The state's three top elected officials had harsh words Wednesday for the company that manages concessions at BWI Marshall Airport for not doing more to help hourly employees who staff the restaurants and shops.
An angry Gov. Martin O'Malley said at the Board of Public Works meeting that "it's pretty obvious" that 10 years after being awarded the contract to manage concessions, AirMall USA had done little to help raise pay and benefits for workers.
"They're also pretty smug about it. They think they're in the catbird seat," O'Malley said.
But an AirMall spokesman said it acts as the concessions developer, attracting tenants that set wages and benefits for their employees.
While AirMall has generated more revenue for the state than the previous contract holder, the spokesman said, company officials "welcome a dialogue with Governor O'Malley to improve our program beyond what we've already accomplished."
The issue came up as the board was preparing to approve the first payments for a $125 million airport expansion plan that will clear the way for more international flights. The $23 million will pay for architectural and engineering services to create an expanded security checkpoint for concourses D and E and convert two domestic gates so that they also can be used for international flights.
Construction is scheduled to begin next May and conclude in winter 2015, said Paul Wiedefeld, BWI's executive director.
Before the vote, O'Malley invited airport workers to address the board about their attempts to get paid under the state's living wage law.
Jasmine Jones, a Dundalk resident, said she works in four airport restaurants but has no health insurance and can't afford to go to a doctor.
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"We want to be able to do honest work without having to put together five or six paychecks in a household just to make ends meet," she said.
Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp offered support.
Franchot said it was clear that AirMall "doesn't share our values" on worker benefits. Kopp said that while she was pleased with the way the airport has grown, to ignore working conditions "is just wrong."
The state signed a 12-year contract in 2004 with Pittsburgh-based BAA USA. In 2010, the company was bought by Prospect Capital Corp. and renamed AirMall USA. In addition to BWI, the company runs retail, food and beverage concessions at Pittsburgh International Airport, a portion of Boston Logan International Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
During the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the contract's end date was extended to 2022.
O'Malley warned that before BWI expands food and retail outlets at renovated concourses, he wants "a new process" for selecting the manager.