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Camden Yards workers hope to join others who’ve had minimum pay lifted

Minimum wage workers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, pictured here on Opening Day in 2015, are fighting for higher pay that aligns with upward trends statewide. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

While employers like hospitals, banks and even retail establishments have recently hiked their pay to attract new workers, some employees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards are still pushing to get wages above the state minimum of $12.50 per hour. 

Unite Here Local 7, a union representing Maryland’s hotel, gaming and food service workers, is rallying for a $15 minimum wage for hospitality workers at Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles, which contracts a firm called Delaware North to operate its dining services.  

The union said it submitted its full proposal to the company in January after two years without negotiating wages, due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the Orioles’ season being canceled in 2020 and being reduced to a partial season last year. But the company hasn’t returned its economic proposal to the union, despite saying it would do so earlier this month, according to Roxie Herbekian, Unite Here Local 7’s president.

Delaware North’s lack of cooperation has been unusual, Herbekian said, noting that most employers have been willing to bargain in good faith once reopening following pandemic closures. She also said that most employers in the hospitality sector are offering wages above the state minimum wage, like the Baltimore Convention Center, which offers its workers at least $15 an hour, and hotels in the area, which tend to offer at least that much. 

“Most employers have recognized … it’s a tight labor market and in order to attract labor, they need to raise wages,” she said. “It’s been like pulling teeth to get (Delaware North) to participate in negotiations.” 

Indeed, Delaware North will be going against labor market trends if it keeps its minimum wage at $12.50. As Maryland’s statewide minimum wage moves towards $15 an hour, inflation, which is up 8.2% from this time last year, and the cost of living in Maryland have increased at higher paces, pushing many employers to offer wages above the state’s minimum whenever possible.  

Delaware North declined an interview with The Daily Record, instead emailing a statement: “Delaware North is proud to operate foodservice and retail at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with Unite Here Local 7 and remain committed to reaching an agreement that satisfies all parties.” 

In Maryland, institutions from Johns Hopkins to Under Armour have recently announced $15 minimum wages. Others have gone further, with Luminis Health, a health care system in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, announcing a $17 minimum wage last October.  

Just today, Bank of America, which is the largest bank in Maryland, making up 22.87% of the market, announced it would raise its lowest-paid workers’ wages to $22 an hour, with the goal of achieving a companywide $25 minimum wage by 2025. 

According to Christopher Meyer, a research analyst at the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, low-wage jobs have seen significant growth over just the past five years. In Maryland, workers in the tenth percentile for wages have seen their pay increase 42% from 2016 to 2021 across all sectors, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, as calculated by the center. 

Wages for the lowest-paid arts, entertainment and recreation workers, a category in which Camden Yards hospitality employees would be included, have increased 36% — lower than the overall increase, but still above industries like finance, educational services and construction. 

According to Meyer, these large increases happened so quickly in part due to Maryland’s $15 minimum wage law, passed in 2019, kicking employers into high gear. 

“That really shows the power of legally setting the minimum wage to bring the fastest benefits to workers who are making the lowest wages,” he said. 

The tight labor market has also encouraged employers to offer competitive wages whenever possible, especially for customer-facing jobs that became more dangerous during the pandemic due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Many Camden Yards workers want to be able to stay at their current positions but worry that, unless negotiations with Delaware North go better than they have been, the job won’t continue to pay the bills. 

Carolyn Pride, who has worked for eight years at one of the ballpark’s retail shops making $12.50 an hour, struggles to even afford the Ubers she often has to take from work, as one of the last employees finished with work after a game.

“The work that we do is over and above … we stay over, we clean the store, we do customer service. What we mainly do is we take care of the customers, we greet them, we take them to the clothes,” she said. 

Pride, unlike some of her colleagues who sell food or drinks at the ballpark, is also not eligible to receive tips; in the past, satisfied customers have asked if they could tip her, she recalled, but she had to refuse.

“I can’t even meet my bills,” she said.