"Raise the wage! Raise the wage!" city workers and advocates chanted on the steps of City Hall this afternoon.
They stood with Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke before she was set to introduce the first "Living Wage" bill in the country to tie hourly wages to inflation and other factors.
The bill, sponsored by eight other councilmembers, including Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, will increase the minimum wage to $15-an-hour by 2020. It also eliminates the subminimum wage of $3.63 for tipped workers and, perhaps the most significant part of the bill, ties the city's minimum wage to inflation and the cost of housing, utilities, amd goods and services as they increase.
Flanked by other council members, union workers, advocates, and clergy, Clarke acknowledged that her bill was being introduced a day before the anniversary Freddie Gray's death and said the legislation was partly inspired by a "civic reawakening." This entails bringing about justice by "closing the gap between the working poor and the living wage jobs… knitting together an otherwise financially divided society."
If enacted, this bill will affect 80,000 people—about 20 percent of Baltimore City's workforce.
After the press conference, Wiley Rhymer, an employee with Johns Hopkins and 1199 Union member, said that $11.99 an hour is not nearly enough to support him and the four children he raises alone.
"It's not good at all," he says. "I'm getting public assistance on what I'm making now. Raising the minimum wage would make a lot of difference."
He says the days of economic roulette would be over. "I wouldn't have to cut one bill so my children could do an activity. It would let them do an activity, plus put food on the table plus pay the gas and electric."
A state wage increase was signed into law by former Gov. Martin O'Malley signed in April 2014, raising the state minimum wage in five stages over four years. The minimum wage will increase to $8.75-an-hour on July 1 of this year. By July 2018, it will increase to $10.10.
Benjamin Orr, the Executive Director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, said his organization supported the increased enacted under O'Malley but wanted to see more: "It was a necessary change for low-wage workers. However, it did not go far enough for many families, particularly here in Baltimore City."
With the introduction of this bill, workers and advocates will attempt to ride the momentum of Seattle, Los Angeles New York, and San Francisco, cities that have recently passed laws phasing in a $15 minimum wage. Washington D.C. voters will soon decide if the district will follow suit.
Former NAACP president Ben Jealous, a guest speaker at the press conference, told the City Paper there is tremendous economic potential in a citywide wage increase, and the results are showing in cities that have upped the minimum wage to $15-per-hour.
"[Workers] spend every dollar that they have [in their community] and what you find in these cities is it creates a virtual cycle," he said. "You'll also see a more productive, engaged, and healthier workforce. This is a bill that is promising for our families, our communities and for our children."
Orr concurs: "It's also something that benefits local economies. [Workers] will turn around and put that cash to work immediately. [Money] immediately reenters the local economy"
The workers present at the press conference displayed joyfulness and chanted numerous times throughout. At one point, Jealous said, "Workers have been subsidizing corporations," causing the crowd to erupt in cheers.
A raise to $15-an-hour would be especially important for workers who rely on tips. Tawanda Forrest, a table games dealer at the Horseshoe Casino, said gratutities are far from a certainty.
"The casino is only paying me $5-an-hour. The rest of our money comes from tips, but tips are not guaranteed. When people lose they don't tip," she said. "They make a lot of money off of me.. [but] we are barely making it. It's difficult to live. [A $15 wage] would give me decent housing. It would change my life."