Despite bone-chilling winds, nearly 100 people came together with warm hearts and high spirits in Tuesday’s rally to launch Raise Maryland, the campaign to increase the state’s minimum wage. With the current minimum wage set at just $7.25 an hour, low-waged Marylanders are finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the rising cost of living.
“Our people are working harder but aren’t earning more,” said Maryland Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, a co-sponsor of the bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. Living costs keep rising, Garagiola noted, but the minimum wage hasn’t kept up.
In fact, if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years it would now be $10.67 an hour. “We boast that Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the union,” said bill co-sponsor Del. Aisha Braveboy, “but do you know what it costs to live here?” Maryland’s current minimum wage is set at the lowest level allowed by the federal government. We now lag behind the District of Columbia and the 18 states that have already set their minimum wage above the federal level.
The rally launched what will be an ongoing campaign backed by the diverse coalition that comprises Raise Maryland. The coalition’s supporters include small business owners, clergy members, unions and policy advocates as well as low-wage workers like Lourdes Chaparro, who spoke at the event.
Chaparro told of the struggles her family has endured trying to make ends meet while she and her husband work low-wage jobs. Chaparro works at a home-cleaning company and has a husband who recently suffered a debilitating injury. “As hourly workers, we didn’t have sick time or health insurance to defray the costs,” Chaparro said.
It is because of families like Lourdes Chaparro’s — and the estimated 536,000 other Marylanders whose pay would be boosted by a minimum wage increase to $10 an hour — that this vibrant group came together to share their message despite the bitter cold. It is also for these hard working Marylanders that Raise Maryland will continue to fight until we have successfully lifted Maryland’s minimum wage.
BALTIMORE – July 24th, 2012 – As concern grows over Baltimore’s declining population, city leaders urged Congress today to raise the federal minimum wage, pointing to the boost it would provide to Baltimore’s residents and to the city’s recovering economy.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young joined fellow council members, minimum wage workers, clergy, and community supporters to announce a plan to introduce a City Council resolution supporting the “Rebuild America Act,” which Democrats hope to bring to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next month.
The bill would raise the federal minimum wage 85 cents a year for three years, bringing it to nearly $10 by late 2014. The law would then adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living. It would also raise the sub minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped employees for the first time in more than 20 years.
“Too many of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet on wages that have not kept up with the cost of rent, food or transportation,” Young said. ”Too many jobs in Baltimore have been replaced by low-wage jobs. If we don’t raise wages soon for our lowest paid workers, it will mean more families leaving our city, more small businesses that depend on consumer spending shutting their doors for good, and more vacant homes in our communities. Our city can’t afford inaction on this issue.”
Baltimore was one of just three major U.S. cities, along with Detroit and Cleveland, to experience a population decline in the last census. During the exodus of working families between 2000 and 2010, the city lost on average eight residents a day, represented at the press conference by eight silhouettes flanking presenters as they spoke. Baltimore’s dwindling population has paralleled the decline in good family-sustaining jobs in the once thriving regional shipping and manufacturing center. Currently, just 6 percent of jobs in the city are in mid-wage manufacturing while over 90 percent are in the low-paying service sector.
Bruce Gross, a minimum wage worker who spoke at today’s press conference talked about the hardships he faces trying to support his family on $7.36 per hour. ”I’m trying to raise three kids and two nephews on minimum wage and there isn’t enough for even the basic necessities. Raising the federal minimum wage could help end a huge struggle that families like mine face every day when we have to choose between paying bills and buying food or school supplies for our children.”
The wage increase would have a direct positive impact on the wages of 320,000 Marylanders and would generate $1 billion in new consumer spending in the state, according to Progressive Maryland. Tuesday’s press conference was part of a national day of action by leaders, activists and community organizations in 30 cities across the country urging Congress to pass the “Rebuild America Act.”
