Hotel pay and promotion talks halt Advancement for black workers sought

November 06, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Talks about promotions for blacks and better wages for all workers have stalled between BUILD and downtown hoteliers, and Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said yesterday that it will be "difficult" to get them started again.

If no progress is made in the hotel talks, 2,000 members of BUILD, a church-based activist group, are expected to protest downtown Nov. 21 during the group's annual convention.

"Quite frankly, it's difficult at this point," Mr. Hutchinson said after meeting with 20 ministers from BUILD and allied groups for an hour yesterday.

"I don't know if we'll be able to bring folks back to the table."

BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) has campaigned since the spring for a "social compact" in which downtown businesses that benefit from public subsidies would increase wages and step up training and promotions of black workers.

"More than $2 billion in public money has gone to create a new Baltimore, but it has not gone to benefit all of Baltimore. It has subsidized poverty wages," said the Rev. Roger Gench, a BUILD co-chair.

Talks between BUILD and managers of nine downtown hotels broke off in August when the hotels would not release salary and race information that they consider proprietary.

Mr. Hutchinson proposed yesterday that such data be released to a third-party accountant and then given to BUILD in a form that would not jeopardize the hotels' competitive positions. BUILD rejected the idea "relatively out of hand," Mr. Hutchinson said.

The Rev. Douglas Miles, a BUILD activist, said that the individual hotels should turn over salary information broken down by job classification and race directly to BUILD as a "sign of negotiating in good faith."

Michael R. Whipple, general manager of the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, said in an interview that such data won't be released because "I would never want my competition to know exactly what I have and what I'm doing within my business."

The hotels say their hourly workers average $8 an hour, not counting tips, and that 84 percent of their employees work 32 hours or more a week with benefits.

Mr. Whipple said some employees earn considerably less because "there are always going to be entry-level jobs and entry-level wages in this industry."

He said that government investment has created thousands of jobs in downtown Baltimore, including 3,000 at nine big hotels.

A BUILD protest, should it draw national attention, could scare conventions away from Baltimore and "be devastating for everyone, especially people trying to earn income in this industry," he said.

Since the controversy began, the hotels have helped set up a hospitality magnet program at Southwestern High School.

Plans are afoot for programs at Baltimore City Community College and Morgan State University.

But Mr. Gench said that BUILD thinks such programs are not enough "to address the real needs of the working poor in Baltimore."

BUILD has called for jobs that pay a "living wage" -- which Mr. Gench defined yesterday as at least $16,000 a year plus fringe benefits for a family of four.

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