Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Baltimore Stadium Workers Plan Hunger Strike for Living Wage

Baltimore Stadium Workers Plan Hunger Strike for Living Wage

by James Parks, Aug 13, 2007

The workers who clean up plastic cups, peanut shells, spilled beer and hot dogs left by nearly 49,000 fans after games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore have been fighting for higher wages and better working conditions for three years.

The United Workers Association (UWA), a Baltimore worker center, which represents the nearly 800 mainly immigrant workers, says the subcontractors who employ them have reneged on promises to pay a living wage. The workers make about $7 an hour. The national median hourly salary of janitors and cleaners is $9.58, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

Harriet Tubman at Daily Kos says these workers are fed up with the broken promises. They plan to launch a hunger strike Sept. 3 and continue until they are paid a living wage.

One of the workers is Valerie, a 55-year-old single woman who says she doesn’t make enough to pay her bills and take care of herself. (See video.) She says working for $7 an hour makes me feel real bad. I work hard for my money, and to get paid $7 [means] I don’t even have extra money to treat myself to McDonald’s.

In May, Maryland passed a law requiring contractors to pay workers a living wage. The Maryland law—the first in the nation for a state—requires service contractors doing business with the state to pay employees $11.30 an hour in urban areas and $8.50 an hour in rural areas. The state’s minimum wage is $6.15 an hour.

Although the state owns the stadium, the cleaning crews are not covered by the law, which exempts part-time and temporary workers. As a state agency, the Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns Oriole Park, does not have to follow Baltimore’s living wage ordinance requiring city contractors to pay workers at least $9.62 an hour. The Baltimore ordinance was the first in the nation when enacted in 1994.

Through protests, rallies and concerts, the workers are calling on the Stadium Authority to push for a hourly wage of at least $9.62 when the cleaning contract comes up for renewal next year.

Some 150 day laborers are hired to clean during and after Baltimore Orioles home games. The cleanup takes six to eight hours. Temporary workers also clean M&T Bank Stadium (next door to Oriole Park) after Baltimore Ravens home football games.

The day laborers are hired by temp agencies in Baltimore. Michigan-based Knight Facilities Management, which won the contract to clean Oriole Park and M&T stadium for about $1.9 million a year, subcontracts with the temp agencies to find workers. The state contract expires in January 2008.

The workers also say some subcontractors charge employees a transportation fee, amounting to $6 per round trip. They also say they are not paid for the time they wait to be let into the stadium after the games. Workers say they are told by the subcontractors to be at the stadium up to two hours before their cleaning shift begins. But not all workers who wait are picked for the job, they say.

The bottom line is one of fairness, Kim Thompson told the Baltimore Sun. Thompson, 32, of Baltimore, began working at the stadium a month ago. She said the work can be exhausting, wiping down seats, picking up debris and hauling trash bags.

It’s sickening how much trash is left. We have to come in and clean it up for a little bit of money.

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