Johns Hopkins Hospital workers protest “poverty wage” pay scale

Contract negotiations with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East to continue Thursday

hopkins hospital

Housekeeping, maintenance and other service workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital say their pay puts them below the poverty level.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Service, maintenance and technical workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital, negotiating late last night for higher wages as their contract expired, failed to reach an agreement and scheduled negotiations to continue on Thursday.

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union representing roughly 2,000 employees at Hopkins Hospital, says that about 1,400 of them are paid less than $14.91 per hour – the rate that qualifies a family of four for food stamps. Wages at Hopkins range from $10.71 per hour to $27.88 per hour.

“We got fast food workers calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage and now, for them to say to employees at America’s Best Hospital that they can’t do any better, is just outrageous,” said Jim McNeill a spokesman for the union.

McNeill said workers, who voted to authorize a strike last week, started negotiations seeking “a fair wage” of $15 per hour. He said last night they offered to go to a $14 per hour four-year contract, but still could not reach an agreement with management. Under this latest offer, every worker with fifteen years or more service at Hopkins would make at least $15 an hour by the end of the agreement.

“Nobody wants a strike. And we realize this is a process that requires concessions, so we have been reasonable,” McNeill said. “But it is time for them to have something close to a living wage over there.”

The hospital’s Communications and Public Affairs Office has not returned phone calls and emails today from The Brew.

(UPDATE: Full text of statement from Johns Hopkins Medicine received after publication, included below.)

$12-per-hour by 2018

According to McNeill, the hospital’s best offer last night was “a five-year contract that would bring everyone up to [starting pay of ] $12 per hour by 2018.”

McNeill said that is not acceptable and too close to current pay policies that leave many employees with poverty wages.

“I work at America’s Number One Hospital but my kids and I are on Medicaid,” said Hopkins nutrition aide Michelle Horton, whose remarks were included in a union news release.

Among the workers whose stories are included on a union website,, is Wiley Rhymer. According to the account provided there, he took a job as a floor technician at Hopkins, leaving a job as a hazardous materials technician that required long hours and a lot of out-of-state travel.

He said he was told that at Hopkins he would be able to move into better jobs in his field, but none opened up and his starting pay of $10.71 per hour only bumped to $11.19 per hour after the first year. Now, with his fiance having lost her job, the couple and their two sons live below the poverty line of $11.47 per hour.

“If you had told me Hopkins would be a downgrade,” he said, “I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Another employee profiled, environmental services worker Kiva Robbins, has worked at the hospital for 12 years and makes $12.20 per hour. According to the site, she and her boys had to give up their apartment when the rent was raised and now they’re doubling up at a relative’s apartment.

“Kiva, like many workers at Hopkins, can’t afford the hospital’s family health plan,” the site says. “So even though she helps provide world-class care, she can’t afford to get braces for her son.”

Hopkins Responds

In response to our questions, Kim Hoppe, director of Johns Hopkins Medicine Media Relations & Public Affairs, emailed this statement:

“Our patients and their families are always our first priority, so it is important they understand that the employees represented by SEIU1199 work primarily in service and maintenance jobs and are not involved in providing direct patient care. SEIU1199 represents approximately 2,000 of the nearly 20,000 people working at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who include employees, medical staff and trainees.

We are negotiating with union representatives in good faith and are working to reach a settlement that’s fair to everyone and reflects financial responsibility on the part of the hospital.

Should these employees decide to strike in the future, we have contingency staffing plans already in place to assure no disruptions to patient care. Out of respect for our employees and their labor union, we are negotiating directly with them and not through the media.”

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  • lshopes

    It is utterly disgraceful for a wealthy institution like JHU not to pay employees a living wage. Period – no ifs, ands, or buts.

  • Andrew

    JHU is infamous for lowballing all their employees, even doctors. They trade of the prestige of working there in lieu of actually getting paid decently.

