Baltimore Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke announced the passage of a resolution supporting the Thurgood Marshall BWI Equal Pay Act on Monday during a press conference at City Hall. The press conference was attended by State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Baltimore City Council President Bernard Young, General Assembly Delegate Cheryl Glenn, concessions employees of BWI, and members and officials of UNITE HERE Local 7, a hospitality and manufacturing workers union operating in Baltimore.

The act, sponsored in the Maryland General Assembly by Sen. Pugh, creates a wage equality supplement to be paid by the state to concessions workers at BWI to bring their wages in line with the minimum wage earned by employees of the Maryland Aviation Authority, which runs the airport. According to a survey conducted by UNITE HERE, the median wage of non-tipped concessions employees at BWI is $8.50 per hour. The minimum hourly wage for employees of the MAA is $13.45.

As was noted by Councilwoman Clarke, these concessions employees are paid a lower wage, and denied full-time employment status. “It is institutionalized impoverishment to exhaustion. You have people all over the city of Baltimore, working low-wage jobs at part time hours, because their employers do not wish to have enough hours that they are required to begin to provide benefits.”

MAA currently contracts with AirMall USA to oversee BWI’s concessions operations. The contract expires in 2017. The act stipulates that AirMall require its subtenants (the companies that actually employ the concessions workers) to pay a wage in line with that of the MAA by then, or AirMall will not have its contract renewed.

According to information released by UNITE HERE, the median wage earned by concessions workers has not changed since 2011. Adjusting for inflation, that wage stagnation represents a 3.8 percent real wage decrease for these employees. That wage decrease has consequences beyond simple spending power, having implications for the development potential of these employees.

Tony Brown, a BWI concessions employee with Aero Service Group, earns $11 an hour. He shared how the lower wages paid to concessions workers affects him. “It hinders me because I travel two hours to get to work, everyday. I don’t really have any money to buy a car or nothing like that because my bills are steadily increasing but our wages don’t. I travel two hours to get to work, two hours to get home. So I’m working a 12 hour shift each day.”

Chaz Taylor, a maintenance worker employed by HMS Host, shared how his lower wage has affected him. “I want to go back to school, and all that stuff, for art. Right now, with all this stuff that’s actually going on, I can’t really make the types of moves that I want to right now . . . I’ve been doing art for three years, but I wanted to major in it.”

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, saying, “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” During the press conference, Sen. Pugh highlighted the way low wages at places like BWI end up being subsidized by federal taxpayers. “We’re spending over $1 million, I believe, just in federal assistance to these employees: food stamps, all the things that they have to get in order to earn, and make a decent living and provide .”

 

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO