Pugh betrays her supporters with flip-flop on ‘Fight for $15’

Baltimore Mayor Katherine Pugh’s decision to abandon her support for a citywide $15 minimum wage continues to prompt outrage from supporters who helped get her elected in 2016.

“We supported Catherine Pugh for mayor $15 an hour minimum wage. She pledged that she would sign it ” said Mark McLaurin, the political director for Baltimore, Washington D.C, and Maryland’s branch service workers union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

SEIU directed a substantial amount of volunteer labor to Pugh’s campaign with the understanding she would support the bill.

“Someone on my staff who is an experienced political operative embeds themselves in the campaign as a senior strategist and helps steer the campaign to victory. We did that with her and she turned around and betrayed us on one of our top legislative priorities.” McLaurin said.

Pugh refused repeated attempts to be interviewed by the Baltimore Post-Examiner. Her press-secretary responded to BPE’s requests by sending the video of her March 24 press conference and her letter to the City Council.

The bill does not apply to workers who are under 21, and allows nine years leniency before it will be implemented for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Supporters of the bill argue that entry level and service sector jobs are necessary and that people holding those jobs full-time deserve to meet their basic needs.

Opponents of the bill “run a business, whose model depends in perpetuity, even 10 years and beyond, on refusing to pay full-time workers enough to live on” McLaurin said.

Pugh defended her change of heart during that March 24 press conference.

“I don’t think they make you swear on the Bible, they ask you if you would support, and I absolutely do support [a minimum wage increase]” Pugh said.

The Mayor said she intends to “follow the lead of the state.” She supported the state legislation that will raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.50 per hour on July 1 2017, and to $10.10 per hour on July 1 2018.

She changed her opinion on the citywide legislation, she said at the press conference, in light of expenses that she did not anticipate as a candidate and a concern for the city’s homeless and unemployed population.

Other county leaders advised Pugh to veto the bill, warning that if Baltimore City alone increases minimum wage then job seekers would flood into the city and businesses would relocate, according to Pugh’s March 23 letter to City Council.

Worker advocates and many academics deny the likelihood of such unsavory ripple effects.

Ricarra Jones, chair of Baltimore’s Fight for $15 Coalition, testified recently before the Mayor and City Council. She was armed with a report written by David Cooper, senior economic advisor at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan nonprofit organization.

“In all the research on cities that have enacted higher minimum wages, there is no evidence of businesses relocating or adjusting location plans to avoid the higher wage standard. This is because the industries that are typically affected by a higher minimum wages are direct-to-consumer industries: retail, accommodation and food service, education, hospitals, and childcare,” according to Cooper’s report.

Cooper’s report also provided an overview of the most recent work in his field, which suggests that raising the minimum wage does not have a significant impact on minimum-wage employment rates- countering Pugh’s concern that raising the minimum wage would make it harder for the homeless to find entry level employment.

“This consensus among economists has become so strong that in 2011, 600 Ph.D. economists, including eight Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to Congress encouraging them to raise the federal minimum wage,” according to  Cooper’s report.

The letter stated: “In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment [rates] of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market,” the report said.

What’s Next?

Union workers who pushed for the citywide legislation want to see Baltimore’s minimum wage addressed as a ballot measure, meaning it would be a stand-alone question, in the 2018 city wide election.

Baltimore organizers still want to see Pugh lead the fight for statewide minimum wage increase to $15 per hour. Baltimore residents are organizing a coalition to raise the state minimum wage $15 per hour in 2018.

“Mayor Pugh said that she didn’t want to do it in Baltimore because she would rather do it statewide, and we certainly expect that she’s going to be at the forefront as a vocal and outspoken leader. Since she thinks it’s a great idea to it at the state level, she should help us do it at the state level.” McLaurin said.