Men and women working on the frontlines at BWI Marshall Airport and Penn Station risk their health and lives every time they go to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite how crucial these sites are to Maryland’s infrastructure and economy, contracted workers are paid as little as below the state minimum wage. The majority of these workers are Black, and thus three times more likely to be infected by COVID and twice as likely to die from the virus.
Among these workers are tipped airport wheelchair workers like Rudaina Jabai, who are paid below the state minimum wage even though the majority of the time these workers don’t get any tips, especially during the pandemic.
Rudaina even has to ask her family for help just to pay the bills. Worse still, she takes care of her elderly mother and lives in fear of bringing home COVID and getting her mother sick. Rudaina tries her best to take safety precautions, but it is still very dangerous because her job requires her to be closer than six feet to passengers.
How can we in good conscience turn a blind eye to the fact that so many essential workers put their lives on the line to keep us safe, but are unable to pay the bills?
That’s why we strongly support passage of the Secure Maryland Wage Act to reduce racial inequities. The bill would improve wages for an overwhelmingly Black workforce, many of whom live in Baltimore communities that most urgently need this financial boost.
With a continued uptick in travel and a light at the end of the tunnel through vaccines, the airline industry is on a path to recovery.
Higher wages have already been applied to nearly a dozen similar “heightened security locations,” including nearby Washington Dulles International and Reagan National airports. They adopted a wage policy because they concluded it would likely further improve safety and security and both have seen an increase in passengers.
It’s time that Maryland also harnesses these sites as engines of economic growth, by ensuring workers like Rudaina earn livable wages that allow them to better support their families and our economy. Our lawmakers must take this opportunity to catch up, not fall further behind the region.
If we want to hold true to the view that Black Lives Matter, we must ensure that a majority Black workforce at crucial transportation hubs no longer must struggle to make ends meet.
State lawmakers have the studies and examples they need to understand that the Secure Maryland Wage Act is a commonsense approach to our economy recovery, which is truly justice for all.
—JOHN A. “JOHNNY O” OLSZEWSKI JR., BRANDON M. SCOTT AND MARC B. ELRICH
The writers are, respectively, the Baltimore County executive, the mayor of Baltimore and the Montgomery County executive. All are Democrats.