A planned demonstration on May Day seeks to advance a number of labor rights issues in Baltimore City, including a request for a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

While Maryland’s minimum wage is now set to rise to $10.10 an hour by 2018, workers who currently rely on similar wages say a larger increase is needed.

The demonstration is being organized by the “We Deserve Better” Baltimore and Maryland Worker’s Assembly, a volunteer organization of community and labor organizers operating in Baltimore.

Sharon Black, one of the demonstration’s organizers, feels that more needs to be done on the wage front for low-income workers than $10.10 per hour four years from now. “It’s pretty hard to swallow when it’s in 2018,” said Black of the recent minimum wage increase. “It’s pretty hard to swallow when you figure that the tipped employees are excluded from it so they’re still making the poverty wages.

And then you’ve got to consider that on the estate taxes, they put a great cost of living clause in for the rich when the inheritance tax goes on, but no cost of living for the people on the minimum wage.”

According to Howard University economist Dr. Charles Betsey, interviewed via email, “Delays in raising the minimum wage lead to erosion of the buying power of the minimum wage. For people who are paid the minimum or whose pay is tied closely to it, lags in raising the minimum wage results in loss in buying power as inflation rises.”

Crystal Richardson, a volunteer and activist with the Worker’s Assembly, currently works two part-time jobs, one making $10.05 an hour and the other making $10.50. The better paying of the two requires a commute to Ellicott City by bus, a ride that can last up to two and one-half hours. Though she works an eight hour shift that begins at 11 p.m., Richardson arrives in Ellicott City at 6:30 p.m., the latest she can arrive by public transportation.

Richardson makes a little over $1,000 a month, “If they don’t cut my hours down, and they gave me about four or five days a week.”

While owning a car would significantly reduce her commute between Baltimore and Ellicott City, Richardson cannot afford one. Though interested in studying art and graphic design, she cannot afford to enroll in a degree program that would help further her personal ambitions. Though she currently earns a wage in line with the $10.10 that will be Maryland’s minimum four years from now, Richardson already feels the limits of such a wage’s purchasing power. “What I don’t understand is why anybody would be satisfied with this outcome at all,” said Richardson of the wage increase to $10.10 an hour.

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates seat in the 40th district and a supporter of the rally, addressed another of the demonstration’s concerns in an interview with the AFRO: the lack of employment opportunities for youth.

“It’s imperative, starting with Baltimore City, that we find more and better ways to get our young people in the feel of being employed . . . so that at an early age they can understand that for a fair day’s work they can get a fair day’s pay.”

The May Day demonstration will take place at McKeldin Square in downtown Baltimore at 4 p.m. on May 1. Information on the rally and the Worker’s Assembly can be found on the Worker’s Assembly’s website at riseupbaltimore.org, or by calling the Worker’s Assembly at (410) 218-4835

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO