Workers at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, have delayed a planned hunger strike to protest low wages until Saturday September 8, 2007. The workers reached the decision after hearing encouraging words about an increase in wages from the governor at a Labor Day prayer service and rally at the Light Street Presbyterian Church.
Workers insist that the issue is dignity and respect, rather than simply money. “Every time I go to work here, I feel like less of a person because of what I have to go through,” said Lamont Pollard. He also said that workers are not given rubber gloves and other needed supplies, and are required to eat their meals in the restrooms. Pollard has worked for 3 years cleaning up after games. “When I leave, I feel better – like I just got out of jail. It shouldn’t be like that,” he added.
Workers displayed a sign that read, “Now we hunger for justice”, a quote from Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American labor leader who regularly launched hunger strikes to protest unfair working conditions, especially among migrant farm workers.
The state-owned facility is operated by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which also operates the M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. The MSA is the largest employer of day laborers in the city, with 150 to 200 workers cleaning up after each game.
The United Workers Association (UWA) has been demanding a living wage for workers who clean up after baseball and football games. UWA, a human rights group founded by homeless day laborers in Baltimore, contends that the state exploits the contract workers, many of whom are African American, by paying low wages. As a state agency, the MSA is exempt from the city’s living wage of $9.62 per hour.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley expressed support for the living wage for the part-time workers. MSA chief Frederick W. Puddester concurred. The MSA board is scheduled to meet on Thursday, September 6, to discuss rebidding of the cleaning contracts. The new contracts would go into place after the end of the 2007-2008 football season.
“We hope that by postponing the hunger strike, we can provide the MSA [with] the breathing room required to come to a just decision,” said Rose Menustik, a UWA organizer. Menustik added that she hoped the MSA would “come to a just decision and turn actions and intentions into commitments.”
Scores of workers, along with labor organizers and union reps, crowded in the courtyard behind the Federal Hill church, enjoying snacks including muffins, bagels, and fruit. Workers say that they pick up trash and clean the bathrooms at the Orioles and Ravens stadiums during and after each game. They average $7 per hour. Under current metropolitan law, service contracts with the city must pay at least the living wage of $9.62. A loophole, however, allows the MSA to award contracts to cleaning companies who pay much less.
Under the Maryland Living Wage law, which goes into effect on October 1, 2007, state government contractors must pay $11.30 per hour in the Baltimore-Washington metro area, and $8.50 in other parts of the state. This is just one of many metro living wage laws in the U.S. In order to qualify for this rate, workers must work for 13 consecutive weeks over the life of the contract. Because of the many away games, the contract cleaners are often idle for a week or more, which disqualifies them under the law.
MSA Chair Puddester claims that he has been in favor of a living wage for the contract cleaners since the matter was brought to his attention last month. “Can the stadium authority argue that they’re exempt on a technicality? Yes, they could. But I don’t plan to take that approach.”
When the full 7-member board is present at a public meeting on Thursday, Puddester plans to ask the members to specify that bids for the 2008 baseball season and 2008-2009 football season specify that workers be paid a living wage.
It is worth every salaried employee checking out the federal and Maryland minimum wage laws. Many workers make the mistake of thinking that if they are paid a salary then they are not entitled to overtime compensation payments if they work long hours of over 40 hours a week. This is an easy mistake to make, as it is not widely known to employees that they might be entitled to overtime payments, and many companies like to keep it this way.
Wal-Mart Inc. is one company that recently ran afoul of federal and Maryland minimum wage laws. Under the agreement made, they had to compensate nearly 87,000 employees in Maryland and throughout the country to the extent of $33 million. This consists of back wages and interest.
Apparently, Wal-Mart tried to get around the laws by employing trainee managers, programmer trainees and interns, on a salaried basis. They had to work long hours without receiving any overtime payments, as they were salaried.
However, the US Dept of Labor ruled that these employees, and many like them are “non-exempt salaried” workers. Quite simply, this means that although they were paid a salary, they were entitled to overtime payments.
General guidelines state that to be entitled to such overtime payments, the majority of workers must earn less than $455 per week (that is, $23,660 a year), and work more than 40 hours per week. If they fulfil these criteria then they are entitled to overtime payments for any hours over the 40 hours that they work each week.
