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City Councilwoman Clarke Vows ’Round Two’ on Living Wage Bill
The Daily Record
Nicholas Sohr

July 23, 2010
View the Original Article

Baltimore’s living wage bill sputtered in committee Thursday night, but the councilwoman who pushed the measure said Friday she will fight on.

“We’re done with round one, getting ready for round two,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. “This bill is too important to let it die in committee.”

The Labor Subcommittee held a lengthy hearing Thursday with more than 100 people in attendance. Subcommittee Chairman Warren Branch voted against the bill, while Councilwoman Belinda Conaway threw her support behind it. The third member of the subcommittee, Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo Jr., was absent, and the tie vote killed the measure.

The bill would have required retailers or chains with more than $10 million in annual sales to pay their workers at least $10.59 per hour. Employers would be able to deduct up to $2 hourly for benefits like health insurance.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

As Clarke said, the subcommittee vote doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the living wage legislation. Brach could request to re-open the vote. Or, eight council members could petition to pull the bill out of committee and put it up for a vote before the full 15-member council.

Clarke said she has seven council members on board for such a move.

“People need more money to live on. The minimum wage is just that, it’s a minimum threshold, not necessarily what they need to care for them and their families,” Conaway said Wednesday. “For the larger businesses, it gives them the opportunity to do more for the people who aren’t paid very much money.”

Supporters of the living wage bill argued it would spur growth in the local economy by giving consumers more money to spend.

Opponents, however, said imposing such requirements on already struggling retailers could force them to trim payrolls while pushing consumers and future development to the suburbs.

“A guy looking to relocate into Baltimore City, with the legislation, or Baltimore County, where are they going to go? They’re not going to take this,” said Jeffrie Zellmer, a Maryland Retailers Association lobbyist.

Even if the living wage supporters succeed in breathing life back into the bill, it will likely face powerful opposition.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has many concerns about the bill’s potential impact on retail options, development and even public health in the city, a mayoral spokesman said.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has not yet taken a position on the bill, according to his spokesman.