United Workers Release Groundbreaking Report

United Workers Release Groundbreaking Report

At 901 Hollins Street, on Wednesday, March 4th, 2011, a small crowd gathered into The United Workers office for their official press release on their much-awaited, over-two-years-in-the-making, report: Hidden in Plain Sight: Workers at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.


Documented within the forty-four glossy pages is detailed the incredible, “...systemic poverty and human rights abuses of workers at the Inner Harbor.”

The Campaign


The United Workers was founded in 2002, by homeless day laborers. Today it has a membership of over 2,500 and is utterly led by the poor to end their own poverty.


Im 2007, The United Workers achieved a monumental victory by organizing day laborers at Camden Yards. They succeeded in raising their average wage from $4.50 per hour to Baltimore's current living wage of $12.25 per hour.


In 2008, The United Workers declared a Human Rights Zone Campaign at the Inner Harbor. As the city's most visible area of commerce, the Inner Harbor is also a perpetual hotbed of workers' rights violations.


Audio from Wednesday's Press Conference:




The United Workers has been delving into this campaign, by organizing every variety of laborer, from: servers to cooks to cleaners to clerks – by organizing all and in-between, they are hoping that via these methods they will build a mass of workers, carrying from across all Inner Harbor employers and employments, a larger cry will be made and the developers will be forced to enter into a Fair Development Agreement.


A Fair Development Agreement would require Genral Growth Propoerties and Devid Cordish to enter into a fifteen-year Economic Human Rights Agreement that would require vendors to pay a living wage, fund healthcare and education, and treat workers with “dignity and respect”.


The United Workers believe it is essential to focus grassroots organizing to the “top of the food chain” so that they attack the problem at the heart of the hierarchy.


The Report


Hidden in Plain Sight was compiled from 2008-2011, with the help of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. The United Workers conducted over 1,000 interviews with Inner Harbor workers. Examples of interview questions and surveys are listed in the back-appendix of the report. Questions range from asking about wage rates, to hours worked, to worker aspirations, to daily relationships with respect. Besides insider accounts, The United Workers analyzed continous reports, literatures, and primary sources for additional and statistical informations.


The detailed results show unmistakable poverty-zone development. Poverty-zone development is when commerce developers make billions in profit while suppressing workers' conditions and wages.


The beginning of the report discusses the making of the Inner Harbor.


The Inner Harbor began its conceptualization and incremental steps in the late fifties and early sixties, as a promise to “revitalize” downtown Baltimore and save this post-industrial city from a massive economic crisis.


The Harborplace that Baltimoreans know today opened in 1981, to great hope for thousands of employment opportunities released within the city.


Not far behind this hope, came private development. Absording millions in public funding, private corporations, like General Growth Properties and the Cordish Company, swallowed the the money meant for the city, right back into their private capitalist cycles – leaving workers and Baltimore, out for poverty's immediate clutch.


The second part of the report details the reality of this grasp of impoverishment. Taking hundreds of workers' stories, The United Workers have provided a summary of what life is like as a poverty-zone employee.


Wage theft, abysmal working conditions, invisible healthcare, and daily harrassment and disrepect towards innate human dignity, run as the routine names of the game. Spinning on a schedule of summer profit, vendors are known for tossing employees away at the close of each summer season. This is after employers have consumed every last inch of the workers lives throughout the high tourist hours.


Detailed are accounts of the inhumane working conditions. Employees forced to work while ill. Pervasive sexual, verbal, and emotional harrassment. The routinized firing of workers based on any minor display of a life that doesn't always necessarily intersect smoothly with that of the employers.... the hours employers steal from workers – the wages they deduct.... the list goes on and on.


At the press conference, former Inner Harbor workers continously referenced the mirage of the Inner Harbor. Tourists come and only witness the facade of this well-running machine. They never know the true conditions of those who cook/deliver their food, fold their newly bought clothers, or clean the cheering stadiums. It's all a game that tricks the consumers and the city-- and perpetually cycles funds right back into the pockets of the private companies.



The Next Steps


Demanding Fair Development.

In the third section of the report, The United Workers detail a plan for implementing Fair Development. They believe in the basic stature of Human Rights- everyone has the right to renumeration. Everyone has the right to live with dignity. Instead of private corporations and urban redevelopment projects running away with the once-promised funds, the United Workers believe that you can create plans that, “... respect workers' human rights, maximize public benefits, and [are] sustainable.”


The United Workers state that the first step is exposing these epidemics through making public this report. When you make visible a situation, the first step is taken. It is hard to ignore a reality that is laid-bare.


However, the media is refusing to cover the actions of The United Workers and their release of controversial information. Nonetheless, the workers join arms and chant that the corportate media is not their media, and that they will make realities public through systemic revolution.


They have voices. They'll make the necessary ring.


“Being out there and demonstrating. Being out there in their faces and letting them know we're here. You may not cover it through your media. But, we're still here.” - Winston Gupton, former ESPN Zone cook.


The United Workers pass out their report and promise that their next steps are already underfoot.



To see a PDF version of the report please go: here.

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Corey Reidy has been an Indyreader collective member since the start of 2009. And.. she adores it with all her heart. When Reidy isn't editing, writing, interviewing, or other Indyreader-centric organizing, she works to do other forms of radical activism -- including, but not limited to, organizing/being a board member of Hollaback! Baltimore. If she's not organizing, Reidy is most likely reading, biking, or practicing/studying yoga (of which she adores and will 100% go to bat to defend and promote).