Police turn protesters away from Inner Harbor pavilions

United Workers target mega-mall owner, General Growth Properties, for its "poverty wages" in a four-mile march.

uw police officer

Baltimore police blocking a group trying to march outside Harborplace to protest worker pay and conditions there.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Before protesters arrived at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor yesterday to call attention to working conditions and “poverty wages” for the workers who cook, chop, clean, dish-wash and bus tables there, one of them waited to talk to a reporter.

“They treated us like machines – like we didn’t have any emotions or needs,” said Raquel Rojas, a former Cheesecake Factory line cook, standing with leaders of the group organizing the protest, Baltimore-based United

As Rojas spoke in Spanish, her words translated by a member of the group, Baltimore police could be seen in small clusters around the pavilions.

There were also plain-clothed security guards, apparently hired by mega-mall owner General Growth Properties (GGP). At points, they locked the pavilion doors, letting puzzled pedestrians through individually.

United Workers has been pressing GGP, Cordish Companies (manager of the Power Plant attractions) and other firms that own or operate property at the city’s tourist waterfront to make tenants pay a living wage and support education and health care for workers and their families.

United Workers won a “living wage” for some contract workers at the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards a few years ago.

Baltimore police at Harborplace yesterday. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Baltimore police at Harborplace yesterday. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Saying that GGP has not replied to the group’s letters, they organized yesterday’s march to “Occupy the GGP.”

Chicago-based GGP has not responded to a message seeking comment from The Brew.

Rojas said the $9-per-hour job at Cheesecake Factory making pizzas and salads actually paid less because of her employer’s practices.

The 44-year-old said the restaurant changed the schedule without telling her and refused to pay her for $1,400 of work.

After she got sick (“I had mono”), they “punished me” and reduced her hours, she claimed.

Cheesecake Factory: No Comment

United Workers said such practices are widespread at restaurant and other tourist-oriented establishments at the Inner Harbor.

Cheesecake Factory senior manager Connie Fogle said she could not comment. She referred a reporter to the company’s corporate office, where a message has not yet been returned.

“With this kind of pay one job is not enough – I have had to work two or three jobs,” Rojas said. “I have two children and three grandchildren who depend on me.”

The group also singled out Chipotle located at the Pratt Street pavilion.

It called on the Mexican-styled grill (which lauds its advocacy of “local food”) to improve the wages and conditions for farm workers in its supply chain.

Four-Mile March

When about 125 protesters arrived at the Inner Harbor – singing “This Little Light of Mine” and carrying signs that said “Respect For All” and “Dignity” – they moved in a long line, past tourists.

They had started four miles away, in west Baltimore, walking through Mondawmin Mall (also owned by General Growth Properties) and marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and other streets to downtown Baltimore.

A group marched four miles across Baltimore to the Inner Harbor to protest what they say are abusive pay practices and working conditions.

United Workers, who started their protest march miles away, arrive at the Inner Harbor. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Climbing up the outside steps of the Light Street Pavilion, they used open air walkways to cross Light Street and proceed through McKeldin Square.

Police: “This is Private Property”

But when they attempted to circle back and cross Light Street at ground level and take their protest near or in the Pratt Street Pavilion, Lieutenant Anthony Proctor stopped them.

“You need a permit to be here,” he said.

“What if we just we want to go onto the pavement?” asked Nathaniel Norton, an attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau of Baltimore, pointing to the area between the pavilions, pretty much the center of Baltimore waterfront tourism.

The group marched four miles, largely through impoverished West Baltimore, on their way to the Harbor. (Photo by Fern Shen

The group marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on their way to the Harbor. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“That’s private property . . . My understanding is they don’t want you here,” Lt. Proctor said.

He directed them to the front of the GGP-owned Gallery Mall, back from the water on the other side of Pratt Street.

Lt. Proctor said the protest would be “disruptive” and distract attention from the entertainers who perform at the waterfront spot.

Norton said police were “preventing them from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The protesters retreated to the corner of Pratt and Light streets, in front of the Gallery, and continued their protest.

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  • Windriver

    Want to earn a” living wage”?   Gain some “living skills” that make you worth more.
    Simple equation.  No skills, no high pay.

    • Cullen

       If it’s a socially necessary job, it’s a living skill. Stop belittling the people who produce the society you take advantage of.

    • Colleen

      Thanks Einstein, if it was that easy, poverty wouldn’t be an issue. Believe it or not education costs money.  When you are working 2 jobs and supporting three kids, you lack the time and money to go to school. Please don’t comment on people’s situations when you are clearly so far removed from them.  

    • GlenW

      Ohsure, so that justify a shit wage.

  • A very concerned citizen

    Why are they biting the hand that feeds them?  There are so many out of work and so many who will work just for a chance to feel good about themselves and get off the government dole.  I don’t get it.  Do they not understand the way to prosperity is one step at a time up the corporate ladder? 


    Two kids , three grandkids who depend on you? STOP BREEDING POVERTY!!!!

    • Colleen

      WOW so people who don’t make as much money as you don’t deserve to have a family? It’s not their fault that this system has failed them, especially by breeding people as ignorant as you

  • BmoreSharp

    That sure sounds like simple thinking, Windriver.

