We won an acknowledgement from two media outlets....Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Brew ....that corruption is alive and needs to be addressed. The Baltimore Brew does great investigative journalism and presses for openness. This is growing. You won't hear it from public media in Baltimore where of course you would expect it. They are either co-opted by the people behind the corruption or their funding is threatened by speaking out against corruption. That is where public media is in crisis.
We are winning in our successes in bringing more people out to shout loudly and strongly against policy that works against the average person. I applauded community leaders who stood up at the Federal Reserve meeting on Baltimore development and let them have it for forcing the poor out of downtown communities and into their communities instead of helping these poor grow in the communities in which they live! These community leaders didn't say 'send in the helicopters and the police cars'....they said we want wrap-around organizations that will help these underserved people integrate into the community. THANK YOU FOR DOING THAT! I'm seeing this kind of activism all over and it makes it hard for those pushing injustice to continue freely. We also finally forced the Board of Estimates to hook up the cameras in the meeting room and show the meetings on TV channel 25. This was long ignored and it is a good start in transparency.....now you have to watch and share the information!
I want to describe a situation that I see as moving us forward with our goal of voting incumbents out. I always stop to talk with the union workers who picket against contractors. I know, they hire poor people to work for low wages to walk the lines.....like that is the worst of the problem. There is always a union member or two on these sites. So I stop and ask what the problems are on this construction site. This is a trade union. He immediately turns to the wall and describes how this contractor subcontracts to that contractor who subcontracts to that contractor who subcontracts to that contractor. His fingers are moving all over the brick wall beside us as he shows his disgust at the system. He said 'do you know that they actually make us agree to hand back to them $5 an hour from the amount they are required to pay by contract in order for us to be hired???? This is democracy???? Trades are told to campaign for jobs with a politician and then no jobs occur. The workers are all brought into the area for other states.
Now, I will tell you that that is progress. You always had these union members hesitant to speak openly about abuses but now they are fed up. I told him the unions must stop siding with incumbents and run their own union candidates. HE LOOKED AT ME WITH A BIG SMILE AS IT OCCURRED TO HIM THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT WOULD WORK!!!!
VOTE YOUR INCUMBENT OUT OF OFFICE. IF YOUR LABOR OR JUSTICE ORGANIZATION IS NOT RUNNING A CHALLENGER FOR ALL OFFICES....THEY ARE NOT WORKING FOR YOU AND ME!!!
Below you'll see how totally captured Baltimore is when you look at who is on the ethics board and how it never meets. The Mayor and her legal council Nilson. Now, if you have systemic corruption, those are the two you want on the ethics board? The State of Maryland does the same. The other members are Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland. This is my comment in the Baltimore Sun:
The citizens of Baltimore, just as the citizens of Maryland must wake up to what happens when you keep allowing the same people to stay in office term after term. There is a political lethargy that I think will awaken as the ethics deteriorate to such an extent as to become ridicule. Very few political environments survive widespread distain.
We are seeing more displays of public demands of accountability and this will grow. What we need to do is demand Rule of Law be enforced across the board. If we allow these pols to pick and choose when they will enforce law, we are not living in a Rule of Law nation. I encourage Common Cause Maryland to move beyond the language of its most recent push for ethics legislation at the state level to go further in defining the terms and removing the requirements of 'conviction' which we all know in this environment of corruption pols and corporations are rarely being convicted.
We have glaring examples of ethics violations when we look at examples of development with Johns Hopkins playing a primary role in development and at the same time receiving 'donations' for things like their Lacrosse Museum named for Cordish and a new football stadium for its satellite school dunbar 'donated' by UnderArmour.....both recipients of copious tax and grant benefits. The entire ABAG and Maryland non-profit system is ethics violations waiting to happen.
Ethics oversight board hasn't met in years Board in charge of city's ethics director has no recorded meetings since 1990s By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun 7:58 p.m. EST, November 11, 2012
Baltimore's ethics director is in charge of advising elected officials and fielding constituent complaints about them. It's unclear, however, if anyone is overseeing him.
A seven-member oversight panel, the Board of Legislative Reference, is responsible for hiring and firing the ethics director, according to the city charter. But, according to current and former city officials, the board has not met in six years — and perhaps longer.
The current ethics director, Avery Aisenstark has come under fire for doing legal work on the side for developers who are challenging zoning decisions in Baltimore County. Those same developers have had significant business interests before city agencies. Aisenstark's office also has been criticized for failing to review ethics disclosure forms that city officials are required to file.
