As a small-business owner, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer is fearful of the potential consequences a $15 minimum wage mandate in the city could trigger.
Schleifer, 27, a Democrat who represents the 5th District, told the JT he has worked tirelessly to convince his colleagues such a measure, as currently constructed, would do more harm than good for Baltimore’s economy.
Despite fiscal warnings raised by Schleifer, the council voted 11-3 on Monday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022.
“This is a bill that is very devastating to the city,” said Schleifer, co-founder of Raffle Ready, an online company that works exclusively with nonprofits to help raise money through fundraisers such as raffles. “The supporters of the bill are going to be disappointed when they find out what is actually written in the bill.”
The bill calls for low-wage employees 21 and older at businesses with more than 50 employees to earn $15 by 2022. Companies with 50 or fewer employees would have until 2026 to implement the increase, which calls for hourly wages of the lowest-paid workers to rise 60 cents annually to reach the wage hike.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the bill’s lead sponsor, has pushed for the city to get a $15 minimum wage on the books for more than a year.
Clarke, a Democrat who represents the 14th District, said she understands the concerns opponents such as Schleifer have with her legislation. But she believes it is the first step toward increasing economic equality for Baltimore’s poorest workers and helping them climb out of poverty.
“I understand how people have objections,” Clarke said. “This is not easy, but it’s the reason it’s unifying. Many people have to sacrifice for this, because everyone has to cooperate in helping us raise our minimum wage so that people in a few years will be able to afford what no single person on minimum wage can afford now.”
The bill now advances to the desk of Mayor Catherine Pugh, who, as of press time, had yet to publicly say whether she plans to sign the bill into law.
Should Pugh choose to veto the legislation, 12 votes would be needed from council members to override her decision. Brandon Scott, a Democrat who represents District 2 and who voted in favor of the bill at the preliminary vote on March 6, was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Pugh, said on Monday in a prepared statement that the mayor “has been a solid supporter and advocate of the minimum wage increase throughout her political career.”
While McCarthy dubbed Pugh “one of the strongest voices for working families,” he added that she will “make her decision based on what she believes is in the best interests of Baltimore residents, not what is the most popular decision or most expedient.”
He pointed out that Pugh is already dealing with numerous city budget obligations, including a $130 million deficit facing public schools, a Department of Justice consent decree for police reform and mounting overtime costs in the police department.
In addition, a report released by the city’s Department of Finance earlier this month found that the bill could cost city taxpayers $115 million over the next four years because of higher wages for city workers.
As a result, Schleifer feels the city could struggle just as much as businesses when it comes to implementing the new wage hike. He worries it could lead to layoffs for a number of city employees and force businesses seeking cheaper labor costs to move to surrounding counties before the bill even goes into effect.
“People who asked me to support the bill have told me that these things have a way of figuring themselves out,” Schleifer said. “I don’t go to the store and buy something with my credit card if I don’t have the money in the bank or the ability to pay for it at the end of the month.”
Currently, the minimum wage in Maryland is $8.75 and scheduled to rise to $10.10 by July 2018, which union advocates have argued isn’t enough to support a single person or a family.
Ricarra Jones, chairwoman of the Fight for $15 Coalition, told the JT prior to the council meeting that increased wages for workers should lead to higher home ownership and graduation rates and less police interaction with working-class residents.
She said her coalition has been actively working to drum up support from Pugh, who vowed to back the measure during her campaign.
“We’re hoping that [Pugh] sticks to that promise,” said Jones, who is also a political organizer for Local 1199 Service Employees International Union, a health care workers union. “Still, I think we’re all a little nervous about the mayor, just because she hasn’t committed to signing the bill yet.”
Some pro-business groups, on the other hand, have expressed a much more skeptical outlook.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, has been one of the loudest critics of the legislation. He said he was “very disappointed in the City Council’s decision” and insisted the mayor reject the measure, citing uncertainties raised by business leaders, cultural institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
“This legislation will place Baltimore at a serious competitive disadvantage, resulting in lost jobs, additional costs to city businesses and employers leaving the city,” Fry said.