Eight Baltimore city council members voted against Councilperson Mary Pat Clarke’s $15 minimum wage an hour bill and one abstained to defeat her bill. They agreed with Donald C. Fry, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, while in the past has said that she will sign the bill if it passes the city council, has not been a vocal advocate of the legislation.
Fry said, “A $15-per-hour-minimum wage in Baltimore will create significant challenges for many businesses and put Baltimore at a serious competitive disadvantage for new and expanding business.” He added that the layoff of workers would follow. He projected businesses would leave Charm City.
The city then would lose needed tax and reduce its workforce. The Greater Baltimore Committee’s mission is to improve the area business climate, and it did just that. The group represents business interests. It is the most influential business group in town. Many say that the “real city hall” resides within its offices.
Let us return to the birth of the minimum wage in the U.S. Organized labor, low-wage workers, and the masses of the unemployed forced President Roosevelt during the “Great Depression” era to pass sweeping worker friendly legislation. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 passed earlier gave private sector employees the right to form trade unions and to collective bargaining. It included the right to strike.
The Fair Standards Labor Act included a federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. Workers welcomed the federal law, but thought it inadequate to keep the “wolf from the door.” Businesses small and large for the most part opposed it. They cried wolf.
Returning to the present, at a recent rally to urge the Baltimore City Council to raise the minimum wage to $15, Carolyn Taylor-Chester, a black worker told WJZ TV, “We don’t have enough money to live on and pay our bills.” She said, “I am robbing Peter to pay Paul, and basically, I am unable to pay my bills.”
Katrina Johnson is a housekeeper the Sun reported. “At $15 an hour, I would be able to take care of my bills and everything else, and I wouldn’t need the assistance I receive from social services,” She proclaims to be living from paycheck to paycheck. Taylor-Chester and Johnson are both black. Blacks comprise about 63 percent of Baltimore’s population.
Clarke’s bill even with its weaknesses boosted the quality of life for its black residents. Some statistics reveal why. About 24 percent of Baltimore residents live at or below the poverty level –many who work. For children below the poverty level it rises to 35 percent. Whites make about twice as much as blacks. The unemployment rate for black young men between the ages of 20 and 24 is 37 percent compared to 10 percent for whites.
Many black Baltimoreans are currently living in a “Great Depression”. It is déjà vu all over again.
The treatment for them is $15 an hour minimum wage now and a union. “Black Lives Matter” where are you?
Dr. Ken Morgan is an activist scholar and Asst. Professor Urban Studies at Coppin State University.