  • H. Cane

    That sounds good Windriver. But it’s time we start treating people in service industries a bit better. We all patronize these places and expect courteous service. I understand and agree with certain jobs not paying as much as others, but I do believe something should be done to help people receive a living wage. Where would you eat, buy your clothes etc. if  everyone had “living skills”? 

    • Balt Observer

      That sounds good, H. Cane. Are you willing to spend 100% more at these “places” you go to to be served? What you’re talking about isn’t free, you know.

  • Tntfitness

    Man, I worked in fast food and chain stores for years- it isn’t a career it is a job unless you work up to management- If you want a career then find a marketable skill you have or can learn and find a job.  Of course thanks to the Democrats that run the city and state it is pretty hard to find a job since the businesses are so regulated, taxed and fined it is hard for businesses to make it in this recession.  
    My advice for Senora Rojas is to start studying English with her Grandkids as they are going through the school system.  It will enable her to get a better job down the line.   As for the private property bit and not being allowed to protest down in the inner harbor…  you aren’t allowed to collect petition signatures either- so at least the Police state is being consistent.  
    People if you want change- then vet and elect good Republicans or Democrats.  Stop voting down the line for people because of the R or D next to their name on the ballot.  

    • GlenW

      Learning English is sound advice, but how in the hell can she do that and support the family?

  • Mark Adams

    General Growth Properties gets a sweetheart deal on Harborplace, which is owned by the City. Why doesn’t the city mandate a “living wage” like it is supposed to do for contractors who do business with the city? 

  • Nashorn

    General Growth owns and manages Harborplace, through its acquisition of Rouse, who built Harborplace.

  • Rickman J

    How incredibly disrespectful, belittling and patronizing to suggest that when a grown adult doesn’t have the skills to earn a certain wage somehow “the system” has failed them.  “The system” is life and we all have to make our way through it and build the best life we can for ourselves.  To suggest somehow service workers are somehow victims and need the coddling and sniffling of bleeding hearts is ridiculous.  
    When I was a service worker for minimum wage I didn’t need anyone’s pity — I needed confidence to better my lot in life and the understanding that I had to make it on my own through hard work and perseverance.  These people are not puppies at the humane society, they are human beings who deserve genuine dignity and respect, not simpering nonsense.  

  • Darlene

    The issue isn’t the low official salaries. $9 an hour isn’t enough to sustain a family long-term, but it’s acceptable as an entry-level wage. The problem is the abuses management often engages in that are against the law but frequently overlooked – requiring workers to attend meetings or trainings but not paying them, not paying worker’s comp for on-the-job accidents, punishing workers for getting sick or hurt, changing schedules after the fact and refusing to pay for work that has already been done, etc. We all want to be dealt with honestly and in accordance with the law. Nobody should be lied to or cheated. Yes, you and I would pay more for cheesecake if the workers were treated ethically… but they’d probably also keep the kitchen cleaner making the whole thing better for all of us. You get what you pay for.

  • Another Thought

    I hope they get higher wages and better benefits.  Not everyone is on the middle management / executive or entrepreneur track, for a list of reasons that the left and right can fight to the death over.  My hats off to anyone who wants to work for a living and do the jobs that others pass up and opt to collect a gov’t check.  Improve their lives, and the disparity between welfare recipients and workers widens, giving real incentives for trickle-down improvements in Baltmore’s neighborhoods.    

    I am, however, bothered by simple, cliche statements like “the system failed them.”  That statement does more damage than good.  There are a list of other sentimental and practical arguments for living wages to choose from. 

    What is the system?  Who runs it?  Who is behind it?  It applies to some cases like a failed school system and school culture, but there’s no running from the fact that the less skilled or those without a trade will always have it tougher (no matter how succssful a protest) and the future will favor those who realize early on that destiny is, in varying degees, in one’s own hands.  That’s the simple, cliche statment that needs to be stated over and over again. 

  • Joe Harris

    Working 2 or more jobs to survive and support a family…been there done that. Guess how much I was able to get done outside of work when putting in those 80+ hours….nothing. was too damned exhausted. There was literally not a single day I was not working. Find time for school or classes or programs to improve? Nonsense. I didn’t even have time to sleep. After 2 years of that I couldn’t even speak english anymore.

    Its easy for people who have not experienced this to say “Go to school! Better yourself! Get a trade!”. Easy to assume its even possible when you haven’t experienced it. I always notice that those that are quick to spout the oft said institutional replies to anothers hardships hasn’t ever experienced them. Please, no stories about how you worked your way through college – not even in the same room with the kind of desperation I’m talking about. When you have children depending on your to provide a living, healthcare, shelter, some semblance of stability…hope (That’s a big one for poor people) it isn’t so simple as some here would suggest. Its ok, its just that it is a hard thing to even imagine unless you’ve lived it. Do you honestly think that EVERY homeless person in Baltimore is a drug addict, or has a screw loose? Mathemantically that’s an impossibility, say what you will. These people are fighting to maintain hope…some of those holding signs at intersections are at the end of their ropes – not addicts or retarded.

    Its easy to spout euphimisms. Maybe if a few folks decided to go out there and experience life through their eyes more people would be screaming for a true “Living” wage where people can support themselves and their families…and maybe even keep hope alive for those at the end of their ropes.

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