By Benjamin Weiner

For The Diamondback

As part of a statewide rally in support of workers' rights during ongoing state employee contract negotiations, members of a local union group and students in the Student Labor Action Project gathered outside Ritchie Coliseum on Thursday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees held five rallies in Baltimore, College Park, Hagerstown, La Plata and Salisbury, "all starting at the same time to show solidarity," said Cherrish Vick, a family service caseworker at Prince George's County Department of Social Services.

"I need this pay raise, Gov. [Larry] Hogan," Vick said. "I need this and I know that you have it. … When you hand out a bunch of tax credits to your buddies, that does not grow Maryland's economy. I grow Maryland's economy."

Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George's) attended the rally and spoke in support of University of Maryland workers.

"It's not a question of whether the state has money, but how they prioritize it," Tarlau said. "It would be a good use of funds to support not only AFSCME, but also the workers here and all they do for this university."

In less than a month, there have been two joint rallies between the AFSCME chapter comprised of university employees and the Student Labor Action Project.

The groups also gathered at Ritchie on Sept. 30 to protest student wages.

Students who work for this university are paid at least $8.75 per hour, the minimum wage for the state, rather than Prince George's County's minimum wage of $10.75 per hour.

At Thursday's rally, SLAP members threw their support behind AFSCME and the 3,000 campus workers the union represents.

"The point of the rally is that the union and the students are fighting together on the same issues so all of our actions are somewhat about the others' work," said Chris Bangert-Drowns, a senior economics major. "This one is primarily about the contract negotiations for wage increases for state workers."

People attending the rally held signs reading, "Fair pay, not food stamps. Build Maryland. AFSCME 1072," "Parking rates go up. Parking spaces go away," and "Stop Loh wages for student workers."

Saul Walker, a maintenance worker at this university, said he is passionate about fighting to improve contract negotiations and pursuing higher wages.

If this university wants its workers to keep running its daily operations, "it's time the university rewards us with some improved benefits," Walker said.

"People before profits!" Walker chanted along with about 20 AFSCME members.

Walker said he thinks more people would've attended the rally if so many school employees didn't instead have to be working a second job during the scheduled time.

Tarlau said that without AFSCME members' work, Maryland would not be able to run.

The battle for fairer wages is achievable, he added, as long as the governor and legislature prioritize the people of Maryland over large corporations.

AFSCME and the state have until the end of the year to come to an agreement on the wage negotiations.

"This is only the beginning," Tarlau said. "This is going to be a difficult time and a difficult fight against the 1 percent who are getting all the wealth while the rest get shafted."