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  August 9, 2014

Workers Say Racial Discrimination Systemic at Thurgood Marshall Airport

TRNN's Jaisal Noor speaks with workers and advocates at BWI Airport who say the racial wage gap there is harming Baltimore's African American community
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Jaisal Noor is a producer for The Real News Network. His stories have appeared on Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and other independent news outlets. Jaisal was raised in the Baltimore-area, and has a degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News. I'm Jaisal Noor, here at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Workers and advocates have gathered here today to speak out on what they say is systemic discrimination against African-American workers here, who get paid less and get worse jobs than their white counterparts.

NATALIE HICKMAN, MCDONALD'S CASHIER, BWI AIRPORT: I've been working here three years, and I still make $8 hour, which I was promised to a raise every six months. But no, still make $8 an hour.

JEREMY POLLARD, SERVER AT VINO VOLO, BWI AIRPORT: I've worked at BWI Airport for a year and a half now. I make $6 an hour flat wage. And we make tips, and we pool our tips at my restaurant. So I can tell you that our tips average about $20 an hour.

NOOR: The Real News repeatedly reached out to the publicly controlled BWI Airport and AirMall, the private company that manages its concessions, with no response.

ROXIE HERBEKIAN, PRESIDENT, UNITE HERE LOCAL 7: We're calling this report a missed opportunity, because since this airport is owned by the state of Maryland, the airport could be a place where inequality is being whittled away, not encouraged.

NOOR: The scathing report, authored by UNITE HERE and endorsed by the NAACP, argues that by employing black workers at lower-wage jobs compared to their white counterparts, BWI airport concessions programs exacerbate inequality in Baltimore's African-American community.

GERALD STANSBURY, PRESIDENT, MARYLAND STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP: Fast food workers are among our largest group of minimum-wage workers, with workers of color disproportionately represented and especially concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs, where only 10 percent of workers hold management positions, compared with almost half of the white men who work in fast food industry, further perpetrating the racial wage gap.

HERBEKIAN: Eighty-three percent of the workers in the food and retail concession program are African-American. In the highest-paying jobs, the front of the house, bartender, and servers jobs, less than 40 percent are filled by African Americans. In fact, our study showed 38 percent.

This is of grave consequence to our state, but particularly to the City of Baltimore. The vast majority of the workers at the airport live in Baltimore City, where the inequality gap is, unfortunately, quite large.

HICKMAN: I live in the Park Heights area right now, and that area is not--it's not good at all. Like, two people just died recently up there. So it's a hassle every day. So, no, when I walk out my door [incompr.] everything is going to be okay and hopefully I can get back home. But out there, there's not a lot of jobs. There's a lot of killing, there's a lot of stealing, there's a lot of everything. There's not a lot of jobs. There's fast food jobs, but it's just people who get it, who luck up and get that job around that area. But there's not a lot of jobs at all.

NOOR: The stories of African-American workers like Natalie Hickman, who makes just $8 an hour, contrast sharply with those of their white counterparts, like Jeremy Pollard, who makes an average of $26 an hour with tips.


POLLARD: I work in a restaurant with with nine other workers, and none of my coworkers are African-American, despite the fact that I'm born and raised in Baltimore, which is a city that's about 70 percent African-American.

NOOR: And there are lots of African-American workers at the BWI.

POLLARD: Oh, yeah. I mean, I would say they're the majority of the workforce at BWI and the food service. Actually, I would say that with certainty, that they're the majority of the food service workforce at BWI.

NOOR: And so how do you feel about that, the fact that--I mean, what you're implying is that because of the color of your skin, you're making more money than people that have a different skin.

POLLARD: I'm actually kind of not implying it. I mean, it's the reality. It's what plays out at my workplace every day. I don't like it and I don't agree with it. I don't think that it benefits me personally. Even though the system works for me in that situation and monetarily, in the end it doesn't benefit me, because it doesn't benefit Baltimore City, and I live in that society.


NOOR: And do you feel like people are kind of trapped in that situation?

HICKMAN: Yes, 'cause I'm trapped in the situation now, even though I don't work out there. But I try hard, very hard, to come out here every day to work, and it's still not enough.


POLLARD: You know, in a society with rampant poverty, when a large section of that society is kept out of good-paying jobs, whether maliciously or not, the end result is the same, which is a shop where ten people make very good money and none of them are African-American. And that inequality anywhere would irk me, but especially in an airport named after Thurgood Marshall.


NOOR: UNITE HERE told The Real News that the union and supporters are demanding Democratic nominee for governor Anthony Brown end the state's contract with AirMall.

For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.


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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