Sinai reports accord at hand

Tentative contract follows by a day one reached at Hopkins

April 21, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Sinai Hospital announced last night that it reached a tentative contract with its service workers, becoming the second of three Baltimore-area hospitals to settle protracted labor disputes with their unionized staffs.

The hospital agreed to a three-year pact that would raise the pay of its service workers to $9.75 an hour by the third year, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"We're very pleased to finally have this settled and to get back to business as usual without any further interruptions," said Sinai spokeswoman Jill Bloom.

The agreement, which also would provide new health benefits, still must be ratified by the 450 service workers represented by District 1199E-DC office of the Service Employees International Union.

The Sinai agreement comes a day after the union and Johns Hopkins Hospital reached a tentative deal that would raise Hopkins workers' base pay to $10 an hour by the end of that three-year contract.

In a joint statement released yesterday, union and Hopkins officials hailed Thursday's tentative contract for hospital service workers as a win-win agreement.

"We think [the contract] is good for the workers; we think it's good for the hospital," said Pamela Paulk, vice president of human resources for Hopkins. "It takes into consideration the long-term well-being of the hospital, and we think it's good for the community. It's also good for our patients."

No job actions were undertaken yesterday at Sinai or at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, according to union and hospital officials. Union negotiators plan to meet with GBMC officials Monday.

The deal between Hopkins and the service workers union, which came after more than five months of sharp rhetoric, stop-start negotiations, rallies and two one-day strikes, will be put to a ratification vote today, said Jim McNeill, a union spokesman.

Other union officials, who were in negotiations with Sinai and could not be reached for comment, have said that they would seek similar contracts with Sinai and GBMC.

Sinai agreed to give its unionized service workers a 30-cent hourly pay raise in the first year of the contract, with 35-cent increases in each of the next two years, said the hospital spokeswoman. The service workers union represents 450 of the hospital's 3,000 employees.

According to the joint statement, the tentative contract includes "solid across-the-board annual wage increases, an immediate increase to the lowest wage rate and the achievement of a $10-per-hour minimum wage for all current employees by the end of the contract."

Details of the contract, gathered from union officials and members of the bargaining committee, include: a salary increase of 10 percent over the life of the three-year contract; a minimum wage of $8.20 per hour during workers' 90-day probationary period, compared with $7.52 per hour under the past contract; and an increase to $8.45 per hour at the end of the probationary period.

Further details include revisions to the pension plan, enhanced training programs and agreement on how to handle the rising cost of health insurance.

But the issue of neutrality, one of the main points of contention between Hopkins and the union, appears not to have been addressed in this latest agreement, sources close to the negotiation said. In reports on past negotiations, the union sought to obtain an agreement from Hopkins that the hospital would refrain from influencing nonunion workers during unionization drives.

Before the settlement late Thursday morning, the union had planned to begin a three-day strike at Hopkins, Sinai and GBMC. Union organizers also planned a leafleting campaign during the Johns Hopkins University's weekend's homecoming events.

The union's ratcheting-up of tactics did not pressure the hospital into settling on an agreement Thursday, Paulk said. "We were fully prepared to handle any strike," she said, "The threat of a three-day strike had nothing to do with [the settlement]. This was the right thing to do."

Labor experts said the SEIU has been a national leader in increasing unionization and winning good contracts for its members.

Edward B. Montgomery, a former deputy secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, said union rolls have declined nationally because unions have not kept pace with a growing work force. But the SEIU is a dynamic leader in increasing union membership and securing good contracts for its members, Montgomery said.

Sun staff writer Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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