`Living wage' protest ends with concession

Hopkins denies increase, but agrees pay is `critical'

March 17, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Students at the Johns Hopkins University ended their 17-day sit-in yesterday, signing an agreement with the school administration that falls short of their demand for a "living wage" for all Hopkins employees, but gets the school to agree that "compensation is critical" to the well-being of its workers.

"We feel very good about what we've accomplished," said Elizabeth Rittenberg, a member of the Student Labor Action Committee (SLAC) that organized the protest. "We now move to the next phase."

Rittenberg, a graduate student in the Humanities Center, said James T. McGill, the university's senior vice president for finance and administration, signed the agreement yesterday morning, sitting amid a group of protesters who were sprawled around the lobby of Garland Hall, the administration building on the Homewood campus.

SLAC ended the sit-in with a 4 p.m. rally.

For more than a year, SLAC has been pushing Hopkins to commit to a "living wage" of at least $7.90 an hour for all direct and contractual employees at the university and hospital.

In an earlier agreement, Hopkins said it would aim for a minimum of $7.75 by July 2002. But the school declined to agree to cost-of-living adjustments to that figure, saying that would make it "a moving target," unfeasible in the current health care economy.

Hopkins officials had been offering a version of yesterday's agreement -- saying that the school believed that "all workers should live in dignity and support themselves and their families," and setting up a committee to study poverty, particularly in the East Baltimore neighborhood around Hopkins Hospital.

But Rittenberg said two crucial changes led to the end of the sit-in -- an explicit recognition that compensation is "critical" to workers' ability to live in dignity, and including community members on the committee that studies poverty.

With spring break next week, it was also going to be difficult to sustain the sit-in.

Hopkins President William R. Brody was out of town. In a statement, he praised SLAC for raising serious issues.

"Hopkins has had -- and still has -- differences with SLAC over the specifics of how we should address those issues," he said. "But I believe the ground on which we differ is actually much smaller than the ground on which we agree."

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