City Council to vote on $15 minimum wage bill next week

The Baltimore City Council will vote Aug. 8 on a bill that would raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. The council's labor committee approved the measure by a vote of 4-0 on July 28.

The committee's approval included some amendments to the original bill, such as implementation by 2022 instead of the original 2020 date and a wage increase for tipped workers of $5 an hour by 2020 instead of $15 by 2025.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has committed to sign the wage increase into law following a council approval, which would add Baltimore to a list of cities and states setting minimum wage to the $15 bench mark. In June, Washington D.C.'s lawmakers unanimously passed a similar bill. They are the latest place to do so along with San Francisco, Seattle, New York state, and California.

Despite this national momentum toward $15 dollars an hour for low-wage workers, Ricarra Jones, a political organizer with 1199 SEIU, America's largest healthcare union, says she is "cautiously optimistic" about next week's vote.

"We are hearing from folks that are struggling every day trying to keep their head above water," Jones says. "We hope that the council has been hearing these stories. We hope they will vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour."

Jones says her caution lies specifically with City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

"Even though he stood with the nursing home workers, casino workers, and teachers across this city and said he supports the $15 minimum wage, he has since changed his position," she says. "He said he wouldn't vote for anything over $11.50 and that he was tired of Baltimore being a leader with these types of issues."

The City Paper left several messages with Young's office but was unable to speak with him.

A May article in the Baltimore Business Journal article told of Young sharing a four-hour flight with Target corporation executives while they discussed the wage increase bill and the general economic welfare of Baltimore.

"They said that the $15 per hour is going to hurt the city of Baltimore. They asked me to try to figure it out. Maybe now is not the time for us to be doing this," Young told the Baltimore Business Journal.

However, Councilman Brandon Scott of District 2, a proponent of the bill, believes the opposite.

"If we pass this bill we will show a few things: It will show the city is not operating with business as usual and also being at the forefront of change," Scott says. "So many have been left behind for so long. The way that is most visible is the amount they are being paid. Baltimore can be a part of a growing groups of cities and counties across the country leading that."

In addition to Target, the lobbying firm Harris Jones & Malone (they declined to name the companies they are representing), Wendy's franchisee Davco, and representatives from the restaurant and hotel lobbies have actively opposed the minimum wage bill.

Maryland's hourly minimum is currently $8.75 as of July 1, and is already scheduled to raise incrementally once in 2017, to $9.25, and again in 2018, where it will stay at $10.10 and hour. This will leave the state's minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

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