Protesters Sickened By Big Companies Taking Federal Bailouts
BALTIMORE — Dozens of protesters converged Tuesday — the day taxes are due this year — in downtown Baltimore to call on corporate America to shoulder a greater tax burden.
The demonstrators said they believe the richest corporations are getting unfair tax breaks at the expense of the other 99 percent of Americans.
Chanting “I am the 99 percent,” nearly 100 protesters chose tax day to declare their outrage at America’s richest citizens and largest corporations.
“I paid more in taxes than General Electric that had $5.1 billion in profits, and there’s something that just doesn’t make sense about that while our country and our city are just struggling to survive,” said Mike McGuire, a member of Occupy Baltimore.
Several groups organized the demonstration, including Good Jobs, Better Baltimore and MoveOn.org.
Terrell Williams said he attended the demonstration because he teaches in a Baltimore City school that is in desperate need of more funding.
“The question has to be if you’re giving those subsidies to corporations, who is not being served? I believe it’s our kids,” Williams said.
Williams said four months of his annual salary goes to pay his taxes and he’s outraged that some big companies get tax breaks that allow them to avoid paying what he called their fair share to the public coffers.
Others said they’re sickened by big companies taking federal bailouts.
“We kept the auto industry going, we kept the banking industry afloat, and that’s all coming out of the pockets of those of us that do pay taxes. So, again, here it is, a basic question of equity,” McGuire said.
Members of Baltimore’s faith community also showed up to call on big businesses to be more socially conscious.
“There’s moral power, there’s spiritual power, there’s financial power, and we have to bring all that together to lift up everybody in this place,” said David Carl Olson, a minister at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.
Similar gatherings were organized in other cities across the country.
Baltimore’s demonstration location was chosen for its proximity to the Main Post Office, which remained open until midnight Tuesday for taxpayers to send their returns with a Tuesday postmark. Business inside the post office remained brisk at the 11 p.m. hour.
It was a face-off for the ages: Occupy DC protesters toting tents and handmade signs, debating young conservatives dressed to the nines outside the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday.
Chanting “We are the 99 percent,” waving signs and pitching tents on the sidewalk, about 200 union members and Occupy DC protesters converged outside the Marriot Wardman Park hotel to protest CPAC.
But for much of the afternoon, they found themselves engaging with conference attendees, who ventured outside the plush confines of the hotel to “see our opposition,” as Paul Bencivenga, a political science major at American University, put it.
“These are just people unsatisfied with the way they’re living,” Bencivenga said, standing just down the street from a giant inflatable “Fat Cat” the protesters brought with them. “The conservative solution would be to get up and get a job.”
But Jeanae Paul, a protester from Baltimore, said that’s exactly what she’s been trying to do. She has five children and has been unemployed for a year.
“I can’t afford to feed my family,” she said. “I have to be one of the 99 percent.”
Some CPAC attendees said they agreed with Occupy’s concerns but didn’t agree with their approach.
“Occupiers have a solid message, and I understand their anger,” said Zachary Delle, a sophomore at Cornell University. But he added that he felt regulation and taxes on corporations were to blame for the big-business corporatism that’s become a sticking point for the Occupy movement.
Protesters, who included representatives from the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters and the local activist group OurDC blocked the street outside the hotel for about two hours.
At one point, a group of protesters attempted to enter the hotel, but police formed a line and marched them back down to the sidewalk, warning protesters, media and CPAC attendees alike that they risked arrest if they stayed in the hotel driveway. Later, about 15 Occupiers made it into the hotel and chanted slogans briefly before being escorted out by police.
Other Occupiers said they managed to enter the hotel on their own, and spent several hours attending talks and even chatting with CPAC attendees.
“If you want an amazing story, come to the bar at the Marriott,” Occupier James Hill tweeted late Friday afternoon. “Tea Partiers, Repubs and Occupiers sharing a table.”
Occupy DC and the unions were set to return to the convention late Friday afternoon.
