A Conundrum of Wages

Marc Shapiro, managing editor

Last week, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her decision to veto a bill that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

While the City Council practically had a veto-proof majority, one councilperson told the JT they would not go against the mayor but instead would uphold the veto, essentially killing the bill.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, reactions have been as expected — many business leaders applauded the mayor’s decision for rejecting a bill they felt would put Baltimore at a disadvantage and force businesses to raise prices, fire employees or relocate to surrounding jurisdictions.

Proponents were disappointed, claiming Pugh broke a campaign promise by pointing to an AFL-CIO survey in which she said she would support a $15 minimum wage. Supporters, including those in the council, say Baltimoreans need a living wage.

It’s well documented that wage growth has not kept up with the cost of living and inflation over time. But whose job it is to fix that is not a question that’s easy to answer.

It surely must be difficult to balance keeping the city friendly to businesses and making sure those who work in the city earn living wages. One would hope and assume Baltimore’s elected officials want to do whatever is in their power to uplift residents’ socioeconomic status. But hurting small and new businesses, which many argue this bill would do, is not in the city’s best interests.

Pugh defended her decision, saying she was “making sure Baltimore City is not the hole in the doughnut” and that the city will follow the state’s lead.

This could be one of those instances in which both sides are right. It could be an unfortunate situation in which economically uplifting citizens and not hurting — and perhaps even helping — businesses are ideas at odds with each other. It’s up to elected officials to reconcile those issues.

Even the political arm of the Jewish community, the Baltimore Jewish Council, wrestled with the same conundrum. On its website, it takes no position on the living wage because it could not reach consensus “after extensive research, discussion and debate.”

But on the issue of minimum wage in general, the Baltimore Jewish Council cites our own Jewish tradition.

Judaism “seeks a balance between employees earning their most basic living needs and allowing businesses to succeed,” the BJC’s policy position states. “When wages fall short of providing for these needs, Jewish values seek to restore a fair balance on the employees’ behalf.”

The stakes are high, and the concerns on both sides should weigh heavily on the minds of Baltimore politicians, who are charged with finding an amicable solution.


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