BUILD wants private sector to pay `living wage'

Group targets companies that receive city subsidies

May 09, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The primary elections for Baltimore's next mayor might be four months away, but at least one community group has begun building its campaign agenda on two issues it views as critical to the city: better-paying jobs and medical benefits.

Four years ago, Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development (BUILD) successfully pushed for the city to adopt a "living wage" bill requiring any business receiving a city contract to pay workers at least $6.10 an hour, well over the $4.25 minimum wage at the time.

The legislation -- the first in the nation -- was implemented after the 2,000-member organization drawn from churches, schools and community groups realized that private companies were able to provide city services more cheaply than the city because private employers paid workers less.

The wage that BUILD considers enough to live on, and that employers working for the city are required to pay, is $7.70 an hour and will soon rise to $7.80 an hour.

Plan unveiled at hearing

At a hearing Thursday attended by 170 members, BUILD said it intends to extend its living-wage proposal to the private sector.

Although the group will not unveil its agenda for what it wants of the next mayor until June, group leaders hope to call on the city to withhold government subsidies to corporations in Baltimore that refuse to pay the living wage.

Among the participants in the hearing at Baltimore school system headquarters on North Avenue was Ben Cashdan, a research fellow with UK International Development working at the Johns Hopkins University who was invited to the hearing by BUILD.

Cashdan noted that though Baltimore is renowned for providing subsidies to develop the Inner Harbor, the economic impact has not spread to adjacent neighborhoods.

Baltimore has an unemployment rate of 9 percent and a poverty rate of 24 percent, both double the national average, said Cashdan.

Lack of medical benefits

"We put too much investment into our stadium and tall buildings and not our people," said Max Scovens, who conducted the hearing. "There is only one [Baltimore] neighborhood that is thriving, and that is downtown."

Many of the workers testifying at the hearing complained about the lack of medical benefits.

Workers who had been on welfare retain less income after they take jobs without medical benefits, for which they then must pay.

The group will study the hearing testimony before unveiling its platform June 1.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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