WASHINGTON — The Conservative Political Action Conference drew crowds of protesters on Friday, as members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and labor groups demonstrated against the annual confab as a powwow for the “1 percent.”
Inside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., students affiliated with Occupy silently interrupted a speech by GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The protesters, wearing “We are the 99%” stickers over their mouths and shirts that read “If money is speech, poverty is silence,” were escorted from the building by security.
While leading figures in the conservative movement continued to meet inside, outside the hotel the atmosphere was more raucous, with several hundred people rallying at noon beneath a giant inflatable “fat cat.” They held signs, chanted, and set up a few tents at the bottom of the hotel’s winding driveway.
But when protesters began marching up the driveway shortly after noon, several D.C. police officers impeded their path and instructed protesters — and members of the media — that they needed to move back. Police said the driveway was private property and that those still on it risked arrest. The protest began moving back down the driveway as CPAC attendees watched from the sidelines. Police continued to keep protesters and members of the media off the driveway but allowed the protest to spill off the sidewalk, blocking the street.
The protest saw a number of outlandish attendees, from the Brooklyn “Tax Dodgers,” a faux baseball team who satirically support former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, to “Candidate Walmart,” aka Ben Waxman, who said he was standing up for a corporation’s right to run for president. It also drew a mix of Occupy protesters, union supporters and members of local groups.
“We’re protesting CPAC’s propping up of policies that don’t force U.S. corporations to pay their fair tax share, and really promote obscene income inequality in this country,” said James Adams, a coordinator with Our DC, another group of protesters that focuses on jobs. “The dreams of Americans who make up the 99 percent are being squashed by CPAC and their poster boy, Mitt Romney.”
Although protesters expressed concern on issues from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to foreign policy, most said they were focused on economic policy.
“We’re trying to create more jobs here in the District, and we feel by holding Congress and big corporations accountable for not paying their fair share of taxes, they can create more jobs by doing so,” said Dwayne Devoe, another member of Our DC. “A lot of them are talking about creating jobs, but at the end of the day, what they’re saying doesn’t really relate to their message.”
Jeanae Paul, a member of Good Jobs Baltimore, said she was trying to call attention to the plight of the jobless. “I’ve been unemployed for over a year now, and it’s been really hard,” Paul said. “I’ve been going on interviews, but there’s no jobs out there. They’re non-existent. And it’s hard to feed my family, it’s hard to buy clothes, to celebrate the holidays.”
Paul said she made the trip to Washington because she wanted the Republican candidates for president to hear stories like hers. “It’s important to let them know that we’re people, too,” she said. “We want to be heard. You know, they need to know the real stories, instead of listening to what their 1 percent is saying. Because we’re the 99 percent.”
Brendan Duke, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, an organization of 2.1 million members, told The Huffington Post that there were 600 protesters on hand, including 300 unemployed workers from the D.C. area. He said the protest was scheduled to last until 2 p.m.
Most CPAC attendees simply walked around the rally, but several stopped to speak with protesters.
Byron Sanford, a Catholic University student who supports Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), seemed sympathetic. “I agree with Occupy Wall Street on one of the things they stand for — I think corporations are ripping off the American people,” he said, admitting that he was actually more comfortable with the atmosphere outside the conference. “I feel much better out here.”
Others were less impressed.
“I’ve been to a couple of these things, and it’s pretty typical — it’s the same slogans,” said John Sexton, who writes for Verum Serum, CPAC’s 2012 Blog of the Year. “Individually, they can be very reasonable, but in groups, you’re not thinking.”
Another protest outside CPAC is planned for Friday evening.
Michael Calderone contributed to this report.
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– In Baltimore, frustration grows over the struggling housing market. For families facing foreclosure, that frustration is aimed right at the big banks.
Kai Jackson explains how the people are making their voices heard.
These protesters are part of MoveOn and Occupy organizations. They are frustrated with the economic conditions that have led to people losing their homes and wiped-out savings, and they’re vowing to fight the problem.
