BALTIMORE (PAI) -- Some 2,000 low-paid workers - janitors, maintenance workers and technical workers - at one of the nation's leading university hospital systems, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, will be in line for hefty raises under a new contract reached July 8. Workers voted on the pact on July 10-11. Union leaders recommended its approval.
The workers, represented by Service Employees 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, achieved wages of $15 an hour - the nationwide demand of low-wage workers for a living wage - for 20-year veteran workers next year, and $14.50 an hour for 15-year veterans.
Hopkins workers now make so little that 70 percent qualify for food stamps, SEIU said.
"This is an important victory for patients and workers all across Baltimore," said John Reid, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East for Maryland/ DC. "Johns Hopkins Hospital sets the standard for healthcare in our city and that standard has just been raised."
The union and university officials achieved the pact after marathon bargaining sessions in the first week of July. Those sessions were prompted when Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., stepped in and stopped a planned 4-day strike in late June.
The workers previously struck for three days, with advance notice, earlier in April. Law requires advance notice of planned strikes by health care workers, and permits government intervention. And a huge downtown rally in May taught area residents about the Hopkins' workers poverty wages and need for food stamps.
"For almost four months, we've been in talks with Hopkins management for a contract that would end poverty pay at our world-renowned hospital," worker Yvonne Brown explained in a recent op-ed in the city's dominant daily, the Baltimore Sun. "But the hospital's latest offer would still leave many of Hopkins' service, maintenance and technical workers relying on food stamps, Medicaid and other government aid to get by."
"I've worked at Hopkins for 19 years, and I make just $12.97 an hour," just above the poverty and food stamp line, Brown noted. She also pointed out that hospital President Ronald Peterson earned $14.5 million in total compensation last year, while heading what is supposedly a non-profit hospital system. Petersen's pay alone would have been enough - if it was split up - to give each of the 2,000 workers the raise they sought, Brown said.
Highlights of the agreement include: Total raises as high as 38 percent for long-time, low-paid Hopkins workers, a boost of as much as $4.30 an hour over the life of the contract.
Base pay for all current workers, regardless of service, of $13 hourly by 2018: Across-the-board raises of at least 2 percent every year, plus an 0.5 percent bonus in the contract's first year, and a 2.75 percent raise in 2017. The two sides agreed to establish a committee to review market rates for surgical techs, pharmacy techs and other workers whose pay is under market.
Photo: 1199 SEIU MD/DC Facebook page.