- City ethics director does legal work on county zoning battle
- Common Cause questions city ethics director's fitness for job
- Ethics board closes session without publicly discussing probe into mayor's tickets
- Bill before City Council aims to close 'gaps' in ethics code
- More than half of city officials, employees fill out ethics forms wrong
- See more stories »
Christopher B. Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization, questioned whether the law shouldn't require more frequent board meetings and reviews of the director's work.
"What's the point of having the board if there's no oversight?" Summers asked. "With a leadership vacuum, you have an entrenched culture of complacency and a mentality that some employees are untouchable."
According to the city's charter, Aisenstark — who was hired for his city position in the mid-1990s — reports to the Board of Legislative Reference, composed of the mayor, city solicitor, president of the Johns Hopkins University, deans of the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore schools of law, director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and a member of the City Council.
"There is not currently a council member serving on that board," said Lester Davis, spokesman for Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "The Council President believes that the board should certainly meet more frequently than once a decade. He will soon meet with his colleagues on the council to determine the best member to appoint to the board."
Aides to some other board members did not respond to inquiries from The Baltimore Sun about the panel's status, except to say they were unfamiliar with it and would research the matter.
Roswell Encina, spokesman for the library, said Chief Executive Officer Carla Hayden was familiar with the board but unsure when it last met. He said she believed it met only when new mayoral administrations took office.
But others say they recall no such meetings since former Mayor Sheila Dixon and current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were sworn in.
"It has not met since I began my current job in January, 2007," said City Solicitor George Nilson in an email. "I am unfamiliar with history of its meetings before that date."
"I've always found it to be a bit odd," said City Councilman William Cole, who suggested the board should at least be required to meet annually to review Aisenstark's performance. "You're putting people on this board and they don't even know they're on it."
Councilman Robert Curran, who has served since 1995, said he has never even heard of the Board of Legislative Reference, and cannot recall any meetings of it during his tenure.
"If you ask 15 council members about the Board of Legislative Reference, 13 or 14 of them couldn't tell you what it is," he said. "There are a lot of things in the charter that need to be updated."
Aisenstark is director of Baltimore's department of legislative reference and its ethics board. He has acknowledged that as a private lawyer, he has done work on behalf of the Committee for Zoning Integrity, a group that is challenging some Baltimore County zoning decisions.
The group is funded by the Cordish Cos. and Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises, as well as the owners of the Garrison Forest Plaza and Green Spring Station shopping centers, according to disclosure reports.
Cordish and Brown have both sought city approvals in connection with their business interests in recent years. Cordish, for instance, sought a $3 million rent abatement last year on the Power Plant Live development. Brown is seeking city approval to demolish the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre to build two residential towers, three stories of retail space and underground parking.
Aisenstark, who runs a law firm called Avery Aisenstark LLC, attended a court hearing in Towson Oct. 31 during business hours related to the zoning fight. He said he was doing legal work for Stuart Kaplow, the attorney for the committee. Aisenstark said he took leave from work at City Hall to attend the hearing.
Aisenstark did not respond to requests for comment for this article, and previously said he would not respond to media inquiries from The Baltimore Sun. He has defended his work on behalf of the developers, saying they do not have business with his city agency and his work does not represent a conflict of interest.
Aisenstark's city responsibilities include advising elected officials on ethical matters, such as whether they can accept gifts from developers. He also advises the city's five-member ethics board, made up of citizens who consider complaints about the behavior of city officials and employees.
The mayor's office has said it is not responsible for Aisenstark or his actions. That duty falls to the Board of Legislative Reference, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said. The board's duties, according to the charter, are to hire a director or remove him for "incompetence or neglect of duties."
The chairwoman of the Board of Ethics, Linda "Lu" Pierson, has not responded to requests for comment on Aisenstark's legal work.
According to the charter, Aisenstark's duties also include collecting and maintaining the financial disclosure forms filed by city officials. In February, The Baltimore Sun reported that the forms are rarely checked, and a comprehensive review of the forms had not been done in years.
Members of the ethics board later arranged for a city intern to review the forms. The review found that more than half of the 1,900 forms were filled out incorrectly or not at all.
The Baltimore media pretend that the Occupy movement is over but I have been very pleased with the level of shouting loudly and strongly that went on all through the summer. It is getting louder! Hispanics are particularly harmed in Baltimore by the city's head turning to wage and workplace abuse. The Mayor and Governor acts as though they welcome immigrants and then they all turn their collective heads as they are abused and laws openly broken. We have the Minority Business lawyer suing for contract discrimination and we will have labor in there suing for lack of law enforcement! When wages are allowed to be below an already double-poverty wage.....and this is driven by Johns Hopkins......ALL WAGES MOVE LOWER!!!
