A day in the life of service employees

Hospital managers see work world from different viewpoint

March 16, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Yesterday wasn't a normal day for Jim Hursey.

The corporate director of business development at Greater Baltimore Medical Center traded his suit and tie for Dockers and loafers. He put aside his budget-balancing duties to restock linens and medical supplies.

"I feel like I'm at home folding clothes with my wife," Hursey said as he counted towels in the High Risk Obstetrics Unit.

As workers picketed GBMC, Sinai Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital yesterday, top executives and managers like Hursey kept things running by filling in for the absent workers.

This is the second one-day strike staged by District 1199E-DC of the Service Employees International Union, which is negotiating on behalf of 2,500 workers for better wages and benefits. The union represents patient-care aides and workers in housekeeping, maintenance and food service departments.

In most cases the workers don't have direct contact with patients, but if their duties go unfilled it affects sanitary conditions and patient care.

The three hospitals prepared in advance for the strike, lining up volunteers and fill-in workers and training them for their new duties. GBMC brought in 25 extra volunteers and 150 executive and other employees from their normal duties. At Sinai, 250 volunteers and in-house workers filled in. Johns Hopkins hadn't calculated those numbers yesterday evening.

People accustomed to desks and computers found themselves cleaning toilets and mopping floors. At GBMC, some employees didn't recognize Lawrence Merlis, president and chief executive officer, clearing off cafeteria tables.

And then there was Hursey, whose day started at 7 a.m. at the loading dock, hauling linens and medical supplies off trucks and onto carts. After loading them, Hursey pushed the heavy carts from department to department filling shelves with blankets, sheets, syringes and gauze.

"I'm going to feel this tomorrow," he said, anticipating aching muscles. "Unfortunately I'm not in as good as shape as I'd like to be."

By 11 a.m. things slowed down and Hursey shifted from delivery to inventory. He counted every towel and blanket in specific departments. Later, someone else will type the numbers into an automated system to be used later for stock orders.

"I'm a little slow," he laughed as nurses rushed in and out grabbing towels.

Hospital officials said that filling in for striking workers was easier yesterday than the last time because many workers were assigned to the same jobs. More of the union workers also stayed away from the picket lines.

"We have not gotten to the point yet where our executive level is out there slinging hash," said Gary Stephenson, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins. "The best way to run the hospital is for them to do what they do best."

Executives who filled in pointed out some of the benefits of their temporary jobs. Scrubs and tennis shoes, for instance, are more comfortable than business suits and heels. They also learned about a different part of the hospital.

"By walking in their shoes and doing their jobs we understand more of their issues," said Debbie Doyle, the vice president of nursing, who was cleaning bathrooms for the day.

Hursey said that the striking workers are essential to the hospital and that the negotiations with the union are being done in good faith. He doesn't mind the extra work too much, but one day every now and then is enough for him.

"It's a little more complicated than I thought it was," he said. "I'm looking forward to our fellow workers coming back."

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