By VET (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

March 20, 2017; Baltimore Sun

In an 11-to-3 vote, the Baltimore city council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. While many supported the bill, the usual suspects decried the potential dire consequences from paying a living wage. Among them were nonprofits, and that is a real shame.

A number of cities have already passed such measures, including Seattle, San Francisco and Washington.

“I understand how people have objections,” said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This is not easy. Many people have to sacrifice here for this.” But the step, she says, will correct “decades of injustice” for Baltimore’s lowest-wage workers. “People are working one job, two jobs, three jobs and still often are not able to make ends meet for their families.”

The bill must now be signed or vetoed by Mayor Catherine Pugh. It is not clear what she will decide. The mayor’s spokesperson said Pugh would make a decision “within the next few days.” If Pugh vetoes the council’s action, it would take 12 council members to override the veto. That likely twelfth member is currently traveling overseas.

Baltimore finance officials have warned that raising the minimum wage to $15 hourly would cost taxpayers $115 million over four years because the measure would raise the wages of some of the city’s workers. Many businesspeople say the measure will cause businesses to desert Baltimore. Baltimore’s budget is already stretched due to a $130 million public schools deficit, high police overtime, and the anticipated costs of complying with a Department of Justice consent decree related to policing practices. But Ricarra Jones of the 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers union said a coalition of advocates is firmly behind the bill and, she says, higher wages for workers should lead to higher income tax revenue, more homeownership, and better graduation rates. This will mean a positive financial impact in the end.

NPQ has reported on the low wages available in the fields of home health care and personal care, which disproportionately employ women and people of color. This low pay leads to high turnover and instability in a workforce where reliability is all-important for elderly and people with disabilities.

Maryland’s minimum wage is set at $8.75 but will rise to $10.10 an hour by 2018. The bill would exempt workers under 21 and give businesses with fewer than 50 employees until 2026 to comply with the $15-an-hour wage.—Ruth McCambridge