The Light of Fair Development Shines On! Posted in Events, Fight for Fair Development, Human Rights Zone, Solidarity, Unity on May 21st, 2012 by Ashley – Comments Off The March to Occupy GGP was a glorious demonstration of determination, hope, and solidarity. Low-wage workers, faith leaders, students, community organizers, and activists gathered at an elementary school in West Baltimore to prepare for the four-mile march to occupy the Inner Harbor mall. We were joined by many of our allies from Baltimore and beyond, Media Mobilizing Project, Poverty Initiative, Picture the Homeless, Community Farmworkers Alliance, Good Jobs Better Baltimore, Another BDC is Possible, Unite HERE!, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers traveling all the way from Florida.
We could not have asked for a better day, clear and bright, like the message we were sending to General Growth Properties: two years of ignoring the problem of rampant human rights abuses at your malls is unacceptable, it’s time to put your house in order and ensure workers’ human rights to work with dignity, healthcare, and education.
With that message in mind, we set off from the elementary school. Just blocks from the school, we approached Mondawmin Mall, one of six GGP malls in Maryland. Harbor workers and families led the march right into the mall singing “This Little Light of Mine, I Am Gonna Let it Shine!” We disrupted this temple of consumerism charging it with the energy of the beloved community. And just like a flash of light, we went in one door and out the other bound for the Inner Harbor.
Our march route connected us with a Baltimore much different from the Baltimore showcased to tourists in the heart of our city. But as the heart of our city, the Inner Harbor does not act like most hearts, pumping blood throughout the body down to the last fingers and toes, rejuvenating the entire body with necessary nutrients. No, this heart is a heart that only pumps one way, to the top.
As we marched down historic Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore’s African-American entertainment midway where Billie Holiday used to perform at the Royal Theater, we saw a city that had seen better days, but we were greeted with overwhelming expressions of solidarity from people on the street. One woman who used to work at the Inner Harbor making less than minimum wage, told us to ‘go get’em.’ One driver rolled down the window saying thank you repeatedly as she drove past the march. Marchers passing out fliers got into great conversations with bystanders who related with the message of freedom from poverty and Fair Development. In a city that has been devastated by poverty, we were not simply shining a light on the problem, but letting the light that exists within to shine through.
We kept marching, across Martin Luther King Boulevard, down Eutaw Street and past another historic and thriving Baltimore landmark, Lexington Market. In contrast to the branded space of the Inner Harbor, Lexington Market is the original festival marketplace, a commercial, social, entertainment, and transportation hub for the city. Once again, bystanders demonstrated overwhelming support for the march as we got closer and closer to our final destination, the Inner Harbor.
We arrived at last at the Inner Harbor. While tourists and consumers were surprised and entertained by our energetic spirit and music, Harborplace management were very prepared and not at all entertained. Instead of allowing the peaceful march to flow through their mall carrying the message of Fair Development, they decided instead to shut-down the mall. They locked and barred all the doors, trapping consumers inside the mall and locking consumers out, save one heavily guarded door. Ironically by shutting down their own mall, their actions were more disruptive to business than our actions. It is telling that they would rather shut-down the mall rather than engage workers and the community. Instead of coming to the table with workers, they send security to monitor and shadow our actions.
However, what their actions do reveal is that workers and allies are being heard. We wrapped up the March to Occupy GGP with words of solidarity and a recommitment to the fight for Fair Development. As Luis Larin, United Workers Leadership Organizer, stated, “the march might be over, but the fight goes on until human rights are respected.”
This law was announced to great fanfare. The problem is that it fails to cover most work and city hall and DLLR allow loopholes to circumvent it. I want to take a look at how this law is actively undermined. Keep in mind this law largely relates to service and maintenance contracts AND ONLY BOOSTS WAGES A FEW DOLLARS, YET IT NEEDS TO BE CIRCUMVENTED? THIS IS SHAMEFUL!
What is the Living Wage?
Governor Martin O'Malley signed a bill into law establishing Maryland's Living Wage. The new law is effective as of October 1, 2007. The Living Wage Law requires certain contractors and subcontractors to pay minimum wage rates to employees working under certain State services contracts. The Living Wage Law currently requires the payment of the Living Wage of either $12.49 per hour, effective September 27, 2011 or $9.39 per hour effective September 27, 2011 depending upon the jurisdiction where the services are performed. The State Living Wage does not apply to county and municipal contracts although some local governments such as Montgomery County and Baltimore City have their own living wage requirements. This law applies prospectively only to contracts awarded after October 1, 2007.
