Talks may begin with `living wage' protesters

Students occupy lobby at Hopkins for two weeks

March 14, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Negotiations to end the 2-week-old "living wage" sit-in at the Johns Hopkins University's administration building might begin this week.

University officials say talks may happen because protesters have softened their position.

"Before, they were saying that before we could even begin to talk, we would have to capitulate to their position," said school spokesman Dennis O'Shea. "Now that might not be the case."

David Snyder, of the Student Labor Action Committee (SLAC), which is organizing the protest, said the administration has misinterpreted the group's position. "We encouraged them to look at our statements, and when they did they saw we were always willing to compromise," Snyder said. No talks have been scheduled, but both sides said they could begin as early as today.

A group of about a half-dozen students has occupied the reception area of Garland Hall on the Homewood campus around the clock since Feb. 28, demanding that the school agree to pay a "living wage" of $7.70 an hour to all employees at the university and hospital and ensure that its subcontractors pay that rate.

University officials have agreed to work toward the living wage figure, but have refused to commit to guaranteed cost-of-living adjustments.

"Hopkins cannot commit itself today to meeting an unpredictable, moving wage target indefinitely into the future," school President William R. Brody said in a statement to the campus last week that described the uncertain economics of the health care field.

In that statement, Brody reiterated that the school was willing to commit "to the principle that all workers should be able to live in dignity and support themselves and their families," and to set up a committee to study poverty, particularly in the East Baltimore neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Snyder said SLAC would also like to talk about more specific matters. "We want to make sure that we have access to information about wage structures and, if there is a committee, that workers are allowed on it.

"And we would like to see some immediate movement on wages," Snyder said, indicating that some who work for Hopkins' maintenance arm, Broadway Services, earn less than the living wage.

The statement from Brody last week implied that school officials are running out of patience with the protesters and asked them to leave Garland Hall. But no action has been taken to move the students.

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