Gov. Wes Moore (D) on Wednesday pledged to include a “labor peace” agreement when the state next awards a contract to run the concessions operations at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Moore made the public commitment, which has been long sought by labor leaders and many lawmakers and other stakeholders, as the Board of Public Works voted unanimously to extend the contract of the current airport concessionaire on a month-to-month basis. Just last week, Moore ordered the Maryland Aviation Administration to go back to the drawing board in its efforts to award a long-term contract to run retail, food, and other hospitality services at the region’s busiest airport.
Moore on Wednesday said he and the other members of the BPW — Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D) and Treasurer Dereck Davis (D) — were in accord on insisting that the new contract include a provision that would allow airport service workers to unionize and seek collective bargaining rights. And he said that the massive concessions contract would become an integral part of the state’s strategy to improve the airport.
“When you think about the work at the airport, when you think about BWI Marshall, it’s absolutely critical that it be an economic engine for our state and also our region,” Moore said. “And when it comes to the concessions operations at our airport, it’s going to be a key element to the growth and success of the airport, and the growth and success of the airport is a critical part of Maryland’s growth.”
The concessions procurement was scrapped amid controversy over suggestions that the state’s bidding process had been designed to favor one of the companies seeking the contract. Last year, the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates BWI, put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a vendor to run concessions at the airport for 20 years.
Even before that process became bogged down by charges of favoritism, certain stakeholders were disappointed that the Hogan administration had not included language in the call for bids last year requiring a labor peace agreement. These public agreements, which often become a part of expansive and lengthy contracts, ensure that workers who attempt to unionize will not be penalized by their managers and also ensure that there won’t be disruptions in service by a worker walkout or slow-down.
“It’s a big deal,” said Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment.
Roxie Herbekian, president of UNITE Here Local 7, which represents about 300 food and retail workers at the airport, hailed Moore’s pledge.
“I think it’s good news for the state of Maryland,” Herbekian said. “What the labor peace does is prevent any disruptions of services…This has been a long, arduous process. Gov. Moore wants to get it right on all aspects of the [concessions] contract.”
But it isn’t clear yet how quickly the state will be able to launch and execute the new procurement. The current concessionaire, Fraport, has held the contract for 18 years, and its current arrangement with the state was due to expire on March 31. With its vote Wednesday, the Board of Public Works extended Fraport’s hold on the contract indefinitely, on a month-to-month basis. The state can end the contract with 60 days’ notice.
Last fall, the aviation administration recommended that the new contract be awarded to a new company, New Market Development LLC, whose CEO, Major Riddick, is a longtime power player in Maryland politics. But the company did not meet the criteria to be awarded the contract as the state’s original Request for Proposal seeking bidders was written. Some provisions in the RFP were later changed to make New Market Development eligible, raising protests from other companies seeking the contract. Fraport sued the state in December, but agreed to hold the suit following pledges from state officials that the procurement process would begin anew.
Lierman on Wednesday suggested Fraport was an obstacle to workers’ attempts to unionize.
“For the past years we’ve been dealing with Fraport’s unwillingness to deal with workers who work at the airport and their desire to have labor peace,” she said.
Davis wondered whether Fraport’s short-timer status at BWI would impact companies that lease retail and restaurant space at the airport. He noted that 26 businesses have leases that expire at the end of the month.
“They want certainty, and at month-to-month, there is no certainty,” Davis said. “If I can go to Reagan National [Airport] or Dulles or somewhere else, I would probably do that, so I can get more certainty there.”
Davis asked Sean Powell, the state’s deputy Transportation secretary, if he could estimate how long Fraport’s temporary contract would be in effect.
“We don’t have a ballpark,” Powell replied. “Can I get back to you?”
Ricky Smith, the executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, said the state is confident that the month-to-month lease for Fraport won’t adversely impact the retail and hospitality tenants at the airport.
“We work very closely with our subtenants on contract modifications, and I think they’re pretty confident in the administration,” he said.
Moore said Davis raised a good point.
“We need to be making sure we stay on top of unintended consequences,” he said.
Airport gets $38 million federal grant
BWI’s status as a major economic driver in the state was reinforced on Wednesday when all nine Democrats in the Maryland congressional delegation announced that the airport had received a $38 million grant through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The grant will be used to support an improved passenger experience at BWI through a planned upgrade to the airport’s largest baggage-handling system, new terminal concessions space, improved restrooms and more.
“Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is a gateway to the world and an economic powerhouse for Maryland, Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) and Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-3rd), Glenn Ivey (D-4th), Steny Hoyer (D-5th), David Trone (D-6th), Kweisi Mfume (D-7th) and Jamie Raskin (D-8th) said in a joint statement. “The federal infrastructure law recognized the importance of investing in our airports to maintain our competitive edge. This federal funding will be put to good use in Maryland to improve passengers’ experience and convenience at BWI.”