They call it the funeral for the American dream at a church in West Baltimore.
“This is the kickoff of a long campaign where we’re gonna be encouraging people to rethink the role that big banks play in their lives,” said Kristerfer Burnett, of the community group Good Jobs, Better Baltimore.
The group says mortgages, checking accounts and investments, to name a few, should all be picked carefully by consumers.
“If we have bank accounts in any of these corporate, big Wall Street banks, we need to move our money,” Mary Hill, an organizer with MoveOn.org, said.
Protesters point to the rate of foreclosures as shameful.
“We’re fighting like hell for the living in our communities and that’s what we’ll do today,” David Carl Olson, of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, said.
And they blame the banking industry.
In 2010, “The Baltimore Sun” reported the rate of foreclosures for the city wasn’t the highest in America, yet the rate was far from the lowest.
“These are families, these are children that are impacted,” Burnett said. “These are your grandparents, aunts, uncles. This is everybody.”
“They’re heartless and they’re deceptive and they’re causing a lot of misery in the American family. And they need to look at their policies and look at the families they’re destroying and the families they’re putting on the streets,” Laverne Myrie said.
Good Jobs, Better Baltimore helped organize the event.
Thursday night’s protest took place at John Wesley United Methodist Church.
Protestors Want Fixes to Infrastructure, Lack of Jobs, WBALTV, 11/18/2011
The protest was organized by Good Jobs Better Baltimore, but other grassroots organizations took part, as well as Occupy Baltimore and unemployed workers. Organizers said the demands of the demonstration were similar to those in other cities. “We needed to bridge the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, and we needed to bring jobs back here to Baltimore. We need to put Americans back to work,” said Lisa Lucas-Alston of Good Jobs Better Baltimore.
Occupy Baltimore Protesters March on the Howard Street Bridge, WJZ, 11/17/11
200 Occupy, Union protesters rally on the Howard Street Bridge, Baltimore Sun, 11/17/11 Chanting “We are the 99 percent,” more than 200 protesters affiliated with Occupy Baltimore, unions and an activist group called Good Jobs Better Bmore marched across the Howard Street bridge during rush hour Thursday evening. The protesters, who threw a large banner over the side of the bridge urging society to “Bridge the gap” between rich and poor, said they were there to oppose economic inequality in the United States and call for more infrastructure projects, such as repairing bridges.
Marchers: Crumbling bridges symbol of failure to put people back to work, Baltimore Brew, 11/17/11 Hoisting one of many protest signs that festooned a march tonight across the Howard Street Bridge, Yahnae Barner said she braved the chilly wind because “regular people are without jobs, yet we have that 1% that live the high life.” A peaceful crowd of about 200 walked along the east-side sidewalk of the Howard Street Bridge to dramatize the connection between the poor state of repairs of America’s infrastructure and unemployment.
By: Fern Shen
October 27, 2011
Dressed in Halloween costumes and bearing a giant pumpkin filled with ratepayer complaints, about 100 people picketed the downtown Baltimore headquarters of Constellation Energy Group (CEG) yesterday, to protest a planned $7.9 billion purchase by Exelon Corp. – a merger they said would claim local jobs and cause Baltimore Gas & Electric customers’ rates to increase.
“If the merger happens, it’s going to take jobs away from here,” said Monica Jones, a protester who dressed in a Marilyn Monroe-style white dress and sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” to CEG CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III, the target of much protesters’ ire.
Shattuck and other company higher-ups are eligible to receive more than $36 million in cash severance and equity awards if the merger of Chicago-based energy giant Exelon and Constellation (which owns Baltimore Gas & Electric) goes through. Shattuck himself could come away with a third of that sum – about $12.4 million.
Jones and others attending the protest (organized by Good Jobs Better Baltimore and attended by some of the nearby Occupy Baltimore participants) said allowing CEG to be swallowed by an out-of-town corporation would make BGE even less responsive to ratepayer needs than it has been since deregulation by the Maryland legislature in 1999.
