Hopkins President Meets With Activists Over Pay

Group Seeks Increases For Low-wage Workers

April 22, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

A group of campus and community activists met with the president of the Johns Hopkins University yesterday in an effort to get significant pay increases for several hundred low-wage workers there, but made little progress.

After the morning meeting, the first with President William R. Brody on the issue, Hopkins officials said that they were committed to improving the pay of such employees but that they were not financially able to meet the group's demands.

In October, Eugene Sunshine, the university's senior vice president, agreed to ensure that employees of contractors at Hopkins would be paid a minimum of $6 an hour starting Oct. 1 -- 85 cents higher than the federal minimum wage.

But Neil Hertz, director of the Hopkins Humanities Center, presented Brody with a petition from 65 faculty members asking Hopkins to pay a "living wage" to all people working for the university and its contractors.

During the meeting, Brody said that the university would consider those concerns but that tight budgets likely would not allow changes, several participants said.

"We are very sympathetic and committed over time to make sure that our employees are as well compensated as the market will allow," Brody said later.

But, he said, revenue sources are strained: While parents are complaining about tuition bills exceeding $20,000 a year, the federal government is limiting how much it reimburses universities for research costs and care for Medicaid patients.

"The more we add financial burdens, the greater the possibility we would be forced to reduce the number of people we employ," Brody said.

Activists at the hourlong meeting were not placated.

"It's the same kind of dignified sleaziness that's operative throughout America that denies basic necessities for the least of us under the guise of market economy and the need to be responsible to other constituencies," said the Rev. Douglas Miles of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a coalition of religious and civic leaders.

Miles said several hundred employees who work for Hopkins subcontractors -- corporations owned by Hopkins University and Hopkins Hospital -- earn a wage that's equivalent to slightly less than $11,000 a year.

The federal government defines a family of four with an income of less than $15,569 as living in poverty.

"We're not talking about millions of dollars -- more like $600,000," Miles said. "If his priorities were straight, President Brody could shake just about any tree in the Hopkins system and $600,000 would fall out."

On another issue, Brody pledged that the university would not fire any current employees in favor of newly trained -- and presumably less expensive -- employees moving off the welfare rolls.

For example, at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, staff members are training welfare recipients for jobs, but Hopkins officials say those people would be hired only to fill vacancies.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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