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BUILD prods city's social conscience Fairer share of jobs sought for blacks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Patsy Gladden, 48, worked for 17 years as a housekeeper at a downtown Baltimore hotel, but she never earned enough to move out of public housing.

Phyllis Neal, 35, a former $7.20-an-hour bookkeeper in a discount store downtown, can't find a new job that pays enough to cover her modest mortgage.

Even after years of public investment to redevelop Baltimore and create good jobs, too many African-American city residents like Ms. Gladden and Ms. Neal can't make enough to support their families, according to BUILD, a church-based group with a social agenda.

Over the past decade, BUILD has spearheaded the Nehemiah Project to provide homes for low-income people, including Ms. Neal, and developed the Commonwealth Agreement to guarantee jobs or college financial aid for qualified city high school graduates.

Now the group has set out to improve the quality of jobs for blacks in downtown Baltimore and to inject a renewed sense of social purpose amid the Inner Harbor glitter.

The group's reasoning goes like this: Hundreds of millions of public dollars have been spent or earmarked to subsidize Inner Harbor and downtown redevelopment -- most recently $151 million in state and city funds to expand the Baltimore Convention Center.

The beneficiaries of those subsidies, BUILD argues, have an obligation to create jobs that pay a "living wage" to city workers, particularly members of Baltimore's African-American majority. Therefore, a "social contract" is needed to enforce that obligation.

"Our community's cooperation and support and lack of raising a ruckus has been bought with the promise of sharing equally in development," says the Rev. Douglas Miles, a Baptist minister and BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) activist.

"This time it will not be business as usual," Mr. Miles says. "Too many people are locked out of a real opportunity to share and locked into part-time and dead-end jobs."

The group has proposed that the city, BUILD and the prime beneficiaries of public investment down

town, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, enter into a "social contract" to guarantee:

* More full-time, year-round jobs with benefits that pay an as yet unspecified "living wage."

* An increase in the number of African-Americans in mid- and upper-level management jobs.

* A pool of money to train downtown workers for career advancement.

On Tuesday night, BUILD plans to pack Enon Baptist Church in " West Baltimore with 800 members to test the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and other leaders for its proposed "social contract."

The group has lined up limited backing for its idea, but it isn't clear whether the support is lip service or a prelude to action that could affect the Convention Center money and future subsidies.

Hearings planned

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, wrote downtown hoteliers an April 19 letter echoing BUILD's arguments ("It appears that only the low-skilled, low-paying jobs in the hospitality industry have gone to Baltimore's African-American community").

He said he would hold a hearing on "the impact of the hospitality industry on Baltimore."

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat, has scheduled a June 16 hearing of the Economic Development subcommittee that she chairs to let BUILD air its views.

City Council approval will be needed to issue revenue bonds to fund Baltimore's share of the Convention Center expansion, said William R. Brown Jr., city finance director.

Mr. Brown said that the city was also studying an increase in Baltimore's 7 percent hotel tax to raise revenue to pay debt service on the bonds. The council would also have to approve any tax increase, he said.

But politicians have not embraced the prospect of holding hostage the city's $50 million share of the Convention Center expansion while a "social contract" is developed.

Council President Clarke said she does not regard BUILD's proposal as a "quid pro quo" -- council approval of the $50 million bond issue in exchange for the business community's commitment to a "social contract" -- but "simply as a matter of social justice."

"What BUILD is trying to do is charge the battery again by reminding us all that part of the contract on development is to provide opportunities for young people that live in this city," she says.

Similarly, Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mayor Schmoke, said the mayor "supports the concept and wants to work with the group to bring about some positive developments toward their goals."

But the mayor has questioned the legality of putting social conditions on public subsidies. Mr. Coleman said the city's legal department was still researching the matter.

BUILD's Mr. Miles said, "Baltimore must address this issue now before another $50 million of city money -- our money -- is put into further redevelopment. It hasn't been worth doing for the African-American community. We haven't benefited equally."

Businesses skeptical

Business interests say BUILD's goal of increasing African-American prosperity is admirable, but that its critique of Baltimore's redevelopment is off-base.

They point out that the Inner Harbor boom of the 1980s created thousands of desperately needed jobs -- and that the Convention Center expansion is projected to add 6,600 new jobs and $15 million in new direct tax revenues to the city and state. Blacks have benefited, they say.

Jim Biggar, general manager of the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, said about 20 percent of Stouffer's 60 salaried managers are African-Americans, about the same as at the other large downtown hotels.

"We pay what we need to, to attract high-quality people to provide high-quality service," Mr. Biggar said. "It's not based on anyone's calculation of what is a 'living wage.' If some jobs require higher skill levels, those jobs get paid more."

Statistics on what kinds of jobs African-Americans hold downtown and around the Inner Harbor aren't available.

One recent study did show that residents of suburban counties who work in the central business district earn considerably more than city residents.

A study of the entire Baltimore metropolitan area found that only 4.2 percent of black workers were managers in 1988, compared to 14.4 percent of whites.

The 1990 census showed that only 12 percent of African-American residents of Baltimore had college or higher degrees, compared to 26 percent of whites in the city.

While Mr. Miles says "tax dollars have created this low-wage service economy" in Baltimore, there is evidence that the growth of temporary and part-time work, which often doesn't include health or pension benefits, is a national trend.

More than 6 million Americans work part-time because they can't find full-time work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And more than 1 million U.S. workers do temporary work. Manpower Inc. has become the nation's largest private employer.

All of which is little consolation to Patsy Gladden and Phyllis Neal.

"Nobody wants to pay you a living wage," Ms. Gladden complains.

She now has a $5.39-an-hour housekeeping job at a hospital, which she says is more steady than hotel work, and she still lives in public housing at Cherry Hill.

Phyllis Neal has been baby-sitting a neighbor's children to earn spending money since losing her job in January.

Fortunately, she says, she had made several $281 mortgage payments on her home in the Penn-North neighborhood.

Ms. Neal, who supports three daughters and has taken some college courses, doubts that she can match her former wage.

"Now I'm starting all over," she says. "To be making $7.20 and then start somewhere else at $4.50 or $5 an hour, well, it will be hard for me to adjust."

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