Baltimore City Council is slowly moving toward final passage of a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. But Council members and supporters still have one more river to cross before the final approval.


Deaira Perry (age 5) supports her mother, Terena, Perry at the Fight For $15 coalition rally at City Hall before the City Council minimum wage vote. (Photo by Deborah Bailey)

City Council members gave the bill preliminary passage on Aug. 10 after rejecting an amendment offered by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to adjust the minimum wage increase to $11.50 by 2020. Young has been vocal opponent to the $15 an hour minimum wage on the grounds that the city cannot afford the increase.

Seven city council members voted to pass the bill, four voted against it, and three abstained. District One Council member James B. Craft, who expressed opposition to the bill, was absent from Monday evening’s council meeting. A final vote will be held on Aug. 15.

“This is a positive step forward in raising the wage for workers in Baltimore City,” Ricarra Jones, chair of the Fight for $15 coalition, told the AFRO. “It is gratifying that City Council members took a principled stand and set a high standard for increasing wages in Baltimore.”  Jones led a coalition of about 50 representatives from labor unions, community based and faith-based organizations in a rally to support the 15$ an hour minimum wage bill before Monday’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, primary sponsor of the legislation, will need to secure one additional vote in favor of the bill between now and next Monday.  “You can get so far and then you still have to figure out how to get to the next place,” said Clarke.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has gone on record in support of the bill, saying she will sign it if it passes the Council next week.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it’s the right thing to do for Baltimore,” said District two Councilman Brandon M. Scott after voting for preliminary passage of the bill at Monday’s Council meeting.   “Baltimore for once will not be a follower but a leader in moving something positive forward”, Scott said.

Grass roots supporters of the $15 an hour wage bill are gearing up to convince selected council members to support final passage of the bill next week. ”We are turning out grassroots efforts targeting those who abstained Monday night, especially Carl Stokes and Pete Welch,” said Charly Carter, Director of Maryland Working Families.

“They both are long term public servants who serve some of the most devastated districts in the city”, Carter said. “We are certain that the legacy they will want to leave will be one to help people earn a living wage in their districts,” she said.  Both Stokes and Welch are leaving the City Council when their terms expire at the end of 2016.

Stokes is concerned that employers will hire residents from neighboring counties before selecting Baltimoreans if the city offers a $15 minimum wage without a corresponding regional hourly wage increase.  “It’s going to turn into a very competitive situation. We’ll be four or five dollars higher than anyone else in the state,” Stokes told the AFRO. “It’s only natural that people will come into Baltimore city to get those jobs. Employers are more likely than not to accept them, rather than taking a chance on a Baltimore resident”, said Stokes.

Councilwoman Helen Holton, who also abstained from voting, believes that Black-owned businesses operating close to or above $500,000 in revenue would be forced to cap growth or move out of the city.   “In theory, it’s a wonderful idea. I am concerned about minority small business and I know this will hurt these small businesses if Baltimore City does this alone,” Holton said. “In the economic fragility of Baltimore, it would not be prudent,” Holton said to the Council. Holton will retire from City Council this year.

The minimum wage bill slated for final approval by City Council next week includes exemptions for businesses with less than $500,000 in gross annual receipts or with fewer than 25 employees. Baltimore’s YouthWorks program and the Baltimore Zoo would also be exempt from the wage requirement.

The minimum wage rate will adjust upward to $9.50 an hour by July 2017 and increase by an additional dollar each year until 2021.  The minimum wage will finally move to $15 an hour in 2022. Cost of living adjustments will be included annually. Tipped workers will receive a pay increase from the present rate of $3.65, however the legislation does not include a guaranteed cost of living increase for this group of workers.