money, but manpower. Got in the streets, and some have argued that Pugh would not have won without those endorsements and that support.
RICARRA JONES: No. I absolutely agree. There are lots of union folks with… the AFL-CIO is one of the largest groups of unions in the country. And a lot of those workers went out, they knocked on doors, they made phone calls, and they got people to the polls, and she broke her promise to those people. So, it’s just very disappointing. I can’t… and I’m just disgusted that we have a Democratic mayor that would do something like that.
JAISAL NOOR: Now, what lessons do you draw from that? Because what else can you do except extract campaign promises?
RICARRA JONES: No, absolutely. I mean, just going forward it’s going to be difficult. We have low voter turnout engagement in Baltimore City. And I think candidates that lie to their voters is going to make it even worse. So, we’re going to have to do a lot of work to get people back engaged in politics, and back engaged in what’s happening in the city.
JAISAL NOOR: I know there’s been some talk of even possibly running candidates from… there’s the Working Families Party; there’s the Green Party, starting a new party outside of the Democrats. Obviously, Democrats do get a lot of corporate funding, and Pugh was reciting corporate lobbying point, a talking points…
RICARRA JONES: Absolutely.
JAISAL NOOR: …that had been recited all over the country and have just proven to be false, time and time again.
RICARRA JONES: Absolutely. There’s so much research to the contrary of the points that she was making. It was like listening to a press conference of a right wing conservative. It was very sad. And especially, when we’ve reached out, advocates have reached out multiple times for a meeting with the mayor. And we have not, to this point, even had a meeting to sit down with her to discuss any of this…
JAISAL NOOR: And so, would you consider running candidates, supporting candidates outside the Democratic Party?
RICARRA JONES: I mean, absolutely. I think we’re… we don’t have permanent friends. We only have permanent interests. So, therefore, whatever party that person is with, I think we’re going to support the people who are going to support us.
JAISAL NOOR: Okay. Thank you. Can you talk a little bit about, obviously looks like… time is running out for this fight, but what other initiatives is Fight for 15 going to be working on? The need is still there.
RICARRA JONES: Yeah, I mean, the need is also… it’s strong. I know there’s effort at the state level that we’re going to be very supportive of. That we’re also going to, you know, go… try to do this effort in other counties. There’s Baltimore County, there’s Prince George’s County. The effort at Montgomery County, we think is still alive, and still has a chance. So, we’re not… just… I think the fight in Baltimore is delayed, but we’re going to keep working at it… to keep us ahead and…
JAISAL NOOR: We also talked to several council people, starting with Zeke Cohen.
ZEKE COHEN: Look, we can’t keep talking about crime and violence in our city without connecting it with poverty, of which we have a great deal. And wages are a part of that picture. And so, when we said we were going to Fight for 15, that we were going to raise the minimum wage for people in Baltimore, we meant it.
And that’s why I want to see a vote, that’s why I want people to stand up -– or sit down -– but to at least be on record as voting for or against raising the minimum wage, because I think that working poor people in our city have waited long enough for this to happen.
We had a political revolution last year, where we had eight out of our 14 council seats turn over. We had a new mayor. Folks want to see something different, and that’s what our council is here to do, and I will proudly continue to Fight for 15.
KRIS BURNETT: I still support it. We don’t have the votes, unfortunately. So, I don’t think there’s going to be an override today. I think we just got to find other ways to help working families for the time being, whether that’s through strengthening the friendship programs, trying to close the school budget.
I mean, there’s a lot of other things that we can work on, and will work on. It’s very disappointing obviously but, you know, I’m still with the campaign, still with the fight, and hopefully we’ll be able to revisit this in two or three years.
JAISAL NOOR: Go to therealnews.com for all of our coverage of the Fight for 15 movement in Baltimore, and beyond. This is Jaisal Noor.