BALTIMORE -Hospital workers were on the march in the pouring rain earlier this month at John Hopkins Hospital. One homemade sign probably best explained their concerns: "America's Number One Hospital - Keeping Workers in Poverty."
Close to forty busloads of healthcare workers from New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia joined with Johns Hopkins Hospital Local 1199, SEIU Healthcare Workers East in a spirited "Mothers' March for Justice" rally the day before Mothers Day.
Undaunted by a sudden storm the 3,000 union members, retirees and supporters enjoyed music, chants and speeches. Actors Danny Glover and Wendell Pierce of "The Wire" lifted the spirits of the workers by their supportive presentations.
Hopkins, America's #1 ranked hospital for over a decade, was lambasted by union members and medical students who have been up front in solidarity with the workers since before a three-day strike in early April. .
"Hopkins is the top medical institution in the world," declared Fred mason, president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO. "And they can't figure out how to treat their workers!"
"It is a contradiction for a place with a world-renowned reputation such as Johns Hopkins to pay its employees so little," said George Gresham, president of the SEIU local. The crowd cheered as he announced simultaneous support rallies taking place in Brazil and Panama and that one would be taking place later that day in Washington, DC.
A common theme at the rally was "Hopkins should be ashamed!" Two speakers from the stage exemplified ongoing support from Hopkins medical students. "We can't sit quietly by while you get treated this way," declared a grad student from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (named after the recently replaced mayor of NYC).
Contract negotiations between the union and Hopkins have been focused on maintaining benefits and working conditions won in years past, and elevating the minimum wage rate at Hopkins to $15 per hour. The current minimum is barely higher than the new Maryland minimum wage rate passed by the General Assembly, raising the wages to $10.10 per hour over the next four years. There are many examples of employees losing what they have in this difficult economy because they can't sustain their family on Hopkins pay. Hopkins in the meantime just completed construction of an entire new hospital facility, opened in 2012, at a cost of just over a billion dollars.
With $1.9 billion in operating revenues last year, and $145 billion in profits, 68 percent of Hopkins Hospital workers make less than the wage qualifying a single parent and child for food stamps. This is a remarkable lack of progress for the largest private employer organization in Maryland and harkens back to the 1960's, when even skilled trades at Hopkins such as electricians qualified for food stamps. The union was organized in 1969, 1199's first successful organizing campaign outside of New York City.
1199 SEIU pledged to continue the fight until justice is won for Hopkins caregivers. "By winning better wages at Hopkins, we can win a better Baltimore," the union flier, HardshipAtHopkins .org said.
Photo: Jim Baldridge/PW