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Keeping Baltimore’s Water in Public Hands

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Water profiteers have long sought to call Baltimore home. AFSCME Council 67 members joined with community allies years ago to educate city residents about the dangers of private water companies taking over the city’s water utilities.

At the continued urging of community and workers, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution this month barring the sale of the city’s water utility. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the measure soon thereafter. The measure will now be placed on the November ballot for voter approval. It’s expected to pass.  

Pugh announced via Twitter, “The City’s water and sewer system is a priceless asset for the citizens of Baltimore and I am determined to do everything possible to protect this vital resource and ensure that it remains reliable, clean, and plentiful.”

AFSCME Council 67 President Glenard Middleton, AFSCME members and community allies stand with Mayor Catherine Pugh at Baltimore City Hall to announce passage of the resolution barring sale of the city’s water utility. (Photo courtesy City of Baltimore)
AFSCME Council 67 President Glenard Middleton, AFSCME members and community allies stand with Mayor Catherine Pugh at Baltimore City Hall to announce passage of the resolution barring sale of the city’s water utility. (Photo courtesy City of Baltimore)

AFSCME Council 67 President and International Vice President Glenard Middleton testified before the city council.

He said, “Poor people and communities of color would be disproportionately harmed by water privatization. The water rate hikes needed to generate corporate profit would lead to water shutoffs in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. And water corporations would likely invest more resources in wealthier areas of the city because these companies have a track record of cherry-picking projects to generate the highest returns for their investors, instead of keeping the public’s best interest at heart.” 

The issue is simple. Privatized utilities mean less access, lower quality and higher prices. All too often, these companies raise fees and put profits over community while making safety decisions. If something goes bad, the community is left picking up the pieces to reestablish the utility, losing valuable tax dollars, while the profiteers walk away.

In 2013, under former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore seriously considered selling off the utility to Veolia, a foreign-owned company, in a misguided scheme to fix Baltimore’s financial troubles. The company has a history of failed enterprises from Flint, Michigan, to Pittsburgh.

Keeping Baltimore’s water utility in the public’s hands is yet another victory for us. AFSCME steadfastly opposes the privatization of public services and critical infrastructure. Recently, AFSCME members in Atlantic City, New Jersey, joined with community partners to defeat an money-making scheme to privatize that community’s water system.