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What May Day means for some of Baltimore’s low-wage workers

Workers protesting in the Inner Harbor

Workers protesting in the Inner Harbor (Photo courtesy of www.dailykos.com)


Tomorrow, low-wage workers from Baltimore human rights organization United Workers will stage “Our Harbor Day,” an afternoon of parades, protests, plays, and “elaborate story-telling performances” protesting low wages and unjust working conditions for Inner Harbor employees.

United Workers documented some of these issues in graphic terms in a 2009 survey of 147 Inner Harbor employees.

“Managers touched women’s behinds and when women workers bent over, the managers would pretend to hump the women as they walked by,” said one prep cook quoted in the survey.

Another worker in the same survey complains that servers at one Harbor restaurant had to perform “sexual favors” for a certain manager in order to get “good days and good shifts.” A former dishwasher said he was fired without notice after requesting a day off to attend a family member’s funeral. Another employee reports that he was punched out of the time clock four times without his knowledge (while still working). “If I try and leave when they clock me out, they tell me I can’t,” he said. “They say, ‘don’t bother coming back’ or ‘we are going to write you up’.”

To address these issues, the Labour Day event, a year in the planning, is meant to pressure developers and businesses in the Inner Harbor including Cordish Co., Cheesecake Factory, ESPN Zone, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and the Hard Rock Cafe, to formally agree to “fair development” contracts that would change working conditions and wages in Inner Harbor restaurants. (Events will begin Saturday morning in the Inner Harbor and take place throughout the day Event details).

This week, the Marc Steiner show featured interviews with former employees from businesses that are the target of tomorrow’s protest. The former employees’ complaints include $2-3 an hour wages and 12 hour shifts with no breaks.  You can listen to a podcast of the show, as well as read a response from J.J. Fisher LLC, the company that owns Five Guys Burgers, here.

According to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Maryland employers must pay their workers a minimum of $7.25 an hour, though they are permitted to pay $3.63 an hour when employees receive enough tips to meet the $7.25 an hour wage. The state’s minimum wage has increased 700 percent in the last few decades, though that statistic is not particularly impressive if you consider that the wage began at $1.00 in 1968!

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