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A BWI worker speaks out about how “failed development” hurts him

OPINION: A native son takes a stand on the "debilitating effects" of low-wage work in Baltimore.

Yaseen Abdul-Malik

Yaseen Adbul-Malik speaks at the Fair Development rally.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Editor’s note: Yaseen Abdul-Malik, a 27-year-old resident of northwest Baltimore, works at two fast-food restaurants at Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport. He took to the stage of the Fair Development rally on Saturday and spoke about the “debilitating effects” of low-wage work on himself and his fellow employees. He later said that speaking before so many people was one of the toughest things he’s ever had to do. This is what he said:

I am a native of Baltimore and I cope with the effects of failed development every day. I work for two different employers at BWI airport – Potbelly’s and McDonald’s – but the stress of working almost 60 hours a week, just in order to maintain a basic living standard, has taken a toll on me in general.

It’s not fair that we work on publicly owned property, paid for by tax dollars, our tax dollars, but we are paid barely above minimum wage. Our employers’ benefit from massive public assistance – assistance that comes out of our paychecks and off of our backs – but what is the benefit to our community?

Some of us are paid so low that the only time they get a decent meal is when they are at work. I know women who have children who only purchase enough food for the day because their electricity has been cut off so they can’t use their refrigerators.

Working While Sick

I know coworkers who haul thousands of pounds of restaurant food and supplies across the airport with no recognition. I know people who work while they are sick because they don’t have any paid sick days or insurance for that matter.

For me personally, I am working on my feet everyday unable to afford to take time off to have surgery on the ulcer in my leg. My doctor told me that I need this surgery, or else I risk losing my leg. Failed development at the airport means that I am living paycheck to paycheck and I have to choose between my health and my finances.

We have witnessed that our government is willing to spend our money on casinos – gambling with our futures – but the cupboard is bare when it comes to schools which should not only provide an excellent education in literature, the arts, mathematics and the like, but real skills for trades that are not only beneficial, but a necessity, for the growth of the city, the state and our country as a whole.

Backdoor Deals and Tax Breaks

We are told we have money for malls and the Grand Prix, but not for recreation centers and libraries which help cultivate the seeds of inspiration and creation.

We have money to invest in tourism and – on a grander scale – bailouts and war, but we don’t have the funds for steel mills, improved infrastructure or for future-oriented development that builds our community not only for the present but for the future generations even after we have passed on.

We are here to make a stand against the demoralizing effects of social inequality. We are here to make a stand against the community-crippling effects of economic inequality. We are here to make a stand against the hopelessness and demoralization being fostered by our political leaders. We are here to make a stand against the backdoor deals and tax breaks.

We voted for our leaders to protect the general welfare of their constituency as a whole, not the wealthy few. We are the many. We are the workers who make this city run. We are here to [speak for] all those who are too afraid to make a stand. For all those who say there is nothing that can be done. For all those who have forgotten the dreams of our fathers.

We are making a stand just like our forefathers on July 4, 1776. We demand the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – for all of the people, not just some. Thank you.

Yaseen is seen holding the banner during the march to the Inner Harbor after his speech. (Courtesy of Michael Fox, United Workers)

Yaseen is seen holding the banner during the march to the Inner Harbor after his speech. (Courtesy of Michael Fox, United Workers)

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  • Homelessnegro

    It’s a shame that people are having to work under these measures in order to survive while the owners and CEOs are chilling and relaxing. Regardless, after reading the article I am convinced good to come out of this situation so far. A voice maybe just 1 among all the hurt and pain that is felt in this world, but at least I know it’s 1 beautiful voice that spoke about corruption and unfair situations that occur in people’s and family’s lives on. Dy to day basis. I really suggest someone start a charity for this man to get surgery and I don’t know how to go about doing so but I will talk to my churches leader and explain this to him next time I’m in church. This is Thurston btw burger and I just want you to know you are a beautiful person and your not alone in your struggle. Stay strong and Ty for speaking up for yourself and those around you that are suffering

  • KnowNothingParty

    It is nearly impossible to make ends meet and have a middle class life style in America today for most people. The reason is simple supply and demand, an abundance of low skilled workers and not enough low skilled- decent paying jobs. One way to decrease the number of low skilled workers would be to send all the illegal workers home and/or place hefty fines on the businesses who get caught employing them.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    The author wrote: ” … We have money to invest in tourism and – on a grander scale – bailouts and war, but we don’t have the funds for steel mills, improved infrastructure or for future-oriented development that builds our community not only for the present but for the future generations even after we have passed on. …”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Check with these folks … http://www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org/ … about getting the leg taken care of. Then, take a peak at the federal budget … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_United_States_federal_budget … Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security outspend defense three to one. Maybe no money for steels mills, but beau coup billions for private sector green “investments” run by FOOs (Friends of Obama).

  • HS

    A text book case for enforcing immigration laws if I’ve ever hear one.

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