United Workers Bring the “Grinch” to the Harbor

United Workers Bring the “Grinch” to the Harbor

The United Workers

In Dr. Seuss’s classic Christmas tale, the envious green-furried Grinch swoops down into Whoville and, with his two-sizes-too-small heart, steals presents and decorations, in a diabolical plot to end Christmas.

Despite his dastardly deed, the town gathers together and demonstrates the true meaning of Christmas. Their warm-heartedness win over the Grinch, causing his heart to grow three sizes. In the end, he returns the presents and decorations to Whooville.

Around high noon on December 16, 2010, a frosty and snow-flurried Thursday, the United Workers – a human rights organization – and their allies parodied the Grinch tale in their outdoor theatrical demonstration How the Harbor Stole Christmas.

In the United Workers version, the Grinch represents General Growth Properties (GGP) and Cordish Companies. These organizations control the Inner Harbor and the United Workers point to them as the culprit for a litany of human rights abuses that have been inflicted upon workers, including: poor wages, wage theft, the lack of affordable health care, and accessible education.

“Workers have prepared this play to show how the developers have stolen Christmas, by robbing workers of dignity and human rights,” said Ashley Hufnagel, lead organizer. “That’s why we are demanding that GGP and Cordish meet with us and enter into dialogue with us, so that together we can develop a solution to these abuses.”

Braving the first snowfall of the season, the United Workers and their allies collected at McKeldin Square, at the corner of Pratt and Light Streets, and after a brief rally, began the short play.

The Scene: Santa Claus appears, giving gifts to the harbor workers like, Respect and Human DIgnity. Then as the workers celebrate their gifts, the Grinch appears and steals them.

The workers are initially saddened by the theft. But then they rally together-singing Christmas carols replaced by human rights lyrics.

The Grinch is heartened by their solidarity and returns the stolen gifts to the workers.

In preparation for the event, the United Workers and their allies assembled in front of Panera Bread, on Pratt and Market streets. They then marched past the Harbor, handing out flyers articulating their campaign.

They stopped briefly in front of The Cheesecake Factory. A few Cheesecake employees pressed against the restaurant’s windows to witness the demonstrators chanting slogans like, “What do we want? Human Rights! When do we want 'em? Now!”

Former Cheesecake Factory worker, Raquel Rojas, and former ESPN Zone worker, Janice Watson, stood at the western entrance of the Inner Harbor and spoke about their plight.

Rojas said her job was very stressful because she never knew when she was to report to work and when she was not.

“When I applied for the job, they offered me a full-time job. But then I began to work 4 to 8 hours every week,” said Rojas. “So at the end of the pay period,every two weeks, I received between 80 and 120 bucks.”

According to Rojas, her employer would clock her out two to three hours before her shift ended, causing her to lose almost $1,300 in the three months she worked at the Cheesecake Factory.

“Even though I had a job, I didn’t have enough money to cover my basic needs like food or my rent,” said Rojas.

Then Rojas became ill. She was forced to take time off and seek treatment at a public clinic because she lacked health insurance.

When she returned to work and explained her situation to her employer, she was terminated. “That’s why I’m here today to fight for my rights,” said Rojas.

ESPN Zone-Baltimore unexpectedly closed this past summer, along with a handful of other locations nationwide.

“ESPN Zone closed down with no 60-day notice. We had to find out through the news,” said Watson. “That is not the way this is supposed to go. You don’t treat people like that after they have worked for you for 10 to 11 years.”

Recently, the United Workers filed a lawsuit demanding that ESPN Zone fairly compensate them under the Warn Act. They then gave the corporation a deadline to meet the workers’ demands.

“We’re here to let them know we’re tired of it and we’re not going to take it anymore. Some people are homeless behind this, not to mention the unemployment situation. This has got to stop. This is unacceptable. We live in this great country called the United States, and this is the way they treat us? I don’t think so."

The human rights contingency attempted to enact their demonstration/play at the western entrance, but were forced to move by local police.

So, they crossed the street to the nearby McKeldin Square’s strip and completed their planned activities.

 How the Harbor Stole Christmas is one, in a series of actions, that the United Workers have been planning since they launched their Human Rights Campaign on October 25, 2008.

“It has been over a year since we formally reached out to GGP and Cordish to meet with workers to resolve these human rights violations and neither developer has stepped forward to be a part of the solution,” said Hufnagel.