After Mayoral Veto, Baltimore City Council Members Continue Fight for $15

Councilman Zeke Cohen (Photo by David Stuck)

Even after the latest push to raise Baltimore City’s minimum wage to $15 per hour was dealt a death blow on Monday via Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto, Councilman Zeke Cohen is still waiting for a public explanation from supporters of the bill who flipped their positions in light of the veto.

But Cohen (D-District 1) and advocates for the bill that passed the council with a veto-proof majority in early March are unlikely to get that chance.

In a last-ditch attempt to help save Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke’s legislation — which Pugh vetoed on March 24 — Cohen was one of seven council members who signed a petition by Clarke calling for a special meeting to have one final vote on the matter.

But because signatures from 10 council members are needed to force an override attempt, the meeting likely will not happen, meaning the bill will die. Council members Ryan Dorsey (D-District 3), Bill Henry (D-District 4), Kristerfer Burnett (D-District 8), John Bullock (D-District 9) and Shannon Sneed (D-District 13) also signed the letter.

“Part of the job in this council is for people to vote,” Cohen told the JT. “When you sign up to be a legislator, you need to stand behind the thing you say you’re going to do. I think we have an obligation to our constituents to go on record with our vote, which is why I wanted to see this happen.”

Addressing her colleagues from the council’s chamber floor on Monday, Clarke (D-District 14), the dean of the council, said she would continue to fight for Baltimore’s poorest workers.

She said she would try to initiate a petition to put the matter on the ballot for voters in the 2018 election. In the meantime, she plans to work with community leaders and city partners to continue drumming up support for a higher minimum wage.

“This is not the end, because it can’t be,” Clarke said. “This injustice remains, and it tears our city apart and keeps up us in shreds. All I know is until we get to $15, we’ll keep working.”

According to a provision in Baltimore’s charter, an override effort of a mayoral veto can take place within five to 20 days after the council receives the veto. Pugh’s veto was logged before Monday’s council meeting, but the next meeting is slated to take place 21 days later — one day after the deadline.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has the authority to call for such a meeting, but his spokesman, Lester Davis, told the JT that won’t happen despite Young’s support for the bill.

“The council president doesn’t want to act unilaterally,” Davis said. “I think what we know is that when consensus is built, that’s a better way to act.”

Davis noted there just isn’t enough support from the original 12-member coalition that first backed the legislation to order such a meeting.

Before Pugh announced she was vetoing the bill, Councilman Edward Reisinger (D-District 10) told the JT he would vote not to override a mayoral veto, effectively killing any chance of overriding a veto.

Reisinger was among the original 12 of 15 council members who supported the bill. Twelve is the exact number needed to override a mayoral veto.

“Let’s not lose sight of the reality,” Davis said. “We have a councilman [Reisinger] on record saying that he’s reconsidered his support of the bill and that he has come to a different conclusion. So the focus is that the votes aren’t there to override this veto.”

When answering an American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) questionnaire during her campaign, Pugh said she would sign a bill if it reached her desk.

But in vetoing the measure, Pugh said that “it is in the best interest” of the city to follow the state’s lead when it comes to a wage hike. She also expressed concerns that the increase would make Baltimore “an island,” creating a competitive disadvantage with surrounding counties and discouraging new businesses from opening in the city.

“What I am doing is making sure that Baltimore City is not the hole in the doughnut, that we will follow the state’s lead,” Pugh said.

So for now, Baltimore’s minimum wage will rise along with the rest of Maryland per legislation Pugh backed while serving in the state Senate. The state level in Maryland will increase from $8.75 to $9.25 on July 1 and $10.10 the following year and nothing scheduled beyond that.

Under Clarke’s bill, which the council passed, 11-3, in the most recent vote on March 20, the minimum wage would have gradually risen to $15 by 2022. It would have exempted workers younger than 21 and allowed companies with 50 or fewer employees until 2026 to comply.

Clarke, who led the charge for more than a year to get Baltimore a $15 minimum wage with two separate bills in two different councils, called Pugh’s veto “disappointing.”

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem logical,” Clarke said. “But that’s life. We’ve got to keep going on until we solve the injustices that we see and that we have some power to change.”

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