Stadium cleanup crew, owner talk

United Workers asks stadium authority to support its push for higher wages

August 08, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

For three years, the group representing workers who clean up plastic cups, peanut shells, spilled beer and hot dogs at Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been fighting for higher wages and better working conditions.

Each seeming breakthrough has fallen through.

Now, the United Workers Association, a human rights organization in Baltimore, and the 800 workers it represents are stepping up their campaign. Through protests, rallies and concerts, they're calling on the state agency that owns Camden Yards to act by pushing for higher wages. Both sides met yesterday to discuss the issue.

"If you pay a living wage, you have a better situation," said Jacquetta Lyles, 37, of Baltimore, who is working her second season at the ballpark.

Workers like Lyles, who cleans bathrooms during games, typically earn $7 an hour, which is above the federal minimum wage of $5.85 and Maryland's $6.15. The group is asking for at least Baltimore's "living wage" of $9.62 when the Maryland Stadium Authority awards a new cleaning contract next year.

Nationally, the median hourly salary of janitors and cleaners is $9.58, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

"Seven dollars an hour is not enough," said Lyles, also an UWA leader. "For workers like me, single mothers, it's low pay.

"You should be able to make enough money to do something for your family," Lyles said.

At each home stand, temporarily employed day laborers clean during and after the game. Most, up to 150, are hired to work after tens of thousands of fans leave after discarding empty beer cups and bottles, hot dog and candy wrappers and other waste. The cleanup takes six to eight hours.

Temporary workers also clean M&T Bank Stadium during the football season.

The cleaners don't work directly for the Orioles or even the stadium authority, which owns the ballpark.

They are employed by subcontractors, who are hired by a Michigan-based facilities management company.

In 2005, the stadium authority awarded the janitorial services contract to Knight Facilities Management Inc. to clean Oriole Park and M&T stadium for about $1.9 million annually. Besides the hourly rate, Knight agreed to a "code of conduct," outlining a grievance process for employees and spelling out working conditions, among others, according to the UWA.

Option to renew

The contract will expire in January with two one-year options to renew, according to stadium authority officials. Executive Director Alison L. Asti said the agency will soon begin discussions on the renewal option, taking into account concerns raised by UWA, among others.

Asti said the agency has been working with the group to address workers' concerns, including meeting with UWA leaders in recent months.

UWA leaders complained to Asti that some subcontractors charge employees a transportation fee, amounting to $6 per round trip, that brings take-home pay to less than the minimum wage.

Another complaint is that workers are not paid for the time they wait to be let into the stadium before and after the game. Workers say they are told by the subcontractors to be at the stadium up to two hours before their cleaning shift begins. But not all workers who wait around are picked for the job, they say.

State investigation

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, at the request of Asti, recently launched an investigation into allegations of unlawful labor practices against Knight's subcontractors, many of whom are temporary employment agencies in the Baltimore area.

"We have continued to be diligent in our efforts to determine the legality of the practices of our contractors," Asti said.

Jeannette Gomez, president of White Marsh-based Next Day Staffing Inc., one of the temporary employment agencies being targeted by UWA, denies the allegations.

Gomez said she hired a transportation company to help her workers, some of whom live in Montgomery County, get to and from work. Only employees who use the service are charged $6 per round trip, said Gomez, noting that she does not get any fees.

Gomez, who founded the staffing company in 2003, said she pays some workers up to $15 an hour because of their experience.

"I pay $7 an hour and more," she said. "They're fighting with the wrong person."

UWA leaders say Knight should take responsibility for the actions of its subcontractors.

Virginia Kuenker, Knight's vice president of human resources, said the company has been trying to help resolve UWA's concerns, acting as a mediator between the group and subcontractors.

"We had been working together as a group ... and trying to find a common ground and give-and-take from the two of them," Kuenker said. "It's disappointing that they don't recognize that."

The United Workers Association was formed in 2002 to address poverty and homelessness in Baltimore. The group has focused on Camden Yards because the ballpark is the largest employer of day laborers in Baltimore, UWA said.

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