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.
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A number of states have recently enacted workplace smoking bans. Illinois joined the fray just this week, with the passage of a smoking ban that goes into effect on January 1, 2008. A similar ban that prohibits smoking in most workplaces in Maryland will go into effect on February 1, 2008.
In the past, many states prohibited smoking in public areas, but permitted it in restaurants and bars. These laws are slowly being changed, with a number of states adding restaurants, bars and even casinos to the “non-smoking” list. Minnesota already has significant bans on smoking in public areas. Effective October 1, 2007, a new law that bans smoking in restaurants and bars in Minnesota will go into effect. Montana has passed a similar law, which is slated to go into effect on October 1, 2009.
New Hampshire’s law banning smoking in restaurants and bars goes into effect on September 17, 2007. Oregon’s 100% smoke-free workplace law will become effective on January 1, 2009. That’s the same day that a Utah law banning smoking in bars will go into effect.
Opinions are divided on smoking bans in restaurants and bars. Many workers in the hospitality industry embrace such laws, pointing out that without such measures, employees are exposed to “passive smoking” every work day. Restaurant and bar owners are usually less enthusiastic. They voice fears that they will lose business as people stay home to smoke.
Most people consider workplace smoking bans a recent phenomenon, but the earliest known smoking ban dates back to September, 1590. That’s when Pope Urban VII issued a papal decree that anyone smoking inside a church, or in the porchway, would be excommunicated. The Pope’s ban included chewing tobacco and sniffing it, as well. The ban was short-lived, however. Pope Urban VII died of malaria after just 13 days in office, one of the shortest Papal tenures in history.
Urban VII wasn’t the only historical figure opposed to smoking in the workplace, either. While Winston Churchill was often photographed chomping a cigar, Adolph Hitler banned smoking in every German university, post office, military hospital and Nazi Party office in 1941. “Der Fuhrer” also introduced widespread anti-tobacco advertisements, which continued until Germany’s World War II defeat in 1945.
The first smoking ban in the U.S. was enacted in 1975, when the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act made it illegal to smoke in most public places. In its initial form the act required restaurants to have a no-smoking section, but allowed smoking in all bars.
The first complete smoking ban was in California in 1998. The bill banned smoking in bars, extending a workplace smoking ban originally passed in 1994. Today, the once-controversial bill is widely applauded. Other states such as New York quickly followed suit.
A number if cities in California and across the nation have banned smoking in public parks and on beaches. Several municipalities have passed bans making smoking illegal anywhere outside of a private home.
These laws, like all modern smoking bans, are a reaction to an increasing body of research that shows the unhealthy effects of second-hand smoke. A recent study, for example, shows that non-smokers who are married to someone who smokes have a 25% to 30% higher risk of lung cancer, emphysema and other smoking-related disorders, compared to those who are married to non-smokers.
Smoking bans are not a phenomena limited to the U.S. In 2004, Ireland and Norway passed bans on smoking in all public places. The U.K. passed similar ban in 2007.
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation is an anti-smoking group that keeps meticulous records of smoking legislation. According to the group, there are 23 states with some form of state-wide workplace smoking ban in place. These include:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
In addition, there are counties and municipalities in almost every state that ban smoking in some form, from Alaska to Wyoming. One state that is notably absent from the list is North Carolina an area where tobacco is a major crop and the tobacco lobby has been especially strong in the past. At least for the present, smokers are welcome anywhere in the state.
A new partnership between two major organizations will benefit Maryland workers with disabilities.
The recent collaboration between the US Department of Labor and a major association of human resource professionals will provide more jobs for Maryland workers with disabilities.
The US Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has joined forces with the Society of Human Resource Managers. It is a first for the ODEP, which was formed in 2001 to enable people with disabilities to be fully integrated into the workplace of the 21st century.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy received his authority from the US Secretary Labor Elaine L. Chao.
When speaking about the recent alliance between the two departments Roy Gizzard (Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy) said, “this alliance formalizes the relationship we have had with SHRM, benefiting SHRM as it serves its membership with the resources ODEP brings to the table and offering ODEP the opportunity for broader contact with human resource professionals.
The Society of Human Resource Managers focuses on human resource professionals. With over 550 affiliated chapters, its 205,000 members come from more than 100 countries. It is the world’s largest association of its kind, and has been active since being formed in 1948. The aim of this association is to provide all human resource professionals the best resources available.
The new alliance will promote a national dialogue on the employment of people with disabilities, as well as targeting outreach, communication, education and training. It will also supply technical help for disabled people who want to get into the workplace.
This is the first time the Society of Human Resources and the Office of Disability Employment have worked together in this way, and through the collaboration it is intended that people with disabilities will have better access to information, resources and will receive better guidance on the 21st century workplace.
Let’s have a quick review of a predicament that many bigger employers may be finding themselves in when it comes to reporting new hires. You could have the most up to date and accurate employee files, you could keep track of new hires with Employment Offer/Acknowledgement forms and employment applications, you could have your new employee checklists, and your substance testing consent forms.
All of that could be in order and all of the information on your new employees could be ready to be reported to the state of Maryland. But what happens if some of those employees actually work for your office in New Orleans, your factory in Philadelphia, or your warehouse in Washington? What if you are a large employer, with a lot of new employees spread out at all of your different facilities in different states?
When it comes to new hire reporting for multiple states, the labor laws are actually pretty flexible in Maryland, as well as in most other states.
The labor laws for new hire reporting actually give multi state employers two main choices when it comes to their new employees. They can report their new hired employees in the state that the employee will be working in, and follow each of the state’s rules and regulations as to how and when to report the hirings.
Or the employer can report all of the new hires, no matter what state they will be in, to one state of their choosing. Of course, the employer must have employees in that state. They can’t just pick a state out of a hat. But as long as you have employees in that state, you can pick it and follow that state’s rules and regulations for all of your new hires. The only catch is that you have to file to that state electronically.