In 1994, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke sponsored a bill that made Baltimore City the first city in the country to require a living wage for all city workers and contractors. If she has her way again, retail workers in the city will also be paid the living wage. The 14th District councilor proposed on Monday that major retail stores in Baltimore City grossing more that $10 million a year pay workers a minimum of $10.57.
“We’re in a position to raise fees and taxes across the city to help us keep city government afloat, especially recreation and parks, fire and police,” Clarke said. “ what can we give back? How can we help the people in Baltimore City? What is it we can do for the income of the people who live here?”
Living wage is defined as the amount needed to provide for a person’s basic needs, as opposed to the minimum wage that declares the least amount of money the city or an employer can pay its workers.
Opponents of a proposed Wal-Mart store asked the city to require that businesses moving into the Remington site meet the state’s $12.25 per hour living wage. However, Clarke said the bill aims to boost wages for workers at all major retail chains, not just the proposed Wal-Mart.
According to the Baltimore City Wage Commission, city code Article 5, Subtitle 25, requires the payment of the living wage to all service contracts. As of July 1, 2009, the living wage in Baltimore City is $10.57, up from $9.93.
Minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009. Previously, employers in Baltimore City with two or more employees were required to pay the minimum wage of $6.55 per hour.
Clarke said most major local retailers are close to meeting the living wage and some exceed the amount. She expects the living wage to help workers rather than hurt major businesses.
However, Wayne Monroe from Sparrows Point wrote a letter to The Baltimore Sun in opposition to the living wage bill, claiming it will deter business growth and development in the state of Maryland as well as Baltimore City.
“How can politicians be so arrogant as to decide that they can tell an employer how much they have to pay employees?” the letter said. “This absurd proposal doesn’t even merit a hearing before it lands in the trash can.”
Clarke’s labor subcommittee will hold a hearing on the bill before it is voted on by the full City Council.
“Ten dollars and 57 cents an hour is not an outrageous amount of money,” she said. “I hope it will be approved but the hearing has not been scheduled yet.”