Md. General employees hold 1-day strike

Service, support workers say wages are too low

February 24, 2005|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

More than 100 service and support workers at Maryland General Hospital held a one-day strike yesterday to protest wages that they say are inadequate.

Colene Y. Daniel, president and chief executive officer of Maryland General, said the strike did not interrupt patient care. Doctors and nurses were not involved in the work stoppage. Volunteers, hospital board members and others performed duties left by striking workers in the cafeteria, housekeeping and other areas, Daniel said.

The union members have been working without a contract since December during negotiations on a new agreement.

Daniel said in a news conference at the hospital yesterday that Maryland General is "very disappointed" an agreement couldn't be reached. She said the hospital pays its hourly workers more than other area hospitals do.

"It's not about salary. It's not about pension. It's not about the working conditions," Daniel said. "It must be about the union and its expanding goals."

Armeta Dixon, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union 1199E-DC, which represents union members at the hospital, said starting pay for service workers at Maryland General is higher than it is at other area hospitals. But she argued that it is still too low. Workers in the lowest pay group earn $10.89 an hour, she said.

The hospital said in a news release that it is proposing a 3 percent pay raise over three years, the addition of two holidays and improved weekend and shift differentials.

Workers marched outside the hospital entrance yesterday carrying signs that said "Be fair to those who care" and "Standing up for our future." They said an offer on the negotiating table for a 5-cents-an-hour raise is not sufficient.

"We haven't had a raise since 2003," said Wanda Stewart, a cashier in the hospital cafeteria.

SEIU 1199E-DC represents 253 housekeeping, maintenance, patient-care technicians and other workers at Maryland General, according to the hospital. The hospital has 1,600 employees.

Daniel said 35 percent to 40 percent of the union workers went to work yesterday.

The union did not confirm that estimate, saying it wouldn't know until today how many of its workers were on strike and how many crossed the picket line.

Workers were expected to return to work today. Dixon said the strike was brief because of concern for union employees and the hospital's patients.

SEIU reached contract agreements in June with the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Sinai Hospital, where it represents a combined 2,700 support staff workers, narrowly averting a strike at the three hospitals.

Maryland General said it has negotiated contract agreements with SEIU for 30 years without a strike. The workers' most recent contract was extended until Dec. 1, 2004. The union employees have been working without a contract since then.

Daniel said she is hopeful that the union and the hospital will resume their negotiations. She said the union did not show up for talks scheduled for Monday night and yesterday morning.

Dixon said no negotiations were scheduled for Monday night or yesterday. She said the union was "desperately trying" all day Monday to avoid a strike.

The union is willing to go back to the bargaining table, Dixon said, but "it doesn't make sense ... when you're 18 miles apart."

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