Unions urge better working conditions 200 hear accounts of workers' frustrations during AFL-CIO forum

June 05, 1996|By S. Mitra Kalita | S. Mitra Kalita,SUN STAFF

Working parents and community members shared their frustrations with making ends meet yesterday in an emotionally charged forum that touched on issues from the minimum wage to health care to family values.

Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the Baltimore session was one of 20 nationwide being held by the union to address working conditions in the United States.

"Working families are under attack like never before," said John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president. "Corporate America is rising, while real America is losing buying power. Families in Baltimore are suffering."

A diverse audience of about 200 filled Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue, many wearing hats, buttons or T-shirts representing their local unions.

Keeping with the program's theme "America Needs a Raise," workers spoke in favor of increasing the minimum wage.

An account by a worker at a part-time cleaning supply service of his day-to-day struggle to raise six children on $4.50 an hour stirred many audience members to tears -- and some to action.

Michael Alexander, a 45-year-old widower, said his part-time job brings in only $78.50 a week after taxes.

"I don't want any handouts," Alexander said. "I just want a decent paying job."

Alexander said he and his six children were about to be evicted from their apartment in Forest Park.

After hearing Alexander's story, Phyllis Dixon of Prince George's County made an emotional plea to the audience to "do something for this man who wants to work." Dixon then gave him a check for $100.

AFL-CIO members also passed around a collection plate for Alexander to help pay his rent.

"As union brothers and sisters, it is our job to save him from being thrown out of his house," said Ernie Greco, head of the Baltimore chapter of AFL-CIO.

Worker after worker echoed Alexander's sentiments that the American dream has failed them.

Donna Dugger, a widow from Southwest Baltimore, said she has been unemployed since January. Mother of a 9-year-old child with special needs, she said the United States needs more than an increase in its minimum wage.

"America needs a raise in respect for its employees," the 49-year-old said. "I want my company to be loyal to me."

Blue-collar workers said they often feel belittled by the wealthier class.

"Without working America, there would be no corporate America," Alexander said to thunderous applause.

Forum moderator Julianne Malveaux said the increasing wealth and wage gap is shaping the United States into a two-tiered society. "The American dream, for me, has become the American nightmare," she said.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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