The effort to raise the minimum wage in Baltimore was recently halted when Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed a bill increasing it to $15 per hour. In 1973, then President Richard Nixon vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $2.20 per hour saying it would cause unemployment amid rising inflation.

The below story documents the reaction to Nixon’s veto.

Sept. 22, 1973

“Callous” and “outrageous” are words which some labor leaders used to describe President Nixon’s veto as “inflationary” of the $2.20 an hour minimum wage bill sent to Congress.

They see the veto as another cruel blow to hardworking poor people already hit by rising costs of living.

Bayard Rustin, of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute in New York, deemed the President’s veto “outrageous,” but he said he considered it to be consistent with the anti-Black, anti-worker pattern of the Nixon Administration.

“Those who’d suffer,” continued Rustin, “should Congress fail to override this action, are precisely those – the working poor – who have been most cruelly treated by the soaring rate of inflation. In particularly food prices.”

Viewing the bill as the “most important single piece of legislation now before Congress,” Rustin stated it was necessary to “work” and “lobby” to “save this bill for those millions of Americans who desperately need it.”

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Also calling for action on the bill was John White, aide to Robert L. White, national president of the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees.

White stated that at this point, “the fight is to get enough guts” on the part of Congressmen to override the veto.

Although, White thinks “we should stick by our guns,” he also declared that “compromise should come” if Congress does not override the veto.

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An Administration bill would hike the minimum wage for most non-farm workers from $1.60 to $1.90 an hour immediately. A subsequent raise to $2.30 would follow by 1976.

The vetoed bill would have moved the minimum to $2 an hour immediately and to $2.20 next July.

William Simons, president of Local 6 of the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., thinks that the veto was a “callous” act which uses the poor as “pawns in the fight against inflation.”

Feeling the veto is an “illustration of Nixon’s disregard for the welfare” of the people of the nation. Simons suggested that Congress enact the bill over the veto.

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“The President believes he has a mandate to wage war on the poor,” says Cleveland Robinson of New York, president of both the Distributive Workers of America and the National Afro-American Labor Council.

Robinson declared that the President’s reasoning that the bill would cause unemployment is “without foundation.”

He believes that if the minimum wage is increased employment would increase.

According to Robinson, higher wages would cause people to buy more items and the greater demand would cause an increase in industrial production.

To meet the greater production demands, industry would hire more persons, thus causing an increase in employment, Robinson argued.

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Although Robinson stated that, “prices are rising at a phenomenally high rate,” he does not believe that Congress should support the Administration’s bill.

He explained, “The idea is to pay people decent wages” so that they will be encouraged to work.

He hopes that Congress would have the “fortitude” to act on the veto.

The assistant executive director of the NAACP, John Morsell, disclosed that although his organization still supports the vetoed bill, he believes Congress should pass a compromise bill.

He said it is “a crime” that the original bill could not get through.

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Vernon Jordan, executive director of the National Urban League, declared that “The veto of the minimum wage bill cannot be justified at a time of increased poverty and rising prices.”

“Once again,” he maintained, “the poorest Americans are being asked to shoulder the burden of fighting inflation, a situation as unjust as it is immoral.”