United Workers Human Rights Zone Theatrical Announcement at Inner Harbor - By Ron Kipling Williams

United Workers Human Rights Zone Theatrical Announcement at Inner Harbor - By Ron Kipling Williams

The Inner Harbor has been built tremendously with tax breaks and subsidies that have created a poverty zone that is not talked about.

---

Dominique Washington was one of those workers that tourists would see – or not see – toiling behind the counter to provide them refreshment at the Downtown Inner Harbor. The 19-year-old former employee at Five Guys Burgers and Fries recounted stories of tripled duties, shorted paychecks, and working overtime unpaid at Baltimore’s premier tourist haven.

“They expected us to cut a 50 lb. bag of potatoes in five minutes,” said Washington, who often times was required to work either half of his allotted 30-minute break or through it completely.

One day he burned himself while cooking. He was told by management to put cream on the burn and keep working.

He was poised with a protest sign at noon on Wednesday, November 4th, where the United Workers performed a theatrical announcement at the Inner Harbor to kick-off a major campaign for workers' rights.

The grassroots human rights organization declared the Inner Harbor "A Human Rights Zone" back on April 18th, 2008. Since then they have been organizing workers to fight for a living wage, health care, and education training. “The Inner Harbor has been built tremendously with tax breaks and subsidies that have created a poverty zone that is not talked about,” said leadership organizer Ashley Hufnagel.

United Workers members performed a mock demonstration at General Sam Smith Park, located on Pratt and Light Streets (no one is allowed to formally demonstrate inside the Inner Harbor proper), showing how several businesses are treating their employees.

Companies like Phillips Seafood – which has locations in five cities – found the United Workers activities no laughing matter.This past summer at a mandatory all-employee meeting, Phillips management reportedly told its workers they would shut down the restaurant if they continued their organizing activities. This action was a response to workers who called for face-to-face meetings with management and a six-month “cooling down” period, in which workers promised to engage in dialogue rather than measures such as public protests and boycotts.

The threat from Phillips did not deter the United Workers – a coalition of low-wage workers across racial and cultural lines – who battled the Maryland Stadium Authority and won their own living wage rights two years ago. “People need to wake up and stand for what’s right,” said leadership council Ernest Lindsay. “It’s not just my rights, it’s our rights.”

The promised six-month “cooling down” period ended this past October, after which workers engaged in a four-day retreat to develop strategies about their next major campaign. The result: Our Harbor Day 2010 - which will take place on May 1st – a community-wide participation play.

Through the theatrical presentation series, workers will reveal to the public their plans to secure human rights and dignity for Inner Harbor employees across the board.

General Growth Properties owns the Harborplace and Gallery, and The Cordish companies – a multi-billion dollar global conglomerate - owns The Power Plant, both of which control the majority of commercial revenues at the Inner Harbor.

“Cordish is using model to get tax breaks from other struggling cities bringing tourism,” said Hufnagel. “This development is sustainable and dependent on low wage seasonal work, little regard for how that affects workers – we are asking them to be accountable.”

Darnell Snider, a trucker who happened upon Wednesday’s demonstration, expressed his enthusiasm in joining the fight. “Anything beautiful is worth dying for,” Snider said.