Rawlings seeks to break impasse in hotel talks

December 04, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

In an effort to break an impasse between the BUILD organization and downtown hotels, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is calling for a "summit" on the future of Baltimore's hospitality industry.

Talks between Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and downtown hoteliers over pay, benefits and career advancement in the industry broke down last summer.

"The time has come for all of us to move forward towards goals and solutions and away from accusations and threats," Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a three-page proposal. The Sun obtained a copy of the document.

Mr. Rawlings' proposal expresses sympathy with BUILD's main complaint about the downtown economy: That the Inner Harbor boom has too frequently created dead-end jobs that pay so little that it is difficult for the workers to support their families.

But the legislator stops well short of backing the group's proposed remedy: That public investment downtown be suspended until BUILD, business and the city negotiate a "social compact" pledging better wages and career opportunities for workers, especially blacks.

Beyond calling for a summit (for which no date has been set), Mr. Rawlings suggested that:

* Downtown hotels and restaurants "review their pay and benefit structures" to see whether their wages provide for a "reasonable living standard."

* The hospitality industry increase training for employees and help minorities seek promotions.

* Hotels and restaurants adopt the city's goals for minority participation in their purchasing.

* The Greater Baltimore Committee compile an annual review of the hospitality industry's performance.

Jeff Valentine, the GBC's deputy executive director, called Mr. Rawlings' proposal an "encouraging sign, a way of getting things untracked."

Mr. Valentine said that hotel managers were willing to use the Rawlings initiative as a "starting point" in resuming talks with BUILD.

The Rev. Douglas I. Miles, a BUILD leader, called the Rawlings proposal "an affirmation that there is a problem. . . . The central issue is the wage issue, guaranteeing a living wage so people will not work themselves into poverty." He said that BUILD would meet with Mr. Rawlings to "flesh out" the proposal.

Mr. Rawlings said in an interview that while "government can't dictate to the private sector" that wages be raised, he shared BUILD's belief that "if a person works 40 hours a week, they should not be in poverty."

But, making a bow to business, the delegate said in his proposal that the 10,000 jobs created over the past 15 years in downtown hotels, restaurants, offices and shops were "vital to the stability of the Baltimore region."

The BUILD campaign, which began in April, comes as Baltimore faces hard times. City officials say Baltimore's declining tax base has created a $3 million budget deficit.

Asked if BUILD was naive to think that politicians in such fiscal straits would risk antagonizing business, Mr. Rawlings said, "If you sat down and convinced yourself politically this couldn't be done, then you wouldn't do anything. BUILD has been pushing the right buttons."

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