Promised a 'living wage' Contract workers: Mayor's agreement to increase their pay will be difficult.

February 19, 1996

IT IS TROUBLING to see 170 employees of Broadway Services Inc. still denied the wage increase the city promised contracted service workers more than a year ago. After all, that company supported the city's decision to improve the floor wage paid to janitors, cafeteria workers and others who are employed by private companies to work at city buildings.

Broadway Services president Tom McGowan even predicted some companies might not pass on their increased labor costs to the city because they would want to remain competitive in bidding for city work. The contract pertaining to these 170 workers, however, was not relet for bids in October. The city instead extended their existing contract so that it would not have to worry about accepting a bid that included the higher wage scale.

Broadway Services decided it wouldn't pay its people any more than it had to. That may seem unfair to the 170 workers who were counting on a wage increase, but the business decision is understandable. So is the business decision made by the city, although it will eventually have to live up to a commitment that may have been forced by politics.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development has had little success getting Inner Harbor hotels and restaurants to enter a "social compact" and pay service workers more. But as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and then-City Council President Mary Pat Clarke prepared to do battle in last year's election, both vowed in 1994 to support BUILD's "living wage" idea.

The mayor wavered after estimates showed paying the city's contracted service workers $6.10 an hour -- instead of the federal minimum wage of $4.25 -- could cost Baltimore an extra $1.2 million. But in apparent deference to BUILD's presumed political strength, he relented. The City Council passed a wage scale in 1994 that would take the pay of contracted service workers from $6.10 to $7.70 an hour within four years and Mr. Schmoke signed it.

He says next year's budget should include a $6.60-an-hour wage for the contract workers. We'll see. The city is experiencing a revenue shortfall, but the mayor must try not to renege on his promises. The administration gave teachers a raise, then almost took it back with a proposal to dock their pay. Mr. Schmoke must prove he didn't "say anything" to get re-elected.

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