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  November 11, 2015

Baltimore Workers Rally For Higher Wages During Nat'l Day of Action

Over 100 gathered at the Amazon warehouse in Baltimore as 500 actions to raise wages were held across the country; New York state and Pittsburgh agreed to a $15 minimum wage for their employees.
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SPEAKER: Right now at 6:24 we are giving you a live look right here from Air Tracker 7.

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Low wages and concerns over growing income inequality prompted fast food workers to walk off the job in dozens of cities on Tuesday, November 10, demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize.

SPEAKER: Black Lives Matter Minneapolis are joining up with fast food workers and cleaners who are walking off the job.

NOOR: The Milwaukee protesters also targeted Tuesday's Republican debate to bring the issue front and center for a party that has rarely addressed the country's ever-growing economic divide.

DONALD TRUMP: But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can't do it.

MODERATOR: So do not raise the minimum wage.

TRUMP: I would not raise the minimum.

NOOR: It's a movement that has spread to as many as 500 cities, with thousands taking part, say organizers. And on Tuesday New York state and the city of Pittsburgh announced that they would phase in a $15 minimum wage for their city and state employees. In Baltimore, activists announced a city council bill, raising the minimum wage to $15, but not until 2020. It's expected to meet strong opposition.

From Baltimore, protests have been focused on this new Amazon warehouse, opened earlier this year, that's gotten more than $40 million in tax breaks, and pays its workers between $12.50 and $13.00 an hour for new employees.

PROTESTER: We need better wages. It's hard for us to take care of children. I work, I'm a certified [CNA] medication technician, and I don't make that much money. And I'm struggling. And I need to take care of my child.

PROTESTER: It's like hardship for everybody. Because if you're only making $13 and everything goes up, it's hard to survive. In Maryland, or across the world, too. So $15 is the minimum for everybody to make.

NOOR: In a statement Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso said that in Baltimore, Amazon is proud to have created more than 3,500 regular full-time jobs that offer competitive wages and comprehensive benefits starting on day one. The statement continued, full-time Amazon associates in Baltimore on average make over $15 per hour in overall compensation, which includes base pay bonuses and stock awards. But a current Amazon worker who wished to remain anonymous said conditions and pay need to be improved.

AMAZON EMPLOYEE: --Fulfillment center there are benefits that are largely unaffordable, and people don't sign up for, because they're cost prohibitive. They have a horrible employee retention rate during peak--they've already brought in a lot of seasonal employees to help with it. And my understanding is that they lose so many workers during peak that they're going to do this, like, cash incentive, this bonus, to quit after December 26, after [inaud.]. And the catch is you can never be rehired if you take it.

So I'm sort of dreading what it's going to be like. What this boils down to is power that we, as workers, need power to contest the company.

NOOR: Last year, Maryland adopted a $10.10 minimum wage which goes into effect by 2018, which falls far short of the goal of $15.00 an hour. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised Amazon for creating jobs, regardless of wages.

MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Many of our residents are locked out of opportunities to find a good job. And that's those jobs that will allow them to put food on their tables, provide for their family. The Amazon fulfillment center opens up, Baltimore will have an opportunity to help these residents get back on their feet.

NOOR: What do you make?

PROTESTER: I make $11.50, and it's still not enough. I work--.

NOOR: Do you have--make $11.50, and you have four kids.

PROTESTER: Yes. I worked at an agency when I got out of CNA school. They paid me $9. They paid me $9. I went to another agency, and they paid me $11.50. $11.50's cool, but it's still not enough. I'm still struggling to pay my bills and my rent. I can't pay everything at once. I have to go and, and pick and choose what I pay.

LAWRENCE BROWN, ASST. PROFESSOR, MORGAN STATE: Here in Baltimore a real critical question that we have to ask is, will people live? Will people be able to survive? Will people be able to make it, the question we have to ask is, on the $12 or $15 an hour wage. And I think the answer is some will and some won't. You know, what we have in Baltimore are these disinvested, redlined black communities that have been historically damaged by policies such as racial zoning, racially restrictive covenants. Also having segregated public housing. And moving into the future having urban renewal, highway construction that have really damaged these neighborhoods causing high rates of poverty, high rates of disinvestment in these communities. Then the question is, are we going to be able to bring--and make sure that when we bring corporations into our city that they're going to be able to offer a fair wage. Particularly when we're offering so much in terms of tax cuts and tax breaks for these corporations.

NOOR: For the Real News, this is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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