Md. living wage law nations first

BALTIMORE — Fighters for living wage jobs hailed Maryland for enacting an $11.30 per hour living wage, May 8, in the Baltimore-D.C. region and $8.50 per hour in the rest of the state for companies that hold contracts with the state.

“Maryland is the first state in the nation with a living wage law,” said a statement by the AFL-CIO. “A living wage helps to ensure low-wage workers and their families can live above the poverty level. Since 1994, more than 140 communities have enacted living wage laws which cover a wide range of workers, municipal employees, those working for city and county contractors, health care workers and college and university employees.”

Todd Cherkis, an organizer for the United Workers’ Association (UWA), told the World the UWA greets passage of the measure as a “a great first step.”

He added, “For Gov. Martin O’Malley to even talk about a living wage was a victory. It looked like the bill was going nowhere, but in the final hours of the legislative session, O’Malley put on the pressure and it went through. He invested a lot of political capital in this and he deserves credit.”

Cherkis said, however, that the new law applies only to full-time employees, not the temporary and part-time workers UWA is organizing, including the 150 temp workers employed at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That sports stadium, owned by the state of Maryland, is leased to Orioles baseball team owner Peter Angelos. He subcontracts with Michigan-based Knight Facilities Management (KFM) to clean the stadium both during and after Orioles games. KFM charges each of the temp workers $6 fare for the van that carries them to and from the stadium. When that is subtracted, the workers earn less than Maryland’s $6.15 an hour minimum wage.

The labor movement, Cherkis said, is already pushing to expand the new law to protect all wage earners, including part-time workers. UWA works in close alliance with the American Federation of State, County,and Municipal Employees in organizing these low-wage workers.

“Wal-Mart and Manpower Inc. are now the nation’s largest employers and both are notorious for providing poverty-wage, part-time jobs,” Cherkis said. “Our state government shouldn’t be in the business of creating poverty-wage jobs anywhere. Where state money is creating poverty-wage jobs, we must demand that they be made living-wage jobs.”

UWA is launching a statewide tour, May 16, staging picket lines at the state-owned Montgomery County Conference Center and the Ocean City Conference Center to protest use of temp agencies that pay custodial workers poverty-level wages. On May 20, they will march to the Baltimore office of Next Day Staffing, a notorious union-busting temp agency.

“Next Day Staffing is verbally abusive against our organizers,” he said. “They grab our literature and verbally harass us. The police look the other way.”

UWA, he said, has joined the sharp protests against dragnet raids by federal immigration agents. Scores of immigrant workers waiting at shape-up areas to be picked up for day jobs have been arrested, many deported.

“This is an attempt to criminalize these workers,” he said. “It is really catastrophic to the lives of these workers. It is politically motivated, a cynical appeal to the Republican base. And it really sets back our efforts to organize these workers.”

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