Living Wage All service contracts established by Ordinance 442, and currently referenced by the City Code, Article 5, Subtitle 25, require the payment of the City’s Living Wage. The Commission conducts an annual study using federal poverty guidelines to determine the future wage rate to be paid. The recommendation is then submitted to the Board of Estimates. The current hourly Living Wage rate of $10.59 will remain in effect through June 30, 2012.
So, what these city council and state assembly people do when a contract actually fits with the Living Wage laws is construct the award so that it fails to meet a specification, in the case below......the $100,000 baseline.
The following minimum hourly wage rates shall apply to all contracts in excess of One Hundred
Thousand Dollars ($100,000)
I took this from this week's Board of Estimate agenda. It happens so often that the Baltimore Brew wrote articles highlighting the practice. Mind you, your elected officials should be working towards the spirit of the law, not actively helping companies to circumvent it. This shows a contract that if not augmented would have been over the $100,000 threshold and it is a maintenance contract. The wage laws do not kick in for $75,079 and $82,175 LabVantage is the third largest LIMS provider in the world. THEY HAVE A LOT OF MONEY BUT CAN'T PAY A LIVING WAGE?
The Board is requested to approve
the Extra Work Order/INCREASES TO CONTRACTS AND EXTENSIONS
11. LABVANTAGE $ 75,079.05 Ratification SOLUTIONS, 7,097.95 Term Order INC. 28,391.80
Solicitation No. 08000 – Software Maintenance Agreement – Department of Public Works, Environmental Service Division – P.O. No. P515926
On October 20, 2010, the Board approved the initial award in the amount of $82,175.00. The Department of Public Works continued to use software maintenance services from the vendor beyond the term of the original contract. The requested action will allow ratification of the contract, and the agency to continue to utilize the requirement covered by the contract until the time a new contract is awarded. The period of the ratification is January 1, 2012 through November 6, 2012. The term order is for the period of November 7, 2012 through December 31, 2012.
In Maryland all labor is forced to make all kinds of partnerships in order to get work. If you have a Mayor or Governor working for corporations to hand Maryland labor and small businesses over to these larger corps on a silver platter, then you have contractors who play the game. So, if you keep wages low and you shout out for politician's issues you will get the work. This is why unions have such a hard time in Maryland yet they always team up with the very pols that make their lives difficult. Trade unions support all these 'job creators' and yet the union jobs never surface. We'll watch National Harbor.
Minority contractors in Baltimore are the most abused business group. I watch Board of Estimate meetings where one after another long-term minority contractor is sent packing. There are only a handful of black contractors that are consistently awarded contracts and Pless Jones is one. You know in a city with a majority of African-Americans, there are thousands of minority businesses. WE WANT PLESS JONES TO FIGHT FOR STRONG LABOR AND UNIONS!
I read your article in the Baltimore Sun about labor at National Harbor and PLAs. When you highlighted that only 11% of Maryland's construction workforce is union, you identified the problem. If we are to get wages back up to a middle-class living wage we must have strong unions. We all know that laws surrounding Living Wage and Prevailing Wage are all circumvented by contractors all the time....perhaps by you as well. I am writing to you in particular because first, you are a minority contractor and second, because you always seem to be out front on all issues pushed by the Governor and Mayor of Baltimore that leave me, a labor and social justice advocate, scratching my head. You know what? Other contractors think you are have a monopoly on minority business because you speak out for issues that leave people scratching their heads.
I speak with labor all the time. Those that aren't unionized speak of contractors that hire at one hourly rate and then make the worker agree to hand back as much as $5 an hour. Or we see companies that organize themselves so that they have less than 10 employees or employees come from out of state and are paid their home state wage. Then we see contracts awarded for less than $100,000 that are later augmented by an Extra Work Order letting them escape wage requires.
Now believe me when I say that I truly doubt that a union contract will be signed in National Harbor as it is all Enterprise Zone and I have not seen union labor.....mostly immigrant labor on Enterprise Zone jobs. I also know that Enterprise Zone construction has mostly right-to-work labor brought into Maryland. So, I am not naive enough to think what the governor or mayor have in mind is better than your viewpoint. These construction contracts are most often bad for the worker and bad for local contractors like yourself.
