Baltimore City residents of all ages were fired up at a Fight for $15 Baltimore kick-off rally on Feb. 16 night at New Waverly United Methodist Church in East Baltimore. Workers and their families came to show their support for a reintroduced $15 per hour minimum wage bill currently being considered by city council.

Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition Chair Ricarra Jones speaks to the crowd at a kick off rally encouraging attendees to keep fighting for the bill. (Photo by Briahnna Brown)

Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition Chair Ricarra Jones speaks to the crowd at a kick off rally encouraging attendees to keep fighting for the bill. (Photo by Briahnna Brown)

“We just wanted to kick off the campaign, let folks know that the fight for $15 is back and that we’re still fighting for it in Baltimore,” Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition Chair Ricarra Jones told the AFRO. “Nationally, we’ve seen a lot of wins lately…we’re not going to stop fighting in Baltimore for our workers and for our communities and for our families. “

Maryland will be increasing the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.10 statewide by 2018, but sponsors of the bill are proposing an additional raise to $15 an hour by 2022

The bill for a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore City lost by one vote last year, but Councilwoman Mary Pat Clark reintroduced the bill just last week with some added compromises. Under the new bill, starting in 2019, large employers must meet the $15 minimum wage by 2022, but small businesses (under 50 employees) will not have to raise employee wages to $15 an hour until 2026. The proposal would increase pay incrementally each year.

“Individual families, individual workers who work so hard, in justice, should be able to earn enough to be self-sufficient,” Clark said. “I think we have a shot, and I think in justice, and to bring Baltimore together, it’s one of the things we must do. The gap in earning is a gap in the city, and we can’t live this way.”

There is also an age restriction in this bill that excludes workers under the age of 21 from receiving the new wage. Advocates of the bill have planned to push back against that portion, as it would exclude a large percentage of the hourly wage workforce—35.4 percent of the hourly wage workface being aged 16-19, according to data from a 2012 George Mason University study.

The first hearing for the bill will be held on March 1 at 5 p.m. at city council chambers.

Bowie State University economics professor Latanya Brown said that increasing the minimum wage for those covered under the proposal could increase the consumption habits and economic security, which she said will benefit the overall economy.

She noted that according to a Pew Research study, those earning a minimum wage have lost 9.6 percent of their purchasing power, and because people in that wage group generally spend their money right away on necessities rather than saving it, retail stores would see an increase in profit.

“A lot of the claims from small businesses and so forth, their prices—if you think about the prices of the goods and services they offer—their prices constantly go up with inflation, but the workers that they’re paying, their wages are not going up with inflation as well,” Brown said. “So, who’s pocketing the difference between those changes?”

Jacq Jones, owner of Sugar, a retail store in Hampden, said that she is in full support of the fight for $15, and hopes other small business owners, who have generally been against this bill, will feel the same.

“As a business owner, I’m interested in dollars and cents and I’m interested in data,” Jones told the crowd at the rally. “The truth is, when you pay your people fairly, when you treat them decently, shockingly they work harder and your business is more successful. When my coworkers don’t have lights at home, they don’t sleep well, they don’t eat well, and they’re not able to do well. That’s not good for me, and that’s not good for them.”

Jonathan Hutt, 51, is a security officer at Johns Hopkins University and a strong advocate for workers’ rights and the $15 minimum wage. He said that if people band together for this cause, a change can be accomplished.

“How can you expect someone that’s constantly out here working, slaving, and then they can’t afford nothing after they get paid because a higher cost of living is not where it’s supposed to be when you’re at a certain pay rate at your job?” Hutt said. “We shouldn’t have to work constantly throughout our period of life and be poor. We should be to a point where we work and we survive, not work and be poor and then we die poor. No, absolutely not.”