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Laborers' International Union of North America holds a rally against the Port Covington deal. (Yvonne Wenger/Baltimore Sun video)

Labor unions are continuing to demand Baltimore officials tie higher wages for the estimated 15,000 construction jobs at the Port Covington project to any public subsidies for the developer.

David Allison, of the Laborers' International Union of North America, said it is unacceptable for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Sagamore Development Co. to negotiate worker wages in connection with $660 million in taxpayer-backed bonds for the massive development.

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"Sagamore wants to use the city's money and take advantage of the workers," said Allison, business manager for LiUNA's Baltimore Washington Laborers' district council.

What the union wants is health insurance, retirement funding and pay that allows workers to support their families, Allison said. If structured correctly, he said Port Covington's redevelopment "has the possibility of creating a new middle class in Baltimore."

About 200 people rallied outside of the War Memorial in downtown Baltimore Thursday to pressure city officials to require more of Sagamore in exchange for the subsidies. Among their demands is a call for Sagamore to hire a majority of workers for the project from the local communities and pay them "prevailing wages," a rate that is similar to union pay based on an annual survey conducted by the state.

The rally was timed in advance of a meeting of a key City Council committee, which was to consider the financing deal for the sprawling $5.5 billion South Baltimore project. The development, to be the future home of Under Armour, is to include offices, stores, homes and light manufacturing on a largely industrial peninsula south of Interstate 95.

Marc Weller, Sagamore president, said LiUNA refused an offer from the company that "could result in 100 percent prevailing wages to Baltimore City residents working on the project and only wanted those wages paid to their members." He also accused the union of not wanting to "prioritize Baltimore City residents for employment or wages or Baltimore City businesses for contracts."

"Sagamore is never willing to prioritize anyone or anything over City residents, City businesses and, especially, the City's minority and women entrepreneurs who are working hard every day to bring wealth, success and stability to their families and the communities throughout Baltimore City," Weller said in a statement.

"These are the realities of the discussions between Sagamore and LiUNA and make it perfectly clear why they are on the outside looking in."

On Thursday, city officials, advocates and clergy announced an extensive community benefits agreement with Sagamore that requires, in part, the hiring of Baltimore residents for the project.

More than half of people hired for the construction, design and engineering work on the site would have to come from the city, according to the agreement. The company also has pledged to advocate for all businesses eventually operating at Port Covington to hire about a third of their workers from the city, according to officials.

Other provisions address pay. Trade workers on the project's infrastructure construction would earn a minimum of $23.41 per hour, including wages and benefits, officials have said. At least 12 percent of all labor hours on the project would have to be given to construction apprentices, according to officials.

The agreement also calls on the developers to commit $6.5 million to pay a prevailing wage to certain workers.

Additionally, Sagamore has agreed to provide $25 million for a workforce development center, training and loans for small businesses.

LiUNA is pushing the City Council to approve a project labor agreement that would guarantee a portion of the work for union labor. Officials point to an email from a city lawyer, however, that says such an agreement would be illegal.

Allison said the city law department should issue a formal opinion. The union has asked for one as well as a meeting with the solicitor, but has not been granted either, according to Allison.

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Talks between Sagamore and LiUNA broke down in recent days

Allison called Sagamore's actions at the bargaining table "unconscionable."

"They are trying to negotiate with working men and women's wages," Allison said. "As it is structured now, this is a bad deal for everyone except the owner of the development."

LiUNA members — dressed in bright orange T-shirts — joined concerned residents, clergy and other advocacy groups, including Build Up Baltimore and Housing Our Neighbors. State Del. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, also joined the rally.

Omar Thomas, 46, of Harford County came out to advocate for future union-wage jobs for himself and others. Thomas, who used to work at casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. said he recently finished an apprenticeship program in general construction.

"I have lived in a lot of places and I have seen development like this come in, and they promise a lot of different things and hardly deliver," Thomas said. "It builds up the people who already have and it skips over the people who are still trying to establish themselves in the working class."

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