Doing the dirty work
Baltimore's clean-up crew just wants to make a living
Posted: Friday August 31, 2007 3:32PM; Updated: Sunday September 2, 2007 7:30PM
BALTIMORE -- Judging by the streams of fans flowing out of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, you'd swear the game had ended. The driving rains sent even the most loyal Orioles' supporters running to the shelter of their cars, or the cover of the nearest bar. But beneath her broken-down umbrella, Bernadette Scudder stood, waiting and wondering if the umps would ever call this game. She can't tell you the name of a player, the outcome of a single game or the Orioles' standing in their division, but no matter how late the hour, Scudder would see this, and every home game, through to its end.
None of the fleeing fans seemed to notice Scudder or any of the other 118 workers jockeying for the dry piece of concrete beneath the Gate F overhang. It is here, toward the end of every night game at Camden Yards, where the field lights cast a shadow upon the workers who will soon help the stadium regain its shine.
"One line! I need one line!" barks a foreman in charge of the stadium clean-up crew. The workers, some homeless, some immigrants, but all poor, file one by one through Gate F. "Five, six," the foreman counts. "Seven, eight. Did I count you?" the boss asks a group of workers standing in the line.
Do I count? it's more of a philosophical question to some of the thousands of temporary workers who pick up the peanut shells, hot dog wrappers and Coke cups that sports fans leave behind. It's a question that the laborers at Camden Yards ask us to consider as we approach Labor Day -- the time of the year when Americans celebrate the fruits of our labor. But according to some members of the clean-up crew, who spend six to eight hours cleaning after every game for $7 per hour, there's a whole lot of labor but very little fruit. That's why 11 workers will begin a hunger strike on Monday outside the ballpark to demand that they be paid a living wage.
The city of Baltimore became the first to enact a living wage ordinance, which now requires local businesses to pay workers at least $9.62 per hour. But because the Maryland Stadium Authority, which runs Camden Yards, is a state rather than a city agency, it and its subcontractors are exempt from paying the city-mandated wage. A new statewide living wage law that requires employers to pay $11.30 takes effect in October, but excludes temporary employees such as stadium clean-up workers. The living wage would bring the workers' pay above the national average for janitorial work, $9.56, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's 2006 statistics.
The Maryland Stadium Authority has reportedly asked the United Workers, the group organizing the clean-up crew, to hold off its protests until it is able to sort through the intricacies of the new state law. While the legalistic wrangling will happen later, the workers' bills are due now.
Carl Johnson, a 21-year-old Baltimore native and Orioles fan, would wait alongside Scudder at Gate F for two hours before the estimated end of every game. But waiting for work doesn't necessarily mean getting it. Some nights more workers than the 150 or so needed will line up to clean the stadium. Johnson would have no idea that the two-hour wait for work would be nothing compared to the wait for his pay. After a month's worth of work in May 2005, he says he stood outside the offices of the subcontractor who hired him for eight hours to receive his check. He says he's still waiting.