At Cleaners’ Invitation, AFSCME Forms Union at Camden Yards — United Workers Press Release

At Cleaners’ Invitation, AFSCME Forms Union at Camden Yards — United Workers Press Release

In September 2007, the cleaners at Camden Yards won the living wage. Next we fought to get a fair chance for workers to keep their jobs at the new living wage. Late Wednesday night workers voted in support of forming an AFSCME union at the stadium, moving the fight forward to the next step.

Despite an intense fight from the newest contractor (The Chimes), an overwhelming majority of cleaners voted to be recognized as a union. Since the union drive started on June 1st, over 190 workers have signed union cards.

The push by the United Workers to get a union in place started soon after the living wages victory last September. Winning the living wage was not enough to ensure that all human rights were respected, or that the living wage would stay in place for the long haul.

As one worker at the stadium said in the first days of the 2008 baseball season, “We had won the living wage, and that was great. But then, when we went back to work, it seemed like that was all we had won. It was the same mistreatment, the same disrespect. And even more than the living wage, what we had been demanding was that we get treated with respect.”

After the living wages victory, rather than negotiate our own agreement with the stadium or the contractor, we decided the best way to institutionalize the victory was by forming a union that would open up collective bargaining and representation rights to the cleaners.

This spring worker leaders asked AFSCME to assist them in organizing a union at the stadium based on a idea for a community–union partnership first proposed in 2006. The partnership is based on the principles of dual membership and complementary roles between the two organizations. Cleaners at the stadium may belong to both organizations, and both organizations will fight on behalf or worker interests in their respective ways.

As a community-based human rights organization, the United Workers brings our own strengths and expertise to the fight on behalf of stadium cleaners as does AFSCME. Cleaners at the stadium are members of both organizations. The union and community group work together and couple different strengths and contribute to building workers’ power for economic justice.

The union vote victory on Wednesday marks an important step forward, but we expect more fights ahead. Looking back, it was only 4 years ago when Camden Yards looked nearly impossible to organize. With a mostly homeless workforce, very high turnover, extreme poverty wages, and a temp agency labor supply model, it looked like the stadium had been totally “union busted.” With so many workers inviting the union and a clear victory against a hostile employer, those days are clearly over.

With our most recent victory the United Workers has proven again that it is possible to reverse “union busting” conditions and the trends leading to those conditions. Now not only have we won the living wage, but also opening the way to win the benefits of unionization for workers too often left out of the labor movement.

With each step forward, we’ve created conditions to make future gains possible. It took nearly four years to organize workers at the stadium to the point where the living wage victory became reality. That’s how we learned how to move bad employers out the way (two stadium contractors have already been replaced from to our efforts), and how to build worker power without collective bargaining already in place.

Now, with collective bargaining opened up to the stadium cleaners we’re in a better position to expand the victory to expand the victory to include all economic human rights for all cleaners at the stadium.

Watch for our next big step as we ramp up to extend and expand our fight for human rights beyond Camden Yards. We'll be announcing our next campaign and our plans to ramp up the fight for fair development across all sectors of low-wage workers.