Baltimore's planned pay boost for contract workers is lauded

October 26, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

A measure to increase the minimum pay for school custodians, grass cutters and other service workers hired to fulfill Baltimore city contraccts may cost more money, but some say the higher costs would be worth it.

The ordinance, which received preliminary approval Monday night from the City Council, sets a minimum wage of $6.10 an hour -- up from $4.25 -- for employees of companies that have service and professional contracts with the city. The minimum wage will increase in increments to $7.70 in four years.

"I'm very supportive of increasing the floor wage," said Tom McGowan, president of Broadway Services Inc. "It makes our life much easier. We can recruit better workers if we have a better wage package."

Mr. McGowan said companies that want city business now often have to pay workers the minimum wage to achieve the low bid. "The city's minimum wage can make the field more level for those companies that want to do better for their employees," he said.

David W. Stevens, director of the Jacob France Center at the University of Baltimore, said the cost of the affected city service contracts, which totaled about $5.3 million last fiscal year, could increase anywhere from $800,000 to $1.2 million with a $6.10 minimum wage.

But Mr. McGowan said all of that increase might not be passed on to the city by contractors. He said some companies may try to absorb the increased labor costs or they will find other ways to cut costs so their bids will remain competitive.

A church-based campaign that began more than a year ago to reduce the number of people who work but still cannot provide for their families cleared an important hurdle with the council's preliminary approval of the new wage rule.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) has since April 1993 been fighting for a "social compact" that, among other things, would improve wages and opportunities for city residents employed in the service industry.

BUILD has had little success getting private companies, especially Inner Harbor hotels and restaurants, to heed its message.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said they were committed to the same goal and worked for the proposed minimum wage measure.

"We were beginning to notice through our churches that large numbers of families were working but still living in poverty," said BUILD Vice Chairman Mary Humphrey. "It is our belief that if you work, you should be able to sustain your family."

Mr. Stevens said that he wasn't sure the number of service workers affected by a minimum wage rule on city contracts was great enough to lead to better pay and benefits in the private sector, which is BUILD's goal.

"It's one of the intents of the law to leverage that market effect," he said.

Mr. McGowan said he believed it could happen. "This could have a domino effect," he said. "If I'm out recruiting workers and offering $6.10 an hour, other companies that want the best workers are going offer better wages, too."

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