Governor backs pay raise at 2 stadiums

But O'Malley's remarks fail to persuade cleaners to call off hunger strike

September 01, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley expressed support yesterday for a "living wage" for cleaners at Orioles and Ravens stadiums, just before workers are set to begin a hunger strike Monday to pressure the Maryland Stadium Authority for better pay.

O'Malley made his remarks at a news conference to discuss the state's new living-wage law that goes into effective Oct. 1.

The law wouldn't cover the temporary workers who are hired to clean the two state-owned stadiums when the Orioles or the Ravens are in town.

"We have a lot of work to do in the state ourselves as an employer to not only talk the talk but also to walk the walk," O'Malley said.

"And I'm confident that at the Board of Public Works when we see a contract from such entities who think they are independent of the state but actually are not, when we see contracts from entities like the Maryland Stadium Authority, we expect them to abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law."

Frederick W. Puddester, the authority's chairman, said yesterday that he supports a living wage for Camden Yards workers, a position that he has expressed to leaders of the United Workers Association, a human rights organization in Baltimore that represents 800 cleaners at the two stadiums.

Puddester, who called the hunger strike unfortunate, said he will work with the six other authority members to reach a solution with UWA. The hunger strike is set to begin Monday, Labor Day.

"There is a policy that has been supported by the governor and the General Assembly to provide a living wage in contracts. I'm supportive of that," said Puddester, an O'Malley appointee who assumed his post last month.

"As we go through negotiations in our existing contract, which expires next year, we could re-bid. We intend to re-bid that contract, and we're going to work with [UWA] in the spirit and the intent of the legislation."

The stadium authority has contracted janitorial services to a Michigan firm, which in turn hires subcontractors that employ the temporary workers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M. & T. Bank Stadium.

The cleaning contract at both Baltimore stadiums expires after the current football season.

The workers typically earn $7 an hour. They're asking for at least Baltimore's living wage of $9.62, which applies to service contracts with the city.

UWA said Puddester's support is not enough to cancel the strike. Eleven current and former temporary workers said they will abstain from food, consuming only vitamins and water, until a binding proposal for a living wage is reached.

"There have been no assurances that our specific demands will be met, only that the MSA chairman supports living wages in principle," said Greg Rosenthal, UWA's spokesman. "We consider the MSA chairman's stance on this to be a promising sign, but not promising enough for the hunger strike to be called off."

Rosenthal said workers have been fighting for higher wages for three years with little progress. The UWA, which stepped up its campaign this year, called the hunger strike last month in the belief that the stadium authority will not meet the association's deadline today for meeting their demands.

The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is investigating allegations of unlawful labor practices against the cleaning subcontractors. The case was launched at the request of Alison L. Asti, the stadium authority executive director.

The labor department announced yesterday that regulations for the state's living wage law would be published in the forthcoming Maryland Register.

The law requires state government contractors to pay their employees $11.30 in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and $8.50 for the rest of the state. It applies to employees who work 13 consecutive weeks over the course of a contract.

"The law quite simply says if your employer is doing business with the state, if you're working on a service contract paid for by the hard work of Marylanders, you should be able to support your family with the fruits of your labor," O'Malley said.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

Staff reporter Andrew Green contributed to this article.

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