My point is this:
We want to clean up all these ways of circumventing the system to the benefit of equal playing field for contractors and a strong wage for the worker. Minorities, black and Hispanic (and I say Women), are in need of this protection and we would hope a minority contractor like yourself would lead the way. Unions have all of the organizing structure to fight these problems and would do so if they weren't at the 11% disadvantage in Maryland. Why not promote unionization rather than disclaim it? Hire only union employees and watch the National Harbor deal to lobby for actual hiring of union labor.
Thank you in advance for advocating for the best for minority and women workers and businesses!
Citizens Oversight Maryland
Dixon orders open bidding on future demolitions
By Annie Linskey | email@example.com September 9, 2009
Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon directed the city's quasi-public development arm Tuesday to use a competitive bidding process for all future demolition projects, reversing a year-old policy and bringing the agency into line with city rules.
The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that the Baltimore Development Corp. awarded a $378,477 contract to demolish the Maryland Chemical building to P&J Contracting, owned by Pless Jones, without publicly advertising that the job was available. Instead, BDC officials contacted a handful of city demolition firms and picked the lowest of three offers they received. The BDC was in the midst of using a similar process for a second contract to knock down nearby warehouses.
Jones, who got the Maryland Chemical contract, is a frequent contributor to Dixon and other city elected officials. He also received a $4 million contract to demolish buildings on the Uplands project although paperwork on his bid was out of date.
YET PLESS JONES DECRIES FAVORITISM WHEN IT COMES TO UNIONS AND STRONG WAGES!!!!
A sixth casino would create jobs, but for whom? Agreement to use union workers would shut out most in Maryland
By Pless B. Jones Sr. 11:14 a.m. EDT, August 7, 2012
It seems you can't turn on the television or the radio this summer without hearing some voice extolling the virtues of bringing a sixth casino to Maryland —this one to be built inPrince George's County. And while there is an active public dialogue on the issue of expanded gaming, it is important for Marylanders to understand what is being promised and what may underlie the rhetoric. One particular element of the proponents' campaign deserves clarification — the jobs promised.
As The Baltimore Sun reported on July 13 ("National Harbor ad claims not supported by state analysis") there is much that is misleading in the ad campaign paid for by Building Trades for the National Harbor, which urges the public to support a sixth casino. In the misleading category is the claim that a "resort casino in Prince George's County would create thousands of good paying jobs," presumably for Marylanders.
The truth is that while there may be thousands of construction jobs in building a new resort, those jobs would be largely closed to the Maryland workforce. As a result of an agreement the developer of the National Harbor project has indicated he will sign, the new casino would be built under what is called a project labor agreement.
A project labor agreement (PLA) is an agreement between developers of construction projects and construction unions, under which construction firms must work as union shops; they must enter into collective bargaining agreements with the unions and hire union workers through union hiring halls. Where PLAs are required, the jobs are limited to a union-only workforce, which compels merit shop contractors like me to forgo my own trained employees for workers whose quality and ability are unknown to me.
There are currently 146,215 construction workers who live and work in Maryland. These are the men and women who build our hospitals and our schools. They refurbish hotels and repair roads and bridges. Their handiwork, skill and craftsmanship literally dot our landscape from the Eastern Shore to Garrett County.
But of these 146,215 workers, only 11 percent have chosen to belong to a union. Under a PLA, almost 90 percent of our construction workforce would not be eligible for the jobs to build this new resort casino. And, for local minority and women-owned firms, 95 percent of whom do not belong to unions, the result is a virtual lock-out of the competitive bidding process. This would include my company, a Baltimore City-based merit shop construction firm and minority business, which I have worked hard to build for over 40 years.
Maryland has a proud tradition of union and non-union (or merit shop) construction firms working side by side, without labor unrest, on literally thousands of projects all across the state. All of these workers have been significantly impacted by our nation's sagging economy and are just now beginning to see a rebound.
We know that labor unions urge the use of PLA's as a means of ensuring that workers receive good wages, benefits and apprentice training. But the truth of the matter is that the state's prevailing wage law ensures that workers, union and non-union alike, are similarly compensated on public works projects. Rather, as taxpayers we should be wary of any proposal that that would restrict competition and would discriminate against nearly 9 out of every 10 Maryland construction workers.
No matter what our views on this gaming issue, we would hope that any major construction project would be open to all Marylanders — not just the select few who have chosen to belong to unions. No Marylander should suffer the injustices of discrimination, whether we are talking about race, age, sex or labor affiliation.
Pless B. Jones Sr. is the owner of P&J Contracting Co. and president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.