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Unions ramp up advocacy amid COVID-19 outbreak

Locked gates and empty walkways are shown at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Unions are pushing for Major League Baseball to pay stadium workers hurt by the delay of the regular season, initially slated to begin this month. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Locked gates and empty walkways are shown at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Unions are pushing for Major League Baseball to pay stadium workers hurt by the delay of the regular season, initially slated to begin this month. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Local unions want tight oversight of funds and increased benefits for their members as Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package Friday aimed at bolstering an economy pummeled by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Unions, such as 32BJ SEIU, which represents property service workers in the Washington and Baltimore regions, praised the federal bill for including incentives backed by organized labor. Those enticements, unions say, should result in contractors and airlines rehiring laid-off workers, and provides enhanced unemployment benefits for laborers who are not rehired.

“We commend Congress for recognizing the vital role of contracted airport workers in the airline industry and their humanity during the coronavirus crisis by explicitly including $3 billion in the bailout for the contracted workforce. … These workers are on the front lines of the COVID19 epidemic, keeping our airports running and cleaning terminals and planes to help reduce the virus’s spread,” Jaime Contreras, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said in a statement.

The House of Representatives approved the bailout bill, which includes $50 billion for airline carriers, a day after national first-time unemployment claims soared past records set during the 2008 financial meltdown to more than 3 million, with 42,300 of those jobless claims coming from Maryland.

Unions representing employees of airports, airliners and contractors say they’re just starting advocacy on stimulus-related issues. Those items include advocating for safeguards to make sure the $3 billion in relief intended for contract workers ends up in those employees’ bank accounts.

Organized labor also intends to ramp up efforts to push for policies they’ve long backed, such as health care coverage and paid sick days to help workers who are infected with the potentially deadly disease. Contract workers, according to the unions, should also be covered by any state bailouts given to airports or airlines.

Unions are also bolstering up worker advocacy efforts in other industries suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic, such as Major League Baseball.

UNITE HERE Local 7, which represents Delaware North concessions workers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, is pushing for MLB to pay stadium workers hurt by the delay of the regular season initially slated to begin this month.

About 10 days ago MLB’s 30 teams pledged $1 million per franchise to aid stadium employees who are out of work. Those funds, however, do not cover thousands of workers with subcontractors who work stadium concessions.

UNITE HERE contends the cost of paying out-of-work concession employees “pales in comparison” to the profits made by those franchises.

In 2019 the median operating income for an MLB team was $32 million, according to figures reported by Forbes magazine, with the median value for a team at nearly $1.54 billion. The Baltimore Orioles, according to those same figures are valued at $1.28 billion, but operated at a loss of $6.5 million in 2019.

“UNITE HERE applauds the league’s decision to delay the season for the public’s health but are very concerned that thousands of loyal stadium workers will be left without work and facing poverty – especially at facilities that have received so much public investment like the $110 million for Camden Yards,” according to a statement from the union.

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