Accord averts health strike

Hopkins hospital, service workers reach agreement

3-day walkout canceled

Job actions at Sinai, GBMC called off as talks there continue

April 20, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The hospital service workers union and Johns Hopkins Hospital reached a contract agreement yesterday just seven minutes before workers were to walk out for a three-day strike.

The union is to continue discussions with Sinai Hospital today and with Greater Baltimore Medical Center on Monday. Job actions planned for today and tomorrow at both hospitals have been canceled.

After two one-day strikes earlier this year, the Service Employees International Union's local - District 1199E-DC - had planned for the local's 2,400 members to participate in a three-day job action at the three hospitals. To draw attention to their cause, union workers also planned to hand out leaflets at the Johns Hopkins University during this weekend's homecoming events.

But as negotiations progressed late Wednesday and into yesterday morning - ending with an agreement that gives all workers at least a 10 percent raise over three years and sets a $10-an-hour pay floor for current workers after the third year - the union called off the Hopkins leafleting campaign and canceled the job actions.

In recent months, the union had focused on reaching an agreement with Hopkins, where about 1,500 members work; GBMC and Sinai each have about 450 union workers. The union represents patient care aides and housekeeping, dietary and maintenance employees.

It concentrated on Hopkins because it is "the largest hospital system in the region and they have great impact on how standards are set," said Robert Moore, the SEIU local's president. "It's easier to try to establish standards by negotiating with the largest employer."

Moore said the SEIU will continue to operate a watchdog Web site, www.hopkinswatch.org, as a source of information for union workers, regulators and the public.

The union and the hospitals have been negotiating since before the previous contract expired Dec. 1. The union has conducted rallies and the one-day job actions Jan. 31 and March 15. The union has also picketed the Johns Hopkins University to draw attention to its cause.

The three-year agreement with Hopkins hospital needs to be ratified by a union vote. According to Armeta Dixon, the local vice president, and some members of the union bargaining committee, details of the agreement include:

A salary increase of 3 percent the first year and 3.5 percent each of the next two years. (Hopkins had previously offered a 3 percent increase for each year.)

For incumbent workers, a minimum wage of $10 by the end of the contract. About 40 percent of the workers are paid below that rate, according to union officials.

For workers hired in the third year of the contract, a minimum wage just below $10 per hour, compared with the current $7.52.

A new joint committee between union workers and the hospital administration to examine and make recommendations for improvements to the workers' pension plan.

"Folks are concerned about the survivor benefit," Dixon said. "There are a lot of people at the hospital who are single parents. Right now, if you don't have a spouse and you die, that's the end of your pension - your children wouldn't get it."

Union and hospital officials were in talks through Wednesday night until 1 a.m. yesterday and resumed at 9 a.m., said Dixon. She said the tentative agreement wasn't reached until 11:53 a.m. yesterday - seven minutes before the job action was set to begin.

Hopkins workers said that the hospital announced the canceled job action over its public address system, and members of the bargaining committee and union organizers rushed to Hopkins to inform workers of the cancellation.

"It's no concession," said Wayne M. Jones, a member of the union's bargaining team. "It's the best economic package we've had in the 30 years that I've been here."

But as Jones and other union organizers spread the details of the settlement among workers yesterday afternoon, some workers, who had expected to walk off their jobs and begin picketing, voiced their discontent with the settlement.

"We wanted minimum wages to go up to $10 an hour - not at the end of the third year of the contract," said Karen White, a 32-year-old environmental services worker at Hopkins who makes $8.02 an hour. "That's why we're unhappy. They sold us out."

Charles Hall, a union organizer, gave details of the tentative agreement to workers - amid flaring tempers, raised voices and finger-pointing - at the hospital's Wolfe Street entrance.

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