Managers and other salaried workers that earn higher wages, must have decision-making powers within the organisation. Often, as in the case of Wal-Mart, they needed to have the power to hire or fire three members of staff as a minimum requirement.
The salaried staff at Wal-Mart did not have these powers, neither did they have any staff supervision roles.
The living wage law in Maryland may affect as many as tens of thousands of working families across the state, although no one is sure absolutely how many employees it will affect. And as usual, no one has a stat on how many employers will be affected. And from what I can gather at the moment from my sources, there is not a consensus as to whether or not the state of Maryland will then require its employers, especially those contractors directly affected by the new law, to have to post a new Maryland living wage law poster, alongside the Maryland minimum wage poster.
Maryland, if you remember, what also the state that had passed the so called Wal Mart law, whereby it was requiring all employers over a certain size to pay for their employees health care. Though that law get passed by the legislature, the courts shot it down as unconstitutional and the law never took hold. The Maryland state assembly had also passed a new Maryland minimum wage just last year, which raised the Maryland minimum wage by a total of one dollar.
This new Maryland living wage did not quite get the attention and bad publicity that the Wal Mart bill did, though my sources cannot say exactly why. Some critics of the law, however, have come out to warn the state law makers that they could be hurting the state’s economic climate and its ability to attract new workers and employers.
Supporters of the bill, however, point to the fact that a living wage bill was passed in Maryland several years ago, but had been vetoed by the governor at the time, a fellow by the name of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. So they say the living wage bill is a long time in coming.
It is a fact in Maryland now. There is a living wage law on top of the normal Maryland minimum wage law. Not to say that a living wage is not “normal,” but it goes above and beyond what the original Maryland minimum wage law calls for. First the news—the governor of Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the living wage law into effect a couple days ago. It is the first of its kind on the nation, that is, a living wage law set on the state level. As we discussed before when this living wage bill first worked its way through the Maryland state legislature, there are several living wage laws on the books of cities and small municipalities, such as San Francisco and Albuquerque .
But this is the first on the state level that sets a living wage for employees and workers of those contractors working on state projects. Some supporters of the bill go so far as to say that Maryland is now on the cutting edge in the ways to fight working poverty in his nation. Working poverty is the notion that people can work 40 hour jobs, perhaps even two 40 hour jobs in this country, and still be at or below the poverty level.
That is the whole point of the living wage bill. Unlike a minimum wage, which is set a level that is basically picked because it is above the former minimum wage level, generally by a factor of inflation, the living wage is determined specifically at a level that would raise the worker to or above the poverty level, usually figured out by the amount it would take two working parents to feed and clothe a family of four. In this case, the level is at $11.30 per hour for the Baltimore-Maryland area of the state, and $8.50 per hour for the rest of the state.
First, Maryland’s minimum wage was raised a bunch of months back. Then the state came up and passed recently the first ever living wage rate on the state level. And yet employers in the state still seem upbeat and excited about where their businesses, and business in Maryland in general, is going. We’re talking about that survey we discussed yesterday again, the one from bank PNC. Yesterday, we considered how employers in the state of New Jersey responded in the survey.
But as I said in that blog post, the PNC survey covered employers across the entire country, in most every state. And one of the states that got singled out was Maryland, where both small and midsize employers and business owners were as positive on their future as they had been in New Jersey up I 95.
Only four out of 10 employers in the state said that they would have to raise their prices in order to cover the increasing costs of doing business. Along those lines, three out of four employers—that’s 75 percent—said they felt that any increase to the federal minimum wage would have little or not effect on their business or how they run their business.
Again, as in New Jersey, one of the reasons for this answer could be that Maryland employers are already paying a higher minimum wage—of $6.15 per hour—and even if the new federal minimum wage bill goes through, it won’t raise the federal minimum wage higher than that until 2008.
In the state, PNC survey about 150 privately owned companies and employers, on the small and midsize side. About 95 percent of them only brought in about $10 million or less in annual revenue, and had 40 or less employees. About half of all of them were in the so called service industry.