  • ushanellore

    Bravo for your courage! They strong arm. They arm wrestle. They always come out ahead, because they are the biggest employer in Baltimore, they have plenty of donor money and they consider the lowly replaceable, disposable and usable.

  • KnowNothingParty

    Wage stagnation is one of the ills that happens when you open your doors to any and all undocumented workers. When you increase the low skill workforce – the wages for low skill jobs are stagnant at best. Even though we might not be able to afford life’s basic necessities, at least we feel good inside.

    • Matt R

      Wage stagnation at Hopkins has little to do with undocumented workers and a lot to do with being so big that it can affect the job market’s salary curve in Baltimore City. What would really help is for the mayor and city council to stop making excuses on why other business don’t want to locate here and actually do something drastic to attract employers. Truth is Hopkins will not have to pay more until there is real competition in the job market driving up salaries within the city. Until there are few warm bodies without employment in Baltimore, JHU will not have to pay regionally competitive salaries. So we need to ask Stephanie and the Council, what is your plan to make many businesses compete over few available workers and not the other way around (as is the norm now).

      • Alicia Aydlett

        But the president and his staff gets paid a Million a year.

    • ushanellore

      Knownothing for you all roads lead to illegal immigration.

      Get out of your tunnel, think lateral,
      please extrapolate–don’t discombobulate,
      and stop sowing hate,
      it’s not a case of the illegals at Hopkins
      pushing out the legals–
      it’s a case of the legals exploiting the legals
      with very legal contracts–

      Enforcement of immigration laws
      may be lax,
      but you must talk facts–
      Hopkins is a megalopoly
      and in Baltimore where this monopoly
      holds sway,
      there is no leeway to negotiate pay–

      Even as you spew your bile,
      the illegals pick the apples you swallow,
      the oranges you squeeze,
      the grapes you toss in your throat,
      sew the bags you tote,
      fill the potholes that could swallow you,
      wash the dishes that pile–
      in the restaurants–cook your food,
      slaughter the pigs that roast in your spit,
      even make the furniture on which you sit–

      You miss the point when you insist
      that America would be a haven of joy,
      if all the illegals absconded afar–

      It’s the legals I know, who loathe jury duty,
      to take off for days gives them fury,
      numerous legals are listless and lazy,
      in school they’re befuddled and hazy,
      they feel entitled because they were born
      to the sound of tooting horns
      on America’s soil–

      But since the time of their birth–
      until they’re gone–
      they use the illegals as scapegoats because
      scapegoating is a method to avoid
      the bitter truths that plague their void,
      frequently they bribe and are bought,
      they make laws to favor the rot,
      they exploit– but usually are not punished or caught.

      The illegals are not the only ones
      who keep the murder rates up,
      the legals too, they rape,
      they break, enter and invade,
      they despoil the landscape,
      their impunity it shapes
      the loss that limns our current state–

      So get out of your tunnel–extrapolate,
      and initially– even if you are mad–
      that America is not Auntie Mame–
      your sole proprietorship–
      hopefully you’ll think hard–
      and conclude “it is what it is”
      because the “legals” made the “illegals”
      their tickets to profit and bliss…

      Usha Nellore

  • librowoman

    Am I correct in assuming by Ms. Hoppes’ statement “Our patients and their families are always our first priority” that JHU does not include it’s employees who provide care to said patients and their families their first priority? Wow, this institution is destined to implode.

    • Alicia Aydlett

      JHU EHP and Employment staff are insensitive people.

  • tina

    They need to stop this B.S. and get on with their lives. Quit protesting near the hospital. If you really care about your jobs and the people you are supposed to be helping, you would quit shouting your protest words under the hospital, where there are reports you can be heard on the 9TH FLOOR where children who just had BRAIN SURGERY are TRYING TO REST AND RECOVER. Go get a different job you wastes of fresh air! These patients are already in pain and you are making their recovery 100 times worse!

    • ushanellore

      There is always a lot of noise around Hopkins–the traffic sound is enough to kill everyone inside if they keep their room windows open. Besides a hospital is supposed to spend money to sound proof–did Hopkins save money on that too?

