Council supporting bill requiring state to supplement airport worker pay

O'Malley hasn't committed, but City Council is rallying for it Monday

airmall workers protest 3

Protest last year by BWI airport concession workers included LaToya Meal and her two-year-old son. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Photo by: Protest last year by BWI airport concession workers included LaToya Meal and her two-year-old son. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Back in July, Gov. Martin O’Malley was openly scornful of AirMall USA, the company granted a contract by Maryland to manage concessions at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

O’Malley noted that for the past decade, AirMall has done little to improve their treatment of airport food service and retail workers, who say their median hourly pay is about $8.50-per-hour.

“Smug,” O’Malley called them.

Unlike the previous concessionaire, which hired workers directly, AirMall acts as a concessions developer, attracting tenants like McDonald’s and DuClaw Brewing Company which set their own wages and benefits. (That was a deal made during the administration of O’Malley’s predecessor, Robert Ehrlich.)

Workers have described wages too low to support a family, lack of job security and, with the majority of jobs part-time, few or no benefits. Advocating for the workers, the union Unite Here has called on AirMall to voluntarily require that its subtenants pay a fair wage.

Now, the group is pushing a legislation that mandates state assistance for the workers for the duration of the contract, which runs until 2017.

Airports concession workers last year, demanding better pay and treatment, jammed the offices of AirMall USA at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Airport concession workers demanding better pay and treatment jammed the offices of AirMall USA at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The Thurgood Marshall Equal Pay Act requires the state to supplement the workers’ paychecks to bring them at least to the level of the airport’s lowest-paid Maryland Aviation Administration employees, who earn an hourly wage of $13.45-per-hour. If the company fails to improve wages by 2017, the state must terminate AirMall and contract with another company, under the provisions of the bill.

O’Malley has not signaled whether he will support the legislation, but the Baltimore City Council has unanimously approved a resolution calling for its  passage.

Workers and Clergy Coming to City Hall Monday

“I firmly believe that our City’s economic engine runs on the wages of our working class,” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said, in a statement released by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the resolution’s chief sponsor.

“BWI is a familiar airport for travelers from all over the country. It should represent the ideals of our state, our city, and of the great man it immortalizes, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall,” Young said.

Concessions workers, state lawmakers, clergy and community leaders are scheduled to participate in the news conference, to be held at 11 a.m.

The bill in Annapolis comes before the House Economic Matters Committee on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Company’s Business Model

AirMall representatives have taken issue with Unite Here’s numbers and say median pay for workers is about $15-per-hour. The airport’s approximately 800 BWI concessions workers are well treated and compensated, a spokesman told The Brew.

The Pittsburgh-based company is owned by Prospect Capital Corporation, a business development company (BDC) which, like a REIT, is able to avoid corporate taxes if it pays out more than 90% of its income to investors. (They most recently paid dividend yields of 11.7 % to investors. With only 80 employees, it has total equity greater than $2.5 billion, with net investment income of $292 million in the last fiscal year.)

Last month, AirMall offered Baltimore airport workers an “enrichment program” – health and sanitation training, life skills classes, English as a Second Language courses and “career mapping and time management.” They also offered a “Lunch and Learn” program for BWI employees on topics such as personal finance and home-buying.

Unite Here spokeswoman Megan Cohorst said workers found these gestures “insulting and obviously no substitute for a decent wage.”

Workers who spoke to The Brew last year complained about the low pay and short work hours for a job they could only reach with a lengthy commute.  Patrice Thompson, who worked the grill at the airport McDonald’s, said she has a nearly two-hour commute to get from her midtown Baltimore home to her $7.50-an-hour airport job.

“The other day I worked about two-and-a half hours, just a little longer than it took for me to get there – and they told me to go home,” she said.

When she asked why, she said they told her that “business was slow and labor was high.”

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  • Pat R.

    It’ s kind of amazing that a huge operation like BWI wouldn’ t take steps to make sure its support staff is properly compensated for the unique working conditions, security hoops, and scheduling conflicts. Naahh, it’ s not amazing at all!

  • KnowNothingParty

    I certainly feel for working people who don’t make much money. But those jobs pay what they pay because that is what the job market says they are worth. In order to be earn more for your labor a person needs to learn a skill that the job market dictates more salary to. Another factor that holds wages down is a over abundance of workers. Which is exactly what is happening as governments and others turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants. Decide right now – you bleeding hearts decent employment for workers or illegal immigrants? You cant have both, the job market wont allow it

  • Matthew Riesner

    Why should the state (meaning us) have to pay the difference? It’s one thing to have a wage mandated in the lease or contract to operate a business in a publicly owned building (such as an airport), it’s a whole other thing to have the state supplement their wages. This is not a good precedence to set. It’s extremely socialist, it’s not fair to the tax payer at all, and if they work for a contractor/business at the airport, why is it the business of the state to supplement due to lousy wages. If I were to open shop and I know the state was going to supplement wages, I would pay everyone minimum wage. Now the $7.50 that I pay is really $13.45 an hour in my employees pockets, which means I would not have to pay anymore to ward of turnover due to lousy wages.

