14 Arrested At Rally For BWI Worker Wages

Mar 13, 2014

A protestor is led down the steps to state house in Annapolis on Thursday at a rally in support of legislation to raise the wages of concessions workers at BWI Thurgood Marshall airport.
A protestor is led down the steps to state house in Annapolis on Thursday at a rally in support of legislation to raise the wages of concessions workers at BWI Thurgood Marshall airport.
Credit Christopher Connelly/WYPR

Underneath a statue of Thurgood Marshall --- and invoking the airport’s namesake – hundreds of workers and activists gathered to protest what they say is an unacceptable wage gap at BWI. After the speeches were made, 14* activists lined up to be arrested by Maryland Capitol police officers for obstructing the steps to the state house.

State employees at BWI get a significantly higher rate because state law requires state workers to be paid a living wage – a minimum of $11.30 in Baltimore County where the airport is located. But the median wage for the airport’s 800 restaurant and retail workers is just $8.50  an hour. They don’t qualify for the living wage because are hired by concessionaires that rent space from airport operator AirMall USA, and not by the state directly.

The BWI Thurgood Marshall Equal Pay Act calls for the state to make up the difference between what concession workers make and the living wage state workers are entitled to until 2017. At that point, the legislation would compel the state to exercise an opt-out option in the AirMall contract.

Evelyn Diadhiou, a server at Silver Diner at BWI, says that taxpayers are already subsidizing the low wages workers paid in airport shops and restaurants in the form of government assistance.

“I have a lot of coworkers who are public assistance, food stamps. I’ve applied for food stamps recently,” says Diadhiou. “So I definitely watch people who are in my immediate vicinity struggling to make ends meet on a job that people assume we make so much money because we’re in the airport.”

UNITE HERE, a union working to organize concessions workers, estimates that assistance costs the government about $800,000 per year.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Ben Barnes, received hearings in both Senate and House committees earlier in the session, but has not moved to the floor of either chamber.

*This post has been updated to correct the number of people arrested.