By J. K. Schmid
Staff Writer for the Watchdog
More than 80 people gathered before Baltimore City Hall Monday evening to show their support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill that was adopted by the City Council but vetoed by Mayor Catherine Pugh.
“The politicians made a decision today, but the power rests with the people,” said the Rev. Courtly “C.D.” Witherspoon of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “We want to let you know that this fight is not over.”
Demonstrating beside the “Negro Soldier” statue in War Memorial Plaza, activists singled out individual council members and business leaders who they blamed for scuttling the bill.
Leo Burroughs, a member of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, laid the blame for Pugh’s veto on big monied interests such as Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armor, and Donald Fry, the president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, calling them “blood-suckers.”
“They don’t care anything about us,” Burroughs said. “We’ll fight them until our last breath. Am I hating on anybody? No, I’m telling it like it is.”
Burroughs’ also criticized his council member, Eric T. Costello, D-District 11, for voting against the bill. In addition to Costello, council members Leon F. Pinkett III, D- District 7, and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, D-District 5, voted against the bill.
Burroughs said Costello and Pinkett “are opposing everything we need to have in terms of fairness and decency and fair play.”
The council has 21 days to override a mayoral video. The process faces numerous procedural challenges, though, that could make it difficult for the council to attempt an override by its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 24, which would be one day after veto period ends.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has the authority to unilaterally open a special session to allow an override to be voted upon. The president has asked for a petition signed by 10 council members before he will schedule a session.
Council member Person Zeke Cohen, D-District 1, was the sole councilperson in attendance at the rally.
“I am standing in for a number of my colleagues,” Cohen said. “There were seven of us that agreed to sign the petition to try and bring a special meeting. Councilman (Kristerfer) Burnett, Councilwoman (Shannon) Sneed, Councilwoman (Mary Pat) Clarke, Councilman (Ryan) Dorsey, Councilman (John T.) Bullock, and (Bill) Councilman Henry are continuing to fight for $15.”
Each speaker spoke behind an AFL-CIO-branded poster quoting Pugh’s campaign promise to sign a $15 minimum wage bill should it reach her desk.
The bill that reached Pugh’s desk would not have raised the minimum wage immediately. Instead, the minimum wage would have gradually risen to $15 by 2022 with exemptions for workers under 21 years of age and employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Kenneth Gwee, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, described himself as heartbroken.
“This $15 minimum wage, even though it was watered down, even though it could have been stronger, it could have been a signal of hope,” Gwee said. “This was an opportunity for our mayor to shift power from the corporate elites, from the big corporations and to the average working-class people of Baltimore City.”
Sharon Black of the People’s Power Assembly and Women’s Fight Back Network said her two organizations and other activist groups are planning to participate in a global strike on May 1. Black also said after a march on local Baltimore ICE offices, a permanent lobbying contingent is planned to be established at City Hall until the minimum wage demands are met.