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Quick and Dirty

Developmental Responsibilities

Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union Organizes to Fight For Better Development Policy

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/6/2008

The hotel and restaurant workers union, UNITE HERE, is trying to gather Baltimore neighborhood groups into a coalition to fight for better development policy in the city. In its first meeting, held July 29, the Baltimoreans' Forum on Responsible Development met at the union hall at 9 W. Mulberry St.

"There was a great response," says Jessica Turner, a research analyst with the union who helped to organize the meeting. "We had more than 100 community members and I think four City Council members," including Council Vice President Edward Reisinger (10th District), Warren Branch (13th District), Bernard "Jack" Young (12th District), and Bill Henry (4th District).

The meeting featured residents of the Westport neighborhood in the city's south, where an ambitious redevelopment project is set to receive city subsidies. Residents heckled a representative of the developer, Turner Development, according to Jessica Turner (no relation to the developer). According to an article in The Sun, company CEO Patrick Turner gave testimony, in June, to a grand jury seeking information about improper ties between developers and Mayor Sheila Dixon.

The city's largest developers also formed a new political-pressure group in June, the Baltimore Development Workgroup, "to protect and enhance Baltimore's reputation as a desirable place to develop," according to a statement in a Baltimore Business Journal article. UNITE HERE's effort could be seen as a counterweight to that.

The union is also interested in developer Mark Sapperstein's so-called City Center, a hotel and condo development planned for the corner of Lombard and Calvert streets, and Harbor Point, an $750 million office, hotel, and apartment complex with shops between the Marriott Harbor East hotel and Fells Point, slated for completion in 2012.

"The [City] Council hasn't really been linking these big downtown developments to tangible benefits in the neighborhoods," says Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, a labor-oriented, Washington-based nonprofit research group that for years has decried the trend toward massive tax breaks and other subsidies to entice businesses to move to cities or states.

Downtown development vs. the neighborhoods is a perennial issue in mayoral and City Council campaigns, but since the heyday of the South East Community Organization in the 1970s, there has not been a single organization bringing the disparate grievances into sharp political focus. Organizers hope the UNITE HERE forum will change that.

"We're getting ready to plan our next forum, which will happen some time in the fall," says Jay Mehta, a senior research analyst for the union.

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