    • Barnadine_the_Pirate

      I’m going to start a company and pay my employees $.15/hour. That way I know I’ll be cost-competitive with my rivals. The State will then pay my employees $15.00/hour, so I will be able to attract and retain better employees than I could otherwise get for 15 cents. I don’t see how I could lose. Thanks, State!!

  • KnowNothingParty

    Don’t you feel that everyone deserves a waterfront mansion, I know I deserve one. Why doesn’t everyone get a waterfront mansion too.

  • Pat R.

    As there is only so much waterfront to go around, there are also zoning laws to allow areas of water access for non-owners. I know you don’ t want the unwashed to come use your water.

  • Matthew Riesner

    BTW…What the hell does the Baltimore City Council have to do with the airport anyhow? I wonder Jack Young realizes that it’s located in Anne Arundel County and has not been city controlled for decades (I think back to when it was Friendship Airport). The government subsidizing wages at a private business…what dumbassery!

    • ushanellore

      Young was in a mood for a fiery speech to elevate Thurgood Marshall. What does the Balt City Council have to do with the airport? It is named Thurgood Marshall Airport isn’t it? Much to the horror of Mr.Marshall’s wraith, I am sure, the BCC has claimed him as their own.

      Young wants us to see him as a cross county skier ready to jump in the fray for the underdogs. Dumbassery, sassery and plain old assery are at the root of this misadventure. .

  • ushanellore

    This is govt.,
    playing loose and fast
    with money grabbed fast and loose
    more profligate
    than ever before,
    this is govt. ready to throw
    what the people paid
    with the sweat of their brow–
    as welfare to the corporate bosses.

    Using equity as a noble cause
    and legislating it without a pause–
    plays into the hands
    of the plutocrats
    who will now kick and pass
    the buck and say,
    “It’s not our debt to pay,
    a fair wage to the minions
    who slave each day for us–
    they chose the way of the serfs
    and we were chosen by God
    to be overlords–
    it’s not our constraint
    to worry about the ones
    who sweat at stoves
    frying doughnuts for us,
    or the ones whose fingers ache
    because they start at four
    in the morning–setting up our stores,
    performing menial chores–
    without us heaven knows
    they would be jobless,
    they chose the way of the serfs–
    but their fate is not our turf,
    our expertise is profits!”

    I say, “Kick the ass of the big boss,
    above all the bosses,
    lecture him on justice–
    instead of lecturing the taxpayers,
    refuse to play his game,
    call him some choice names,
    hand him a deadline to get
    his act together,
    to gather round his knees
    his other plutocrat brothers
    so he can put them under notice
    that the state won’t carry water
    for their greed.”

    If he doesn’t come through
    cancel his contract pronto–
    he’s not a bucking bronco–
    if he challenges you in court–
    face him undaunted–
    that would surely please
    Mr.Thurgood Marshall,
    Shame on you Maryland–
    in the name of the man who wrought
    Brown versus Board of Education,
    you kiss the feet of so many corporations–

    McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts,
    Jamba Juice,
    DeClaw, AirMall USA,
    and the biggest claw of them all–
    Prospect Capital–sitting tight in Pittsburgh,
    reaping the profits and paying no taxes–

    Shame on you Maryland-
    first a rule that favors the mafia bosses,
    then a rule to reverse the rule that favors those bosses–
    and all of those rules couched in lofty language–
    to torpedo objections from the taxpayers–
    who will be described as heartless naysayers
    uncharitable to their own kind–

    What an eyewash! Go find other fools to fool–
    Maryland–your own kind–
    the politicians will do Maryland–
    we’re not buying your joke.

    Usha Nellore

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    The city council votes to spend someone else’s money to subsidize the immoral business practice of a giant corporation operating in another county? Mighty big of them.

  • Tom Gregory

    That’s a bit rich…O’Malley calling someone else “smug”.

    • ushanellore

      I guess it takes one to know one, Tom.

      • Tom Gregory

        winter amber light
        sculpts the sly emperor’s face
        dare not be smug

        • ushanellore

          Wonderful. You’ve dared him not to be smug. My reply to you in haiku–

          Smugness a disease,
          Is genetic in his case,
          no cure within sight.

          He’ll take his smugness
          to the big national scene,
          and suffer defeat.

          Whipped by a woman
          cannier even than he
          he’ll aim for VP.

          No VP final,
          hope he’ll bundle his smugness,
          and be gone to seed.

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