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The Dripby Fern Shen11:35 amApr 1, 20140

Johns Hopkins Hospital workers protest “poverty wage” pay scale

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

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

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, hardshipathopkins.org, 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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