Higher pay still evades 170 janitors in schools City's agreement with contractor based on old $4.25 minimum

January 31, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

When Baltimore raised its minimum wage last year for service workers hired by city contractors, Schvel Mack had visions of NTC new warm clothes for his two young sons and a home telephone that always worked because he could count on paying the bill.

Seven months after the law took effect, the 25-year-old man who spends nights cleaning Lake Clifton High School hasn't seen a penny more in his paycheck. His employer, Broadway Services Inc., owned by a subsidiary of Johns Hopkins Health System and University, is still paying 170 janitors in 15 city schools the old minimum wage, $4.25, rather than the $6.10 an hour workers are now entitled to.

The reason is that the city's contract with the cleaning service predates the new minimum wage, known as the "living wage."

When the contract came up for an extension in October, the city Board of Estimates extended it at the old wage rate rather than opening it up to a new bid after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced the school system couldn't afford the $500,000 necessary to raise the wages to the new level.

It's an explanation lost on janitors like Mr. Mack, who wonders why Johns Hopkins, one of the world's most venerable medical institutions, can't help a few dozen janitors get their rightful wage.

"It's not fair that everybody else gets $6.10 and we get $4.25," said Mr. Mack, a leader of Solidarity Sponsoring Committees, an association seeking better pay and job security for janitors, drivers and other service workers. "You can't live on $4.25."

City officials do not blame Broadway Services for the wage disparity.

The city had the option of ending the $1.4 million contract in October 1995 and opening bids under the new wage rate. But Mr. Schmoke told the Board of Estimates at a Dec. 13 hearing that city schools were already facing up to a $32 million deficit, and, he said, "The trade-off would be money that the principals are now paying for books."

He added, however, that he expected all school janitors to be paid the new minimum wage as of next school year.

Howard L. Jackson, an organizer of Solidarity Sponsoring Committees, argues that a business such as Broadway, whose growing profits topped $350,000 in 1994, should "take a moral position" and team up with the city to make up the difference.

H. Thomas McGown, president of Broadway Services, said his service supports the living wage and pays the new wage rate to school janitors who have been hired since the new law took effect. But Mr. McGown said that cleaning services generate too low a profit margin -- 1.5 percent to 3 percent of sales -- to support the response Mr. Jackson is proposing.

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