Baltimore Rallies for Fair Development

Baltimore Rallies for Fair Development from United Workers on Vimeo.

Last week’s Fair Development Rally, on April 20, was a huge success. Over 400 people came out. We had an amazing diversity of local musicians, performers, and speakers from across Baltimore. The unity of so many groups and issues under the banner of Fair Development was powerful.

Rich Armstrong, from Community Churches United, kicked the day off as the MC.

“What we’re here to do today is to let Caesars know, let the mayor know, and any other politician know, that we will not stand to be disrespected any more in Baltimore city,” he said.

The rally was held just a block from the site of Caesars’ future Horseshoe Casino. The Fair Development Campaign has been calling on the casino to hire locally, pay a living wage, and respect workers’ right to organize. An agreement for a fair process for unionization is expected any day between Caesars and UNITE HERE, which would be an important first step toward ensuring good jobs at the casino for Baltimore residents.

“This casino is going in – that’s clear!  Maryland voters voted for it last November. But they did so, in part, because of the promise of good jobs. Good, full-time jobs,” said Rev. Roger Powers, of Light Street Presbyterian, at the rally. “Our hope is that this project will be a showcase of what fair development looks like, and not just another example of development that fails our community.”

At the rally, hip-hop artists from Benjamin Franklin High School performed alongside low-wage workers who testified about Baltimore’s current development model.

“It’s not fair that we work on publically owned property, paid for by tax dollars, our tax dollars, but we are paid barely above minimum wage,” said Yaseen Abdul-Malik, a restaurant employee at BWI airport. “Our employers benefit from massive public assistance, assistance that comes off of our pay checks and off of our backs, but what is the benefit to our community?”

The rally closed with a lively street theatre performance with singing and people-size playing cards, made by members of the campaign. The crowd then marched to McKeldin Square, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where city and state officials have handed over more than $2 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to big developers since the 1970s, while workers are left struggling to survive in low-wage and temporary jobs. This is failed development.

Instead, we demand Fair Development, which produces living wage jobs and protects the workers’ right to organize. Development should prioritize communities most in need and provide public benefits and community resources. It should be transparent, accountable, and Baltimore residents need to be an active part of decisions made about their communities. Is this too much to ask? We don’t think so, and a movement is growing across the city to make it happen. The April 20 Fair Development Rally was the first joint action of the Fair Development Campaign, a collaboration between UNITE HERE, United Workers, and Community Churches United, that has been endorsed by AFSCME, IATSE, the NAACP, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Presbytery of Baltimore, and several other community groups.

If you missed the rally, you can still catch most of it here. By following the links in this article, you can check out longer testimony. Here are some links to the media coverage. A short video on the day is available above, two Flickr photosets are available here and here, and you can check out the complete audio from the stage here:

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