      I guess you work for Hopkins and you are trying to curry favors with them. If they notice your post, and you do work for them they may give 1 cent for each word you’ve written–in the name of the patients–injustice–that would be 93 cents more! Bravo. You win!

      • tina

        No, I do not work for Johns Hopkins. I live in Virginia and well over a hundred miles away. I have friends that are there in the hospital with their children who cannot sleep at night and stay up screaming because their heads already hurt enough from their surgery. Don’t try to accuse me of working for them when you have no idea what’s going on. Bravo for stupid people. By the way, the protests are being held right under the children’s ICU. I hope somebody drops a colostomy bag out the window on their stupid butts.

        • ushanellore

          The protests are valid. You should take your bile elsewhere. JHU is a city hospital–it should be sound proof. Its great you don’t work for them–you probably earn a living wage. I don’t believe there are too many folks in the children’s ICU with colostomy bags so you may not realize your wish. As for your friends with children screaming their heads off in the ICU–implausible is more like it. How many children? Two or three from the same family in the ICU–all of them after surgery with hurting heads? The hospital does pain management very well and post surgical pain management in children and adults under the purview of Hopkins anesthesia is done beautifully. I highly doubt Hopkins docs and nurses will let post surgical kids scream in pain and not offer pain management. Hopkins may be stingy but its docs are great–even its residents and interns are absolute brains.

          • Citizenpane

            Tina’s from Virginia. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Don’t waste your time engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. . Her “Bravo for stupid people” comment would serve well as a state motto for Ole Virginny. They should print it on the bottom of their license plates.

          • tina

            For your information, I only live in Virginia… it’s not where I’m from. Some of these children have issues that can’t be solved with what you call “pain management” because their issues are degenerative and only get worse over time. Not to mention other factors in play such as medicinal allergies, screaming liberal idiots, etc…

            Why don’t you do some research into Chiari Malformation and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome before you talk to me about pain management?

            Oh, and what state a person lives in, has nothing to do with their IQ. A battle of wits is pointless with people like you who assume that location has everything to do with smarts. I applaude you for showing yours!

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      think of the children…..

    • Alicia Aydlett

      How much do you make an hour? How dare you. You’re either apart of the problem or apart of the solution. Unless, you can share your experience keep it clean.

  • ushanellore

    One should look at who sits on the board of JHH. Who is the CEO of the hospital? Who is the head of HR? What is their reaction to this strike? What is their reaction to the widespread demoralization and disaffection of the workers at Hopkins? I am sure the board doesn’t want the hospital to get bad publicity. If the custodial service is not up to par then it hurts the patients.

    Many hospitals are outright dirty today. They don’t hire enough people to clean. They save money on this of all the things. If a hospital claims that it is interested in the welfare of the patients it should show that interest by hiring the best for cleaning the hospital.

    Hospital acquired infection are not only frightening, they are lethal and persistent–they are also antibiotic resistant. HR seems dumb about the nature of a hospital–what makes it tick. The input of doctors seems to be unimportant.

    If you run a hospital disregarding the medical aspects of running it, paying attention only to the business aspects, then you will run the hospital into a semi profitable graveyard and subsequently, when the patients stop coming, into a bankrupt place.

    Hopkins is riding on its reputation, but more strikes like this one will quickly tarnish that reputation and HR should be mindful of the devastating consequences of bad publicity for a hospital. I am sure they’ll blame the striking workers for the bad publicity but digging deeper and being truthful they should be able to see they are the causes of their own misery.

    • Benjamin Meintzer

      Tarnish John Hopkins, sorry but its going to take more then a few people to tarnish a reputation of John’s Hopkins Hospital and or the reputation it has in the Baltimore City or State of Maryland Community. If you don’t like your pay at your job then leave and get one that does pay better.

  • KnowNothingParty

    There is a line of “new Americans” willing to do your job for much less pay. You cant have both good wages AND numerous people waiting for entry level employment.

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