The United Workers understands that to build a strong movement for human rights and an end to poverty requires at its foundation the development of powerful leaders. As we near our big 10th Year Anniversary Celebration this Saturday, December 1, we are publishing a series of blog posts from United Workers leaders, with their stories of personal transformation and memories of important moments in United Workers’ past. The 10th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, December 1, 3-6pm at James McHenry Recreation Center (911 Hollins Street, Baltimore, MD 21223). To purchase tickets email us at email@example.com or go to http://unitedworkers10th.eventbrite.com/#
By Keith Brown
I worked at ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor for six years. I was a busser, a line cook, and a prep cook. It was OK, but I like working around the people more than the job. It was the only thing that had you coming back—the community.
Then, in June 2010, we found out from the news that ESPN Zone was closing. They didn’t give us any notice and we were all surprised. It was the first time that I saw people break down on the job ‘cause they didn’t know how they were gonna pay for their child care or school and things they needed to survive.
Right around that time, United Workers members were there with surveys asking harbor workers about their jobs. They heard about the ESPN Zone closing and quickly helped us get organized. They also helped us protest the closure and file a lawsuit against Disney, ESPN Zone’s parent company, which had violated the WARN Act by closing without any notice and with inadequate severance packages. I stuck around cause I liked the work and because I made a lot of friends.
With United Workers I’ve learned about a lot of things. How people are being treated like slaves—the tomato pickers, for instance, in Florida—with low wages and horrible working conditions. With United Workers I’ve traveled to NYC and Philly. We went to meet with folks from the Poverty Initiative and the Media Mobilizing Project. I learned that they had the same problems in NYC and in Philly.
My most memorable moment was the United Workers human rights dinner in 2011. We were sitting in a circle and it was time for the award part of the ceremony and then they called my name. I didn’t know why they called my name. And Michael Coleman handed me this award for championing human rights and I had to give a speech. I told them I really didn’t deserve it and that I’d try to live up to it. It was a total surprise.
With United Workers, I have begun to see the city in a different light. I have learned how the developers really operate. How they just want their money. And how the city has been supporting these developers with subsidies at the same time as it is cutting funds from public services—libraries, rec centers, fire stations. Since earlier this year I’ve been a member of United Workers’ West Side Committee. It’s a hard-working great bunch of people, and we have been fighting to keep the fire stations and rec centers open.
After collecting petitions and doing several rallies, we were able to convince the mayor to reverse her decision to close the Truck 10 firehouse. The mayor magically found the money to keep Truck 10 open for another year. It was a great victory, but it also shows you the power of the mayor and the city. She says to close the fire stations and rec centers and gives the developers the go ahead to do whatever they want and that’s not fair. We need fair development, with community participation and real accountability. That’s why we will continue to keep fighting, and that’s why it’s important for you to get in contact and unite with United Workers.
Baltimore’s former ESPN Zone workers are back in court this Friday for the latest hearing in their case against Disney.