Workers march at City Hall to save union jobs

Protest fueled by fears of using private companies

June 15, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Dozens of municipal employees wearing pro-union buttons and T-shirts and waving signs massed in front of Baltimore City Hall yesterday and warned officials facing re-election this year to protect their jobs against privatization.

Chanting "Save our jobs" and waving signs that read "Labor United, Save Our City!", the workers threatened to retaliate at the polls if city leaders eliminated their jobs and hired private companies to perform municipal services. The protest occurred at the last City Council meeting until Sept. 22.

"You can't just privatize away everybody in the city," Brian Dale, Baltimore Teachers Union executive vice president, told workers as rain fell and lightning flashed across the sky.

Added Ernest R. Grecco, Baltimore Central Labor Council president, "There are 200 unions in Baltimore. If they take on any of the unions, they're taking on all 200."

Union leaders are concerned about recommendations expected from the Millennium Group, appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to study the feasibility of cutting costs by hiring private companies to run some city services.

Schmoke has cut 26 percent of the municipal employees from the city payroll since 1989. The move to further reduce the work force occurs as Baltimore's population continues declining, with 1,000 residents leaving monthly. The city has 16,243 employees.

After a brief protest outside City Hall, the unions packed the council chamber.

"We're listening to you," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, whose mayoral bid is strongly supported by the unions. "We hear you. We're going to do what we can to help you."

Bell then turned to last night's busy session, during which the legislative body gave final approval to three dozen bills, including two bills that would give tax breaks to the developers of two downtown hotels.

One project is a $117 million, 750-room hotel being built east of the Inner Harbor by baking magnate John Paterakis Sr.'s H&S Properties Development Co. and two Atlanta companies.

The bill passed last night will give the Paterakis hotel $75 million in property tax breaks in its first 25 years through the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program.

A similar $6.1 million property tax exemption is being offered to developers planning to build a hotel on the site of Southern Hotel at 1 Light St.

Both bills authorizing the PILOT include provisions prohibiting gambling at the hotels.

The council also approved legislation that will require permits for outdoor pay telephones and imposes fines on owners of illegal pay telephones. The illegal telephones often are used by traffickers to arrange drug deals.

"It gets all of the pay phones into the system and makes it easier to remove phones when they become drug nuisances," said 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley, who co-sponsored the measure with 5th District Councilwoman Helen Holton.

The legislation also allows residents to testify during hearings on removing pay phones that are used in the drug trade.

In editorials recently, The Sun highlighted the problem, stating the city has about 500 legal and an estimated 1,000 illegal pay phones, and suggested that removing the latter could help curb crime.

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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