The Next Election Gets Under Way

November 05, 1994|By ANTERO PIETILA

It is too bad neither Mayor Schmoke nor any of his representatives made it to Knox Presbyterian Church in East Baltimore Sunday night. They would have seen City Council President Mary Pat Clarke projecting herself as the champion of the city's African-American working poor who are just struggling to survive from one day to another.

Ms. Clarke, who is white, has to excel in that role in this predominantly black and increasingly poor city, if she wants to beat Baltimore's first elected black mayor in next year's municipal elections.

The occasion was the launching of the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, a joint effort by Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to organize poorly paid, part-time workers in downtown service jobs.

''Minimum wage, part-time work, privatized jobs -- a recipe fopoverty,'' declared a banner in the sanctuary. It pretty much captured what is likely to be the essence of Ms. Clarke's campaign. She is a vocal critic of privatization, particularly the operation of public schools by profit-making companies.

Between now and December 18, the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee hopes to recruit enough bottom-rung employees to increase its membership base from 110 to 305.

''This is not just a brief campaign to raise wages,'' said Valery Bell, a Solidarity worker. ''We are building a new kind of worker organization for a new kind of work force.''

The effort got a shot in the arm earlier this week, when the City Council passed a bill introduced by Ms. Clarke that would establish a $6.10 ''prevailing minimum hourly wage rate'' for city-sponsored service and professional contracts.

Mayor Schmoke pledges to veto the wage bill, saying the City Council intruded on the turf of the Board of Estimates. Which must be just fine with Ms. Clarke. She is the heroine, Mr. Schmoke is the villain.

BUILD and AFSCME have a difficult task ahead in their unusual effort to organize part-time and minimum-wage workers.

''I think there are a lot of unions that would like to organize part-time workers,'' says Rose Batt, a labor researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ''But it's very, very difficult to organize part-time workers, precisely because they are part-time.''

Because most part-time or minimum-wage workers have no benefits, the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee is offering a bare-bones package to its members. Benefits range from a $10,000 term life-insurance policy to discounts for prescription drugs, vision care, dental and hearing treatment.

Monthly dues entitling members to these benefits are $10. ''We are poor people and cannot afford or give a great deal of money,'' explains activist Loretta Curry.

The Solidarity Sponsoring Committee is an outgrowth of the ''social compact'' campaign that BUILD launched a year ago in June. Citing the explosion of low-wage, no-benefit, temporary and seasonal jobs, BUILD called for more full-time work with benefits and a living family wage. It demanded that Mayor Schmoke cut off all subsidies until downtown employers signed on with the plan. The mayor refused.

Ever since its founding in 1987 by a number of church groups, BUILD has had a rocky relationship with Mr. Schmoke. Many BUILD activists feel the mayor has not done enough for his fellow African-Americans, particularly the poor people.

The relationship is complicated, however. Many churches receive such hidden subsidies from the city as leases or funding for social programs. It will be intriguing to see whether BUILD's increasing disenchantment with the Schmoke administration will result in its openly backing a rival candidate next year.

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Schmoke, despite his mancritics, is virtually unbeatable, unless his administration is rocked by a major scandal.

Nevertheless, the Clarke camp is doing frantic strategizing. In recent weeks, it has been floating a scenario under which a black mayoral candidate friendly to Ms. Clarke would file as a spoiler.

Carl Stokes, the Second District councilman, has been mulling over that offer. The rest of the ticket, in the Clarke camp's optimistic calculations, would be American Joe Miedusiewski for City Council president and Councilman Lawrence Bell for comptroller.

G; Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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