“We need [re]regulation so we can take back control of our bills,” said Jones.
Organizers urged the crowd to attend the hearings the Maryland Public Service Commission has scheduled to review the Constellation-Exelon merger, beginning on Oct. 31. Shattuck and Exelon President and COO Christopher Crane are scheduled to testify on the first day of the hearings. The protesters vowed to be there.
“Is this the last Mayo Shattuck has heard of us?” said Vanessa Johnson, director of Good Jobs Better Baltimore. “No!” the crowd replied.
“Are we going to fight a corporate greed merger and make sure BGE is good to its customers?” “Yes!” they shouted.
-Video and photo by William Hughes.
Good Jobs Better Baltimore eyes Wells Fargo, Red Line
Premium content from Baltimore Business Journal by Scott Dance, Senior Reporter/Projects Editor
Date: Friday, October 14, 2011, 6:00am EDT
Good Jobs Better Baltimore’s name spells out its mission, and so far, the organization has been devoted to blocking a deal that would make Chicago-based Exelon Corp. Constellation’s new owner. The group has argued the deal would take jobs away from Baltimore, and it has also implied that the deal could lead to higher electricity rates at Constellation subsidiary Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
The group has served as a main foil for the corporations, which argue that the deal will result in a net gain in jobs in Baltimore but haven’t actively engaged with protesters. Whether Good Jobs Better Baltimore will play the spoiler of the deal will become more clear later this month, when state energy regulators begin reviewing the pact in public.
Constellation has struggled with public criticism of previous attempted mergers — first in 2006 with an abandoned sale to Florida Power and Light, and later in 2008 and 2009 in dealings with Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy and French utility EDF Group. Outcry has led to the outright downfall of deals, or at least drawn extra concessions from Constellation.
But this time, Constellation and Exelon designed parts of the deal to preempt criticism.
Local chapters of the Service Employees International Union representing health care and property management launched and continue to support Good Jobs Better Baltimore, which has a staff of about 14, said group spokeswoman Julie Ferris. It launched in April — the same month Constellation and Exelon announced their deal — and has been vocal about the deal since. That has included protests outside BGE headquarters and Public Service Commission offices, testimony at public hearings, and calls in to local talk radio.
The group has drawn 18,000 members through canvasses in downtrodden neighborhoods like Belair-Edison, church and community groups, and households with incomes of $30,000 and less, Ferris said.
While few of Constellation’s employees are unionized, the interest of the group is in ensuring what it sees as the main benefits of union organization — more well-paying jobs and opportunities to work, Ferris said.
Good Jobs Better Baltimore has launched a second effort of activism around a pending lawsuit Baltimore City filed against Wells Fargo over discriminatory mortgage lending, she said. And it could also soon add a campaign to ensure that construction of the proposed Red Line east-west transit line adds permanent jobs in the city.
“Jobs are a huge issue for the populations we’re working with,” she said.
That population includes the likes of Monica Jones, who has been volunteering with Good Jobs Better Baltimore since she was introduced to the group through 1199SEIU, the local health care workers’ union. She even took part in a face-to-face meeting with Constellation CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III where she and other volunteers spoke of the hardships of finding work and paying high utility bills.
“We’re fed up with these bills,” Jones said. “With deregulation, they can just do whatever they want.”
Constellation officials pledged not to raise utility rates while the merger is pending but have not said if one could come after that. The rates BGE charges for distribution of electricity were raised for the first time in 17 years in 2010.
Among Good Jobs Better Baltimore’s demands of the companies is a return to regulated power, where utilities like BGE own and operate power plants instead of competing, independent companies. The group is also seeking to more than triple a pledge from the companies to invest in Maryland, from about $250 million to $800 million.
