TRNN’s Megan Sherman speaks to labor leaders, activists and low-wage workers who oppose potential plans for privatization of the city’s water and other public services, and say the issue is tied to growing crime and poverty in Baltimore
MEGAN SHERMAN, PRODUCER/CORRESPONDENT: Hi. My name is Megan Sherman, and I’m here at City Hall, where the One Baltimore [United] coalition has organized a rally to demand that city officials provide residents with access to quality jobs, education, and affordable housing.
On Monday, October 27, the One Baltimore coalition, which is comprised of a number of grassroots, faith-based, and union organizations, rallied in protest of Veolia North America, a water privatizing corporation’s attempts to secure a consultant contract with the city. They believe that this is the beginning of what will result in the privatization of the city’s water services. Earlier this month, a similar rally was held in front of City Hall, where protesters talked about the potentially detrimental impact that privatization could have on workers, whose jobs could be outsourced, and families, whose water bills could go up.
GLEN MIDDLETON, PRESIDENT, AFSCME LOCAL 44: But we’re here because there is an efficiency study that Veolia is trying to bargain with the city so they can get the contract. And we know what they want to do. They want to outsource. They want to sell out our water department. We have the best water in the entire United States of America.
Veolia has a bad track record around this country. What they do is–.
MIDDLETON: Yes, right. Boo. Boo.
MIDDLETON: And what they do is they come in and do an efficiency study. Then, two years from now, what they will do is say that we want to downsize the workers, contract out their jobs. And then what they do is they want to take over the water in the City of Baltimore.
We are sick and tired of being sick and tired of our city being sold out, whether to garages, whether it’s different jobs in the Transportation Department, whether it’s outsourcing our water department jobs. And so it’s time for us to stand up now.
Today we have some community leaders that are here. But especially the unions are here, because it’s about jobs, it’s about a living wage. But it’s also about not selling out Baltimore. So, again, don’t sell out Baltimore.
SHERMAN: Lauren Derusha from Corporate Accountability International talked to The Real News about why people are outraged by the decision to have Veolia come in as a consultant to review the city’s water services.
LAUREN DERUSHA, CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: There are a lot of cases, both around the world and in cities in the U.S., where cities have actually paid millions of dollars to buy back their water system from Veolia after it’s been privatized because it was so inefficient and there were so many problems. And so, basically, a corporation like that, with that kind of track record, has no role in Baltimore’s water system.
Veolia has a history of using this kind of consulting contract as a foot into the door that can lead to privatization down the line, even if it’s initially only a consulting contract. For example, in St. Louis, Veolia tried to push through a deal that looked like consulting on the surface, but that actually had layered phases written right into it that led to privatization. And that contract actually did not go through, because Veolia withdrew its bid after almost a year of public protest.
And regardless of what this contract looks like, it really begs the question, why is the city looking to a corporation with such a terrible track record to help make the city’s water system more efficient?
SHERMAN: What was unique about the protest on Monday was that the groups that are a part of One Baltimore are just as varied in demographics as they are in mission. Rev. Alvin Hathaway from Union Baptist Church, who has been working to connect members of the faith-based community to social justice related issues like the ones raised by the One Baltimore coalition, talked about the benefits of having various community organizations connected to fight on one united front.
REV. ALVIN HATHAWAY, UNION BAPTIST CHURCH: One of the beauties about this is that it’s not one organization over another organization, it’s not one interest over another interest. We meet regularly; in that regular round table, we meet and we discuss the hurt, the pains, the issues of each organization; and then we come out with agreement. And that agreement leads in a direction. So what you’re gonna see is a different dynamic in our city now. You’re gonna see people from all over the city coming together to discuss the issues and hurts and pains in their neighborhoods and come forth with plans and solutions and programs that address those needs.
SHERMAN: Rev. Hathaway also describes ways that the coalition will be holding politicians accountable for their actions or lack thereof.
HATHAWAY: One of the first things is–and this something very specific–we want to make certain that when this whole question about this water, will water be privatized, is there a feasible study for water–. People have gotten letters to their homes that say that they need to take out insurance for their water pipes. We want to understand that. So we’ll make a demand of the City Council to have a public hearing about our water system. And we’re making that demand today, tonight. And we expect an answer today, tonight.
SHERMAN: The public hearing, where the nature of the partnership will be called into question, is scheduled for December 1 at City Hall. Crystal Goodson, who has been employed at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant for 29 years, expressed that she believes community members should work to replace politicians who do not support the interests of the people.
CRYSTAL GOODSON, EMPLOYEE, BACK RIVER WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT: Our union has put out on Facebook under Baltimore One a list of people that we need to put in office and take take all of these people out that we have been supporting but they don’t support us. And because they don’t support us, this is why we’re out here hollering and screaming now. Stop hollering and screaming. Put your vote to work and get them out.
SHERMAN: Yaseen Abdul-Malik, an employee at the BWI Airport and a member of UNITE HERE, which organizes around the rights of hotel workers, talks about how the lack of quality living-wage jobs contributes to the crime rate in the city.
YASEEN ABDUL-MALIK, EMPLOYEE, BMI AIRPORT: As far as trying to deter these young people, and even older people now, you know what I’m saying, from doing criminal activities and things like that, unemployment and all that does play a huge factor in that, because there’s, like–a lot of people, most people are generally good people. You know what I’m saying? But when you get placed in a situation where it’s like, either I’m going to work at McDonald’s or I’m going to sell dope, a person going to say two, three hundred dollars every two weeks working at McDonald’s or a few hundred dollars more selling dope in the streets–you know what I’m saying? It’s like we’re really not given too many options. You know what I’m saying? So it’s like a person just going to say, hell, I might as well just go in and stand out in the street. At least I can make my own hours. Yeah, I’ve got to watch out for the police, I’ve got to watch out for other people out here doing the same thing I’m doing, but hey, it’s a little more money and I get to do it the way how I wanna do it.
SHERMAN: Shantress Wise from the United Workers describes what change she hopes will come as a result of the city providing quality affordable housing for its residents.
SHANTRESS WISE, ORGANIZER, UNITED WORKERS: Hopefully people can, once they get in housing and they feel that their needs are met, maybe that’ll go down as well and they wont be agitated or, hopefully, do something to commit a crime. So, hopefully, if we can meet everybody needs around them areas of jobs and quality education and public services, hopefully that will make it better for the community as well.
SHERMAN: The public hearing on December 1 will be the next step as the One Baltimore coalition continues to fight for what they call an equal distribution of city resources to all community members.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.