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Minimum-wage protest targets Amazon in Baltimore

BALTIMORE, MD -- NOVEMBER 10: Protesters rally at a 'Fight for $15 Day of Action' protest outside of an Amazon fulfillment center on November 10, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. While local unions assert that "most of the jobs are temporary, offering no benefits or guarantee of full time employment," Amazon countered that most of the jobs are full-time and pay in excess of $15 an hour.
BALTIMORE, MD -- NOVEMBER 10: Protesters rally at a 'Fight for $15 Day of Action' protest outside of an Amazon fulfillment center on November 10, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. While local unions assert that "most of the jobs are temporary, offering no benefits or guarantee of full time employment," Amazon countered that most of the jobs are full-time and pay in excess of $15 an hour. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

About 100 low-income workers and their supporters rallied in the rain Tuesday outside the new Amazon distribution center in Baltimore calling for a $15 minimum hourly wage.

Demonstrators waved signs reading "Fight for $15" and "Raise the Wage."

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The rally is part of a nationwide push following action by Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles to approve $15 minimum wages. However, voters in Portland, Maine, and Tacoma, Wash., recently rejected such increases.

"We're here because workers deserve a living wage," said Lisa Brown, an executive vice president with Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union — United Healthcare Workers East. "Fifteen dollars an hour takes people not totally out of poverty but it allows them to work one job so they can feed their families and not be on public assistance."

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Local 1199 chose to rally in front of the sprawling Amazon center because it's a "symbol of poor quality jobs that have received significant taxpayer subsidies," according to a news release on the union's letterhead.

The 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center was lured to Baltimore two years ago with an incentive package worth more than $43 million. It started operations March 30.

Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso said the company's wages in the city are competitive.

"In Baltimore, we are proud to have created more than 3,500 regular, full-time jobs that offer competitive wages and comprehensive benefits starting on day one, including health insurance, 401(k) with 50 percent match, bonuses, company stock awards and a network of support to help ensure employees succeed," Toso said in a written statement

"Full-time Amazon associates in Baltimore, on average, make over $15 per hour in overall compensation, which includes base pay, bonuses, and stock awards," he said. "The vast majority of the jobs we've created in Baltimore are full-time. Throughout the year, on average, more than 90 percent of associates in our Baltimore fulfillment center are regular, full-time employees."

Advocates for the higher minimum wage said they were working with local political allies. Maryland was one of 20 states that increased the wage floors at the beginning of the year — some by legislation and others by referendum.

The increase to $8 on Jan. 1 was followed by a bump to $8.25 on July 1. It is scheduled to increase to $8.75 in 2016, $9.25 in 2017 and $10.10 in 2018.

Maryland's minimum wage had been fixed at the federal level of $7.25 an hour since 2009.

"Fifteen dollars won't put us in the Taj Mahal but it will put us in a place where we can do better for our children," said Candy Grigg of Communities United, a grass-roots social and economic advocacy group with a presence at the demonstration.

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