Constellation officials declined to comment on the group’s demands in an interview, although they were expected to address them in public testimony to be filed with energy regulators Oct. 12. But they said they have listened to the group and tried to explain their side.
“Our CEO did his best to explain that the merger would be good for the city, good for customers and good for jobs,” Constellation spokesman Lawrence McDonnell said of Shattuck’s meeting with the group.
So far, state officials from the Office of People’s Counsel and Maryland Energy Administration have agreed with Good Jobs Better Baltimore that more public benefit needs to be proven before regulators should approve the deal. How that conflict with the company might be resolved is expected to shake out after Constellation’s Oct. 12 testimony filings and at public hearings starting Oct. 31.
Scott Dance covers Health Care, Minority Business, Utilities
By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun
October 11, 2011
A crowd of more than 100 people, mostly seniors, gathered Tuesday evening to voice their concerns to the state’s energy regulator about Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s performance following Hurricane Irene.
“It was scary,” said Eileen Sakin, part of a busload of AARP members who attended the meeting. “We had no lights on our street or in our whole neighborhood.”
It was the Maryland Public Service Commission’s final public hearing on BGE’s storm response. Of the state’s utilities, BGE had the largest number of customers in the state affected by Irene-related outages, more than 750,000. Electricity was out for as long as eight days for some.
Six weeks after the storm blew through Maryland, most people in the crowd were still upset by the length of time they had gone without power and by the company’s customer service during the outage.
Sakin was the first person — after several people spoke in favor of BGE’s performance — to criticize the company. Cheers and clapping went up from the crowd as she began to address the panel.
In addition to a lack of security created by being without power, Sakin said, lost perishable food presents a hardship for seniors, many of whom are on a fixed income. Her concerns were echoed by several other seniors who spoke.
Many members of the organization were frustrated during the outage that they could not get reliable information from BGE’s customer service center, said Henry M. “Hank” Greenberg, the state director for AARP. The Maryland chapter supplied roughly half the people in attendance.
About 15 people from the community organization Good Jobs Better Baltimore also attended.
Although their members in the crowd were largely hospital and nursing home workers who saw people with medical needs adversely affected by the outages, the organization’s concerns about BGE were not limited to the response to Hurricane Irene, said Lisa Lucas-Alston, the group’s member mobilization coordinator.
“We’re asking BGE to start bringing the revenue back into our city,” said Lucas-Alston, who hopes that BGE will create more jobs in the Baltimore metro region.
Jayla Watje, a Lake Walker resident who opened the public comments, said that part of the reason she attended the meeting was to get the facts about the company’s intentions to increase rates.
Last week, BGE President and CEO Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr. told the PSC that the storm cleanup costs could total $90 million. The utility has said it expects to pass on some of those costs in an electricity distribution rate increase.
Although the purpose of the hearing was to gather the public’s opinion on BGE’s storm response, the commissioners did make clear at the start that if BGE did request a rate increase as a result of costs incurred during Irene, any increase would need to be approved by the PSC.
It typically takes more than half a year from the date of a rate increase request until a rate change would begin, the commission said.
Watje still took the opportunity to say that the workers “busted their butts, really,” to restore power to her home.
“People are mad, they want to say the mad things,” she said. “I wanted to come down and say the good things.”
The majority of the crowd did not agree with her sentiment and said so as the hearing progressed.
“It’s not BGE — it’s the workers that you should be thanking,” said Alicia Champlin, who said she worked for the company decades ago and was unhappy with how the company responded to the storm outages. “It made me feel sorry that I worked for them.”
The meeting took place at Wohlman Assembly Hall of the War Memorial building, across the green from Baltimore’s City Hall. The bus of AARP members left after an hour, but the meeting continued until the remaining people who wanted to speak could do so.
Several dozen people attended the PSC’s other public hearing about BGE’s storm response, held last month in Towson. The PSC will accept written public comments through Monday.
Baltimore Sun reporter Hanah Cho contributed to this article.