Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced March 24 that she would veto a $15 minimum wage bill, reversing a pledge she made during her campaign and striking down a bill she claimed would harm city businesses.

Mayor Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore) vetoed an increase in the city’s minimum wage on March 24. (Photo by Maryland GovPics; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Mayor Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore). (Photo by Maryland GovPics; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In conversations with close friends, neighbors, business owners and faith leaders who live in Baltimore City, I have been asked to do what is best for Baltimore,” the mayor said in a letter addressed to the City Council.

The bill would have raised the minimum wage gradually up to $15 an hour in 2022 with exemptions for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The small business exemptions would have elapsed in 2026.

“I want you all to know that no one wants to see wages in our city, state and country increase more than I do,” the mayor said in the same letter. “I look forward to the statewide increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 that I fought so hard for in Annapolis as the Senate Majority Leader.”

In an AFL-CIO questionnaire she completed as a candidate, Pugh promised to sign a City Council bill raising the minimum wage, according to the Baltimore Brew.

“I’m deeply shocked and disappointed,” said Mary Pat Clarke (D-District 14), the lead sponsor of the bill. “I had every reason to believe that the mayor would sign this bill when it arrived at her desk.”

This is the second such bill to be drafted by the City Council and the first to be passed by that body; the original did not survive a second reading. The council voted 12-3 to advance the bill to the mayor to be signed into law.

“We support this legislation,” Clarke said. “We would like to have the opportunity to have an override vote.”

The city council has the opportunity to override the mayor’s veto when it reconvenes on April 3, but will need 12 of its 15 members to support the veto.

Supporters of the wage increase called upon City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young to challenge the mayor’s decision and organize an override vote.

“Are you responsible to the mayor or the people of your district that still support this,” asked Ricarra Jones, chair of Raise Maryland and director of the Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition.

Jones and other activists are planning a rally to be held at City Hall on April 3 at 4 p.m.

“This is a make-or-break issue for far too many people who won’t be able to pay their BGE, who won’t be able to pay their water bill, who could possibly get evicted and foreclosed on and possibly lose their homes, because we don’t have a living wage,” said Rev. Courtly “CD” Witherspoon, activist and president of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

If a solution cannot be found with the city council or mayor’s office, Witherspoon is considering pushing for a referendum.

“I don’t have a plan at all to drop this issue,” Witherspoon said. “We hope that the mayor does the right thing. We hope that the city council holds the line. But if they don’t, we are going to do what we have to do to represent the interests of those union members and hardworking everyday people of this city.”