Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)

Marc Steiner examines if Johns Hopkins has the money to pay a living wage with Hopkins Hospital worker Daniel Roberts, SEIU union organizer Carrietta Hiers and Jeff Singer, founder and former Executive Director of Health Care for the Homeless

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MARC STEINER, HOST, THE MARC STEINER SHOW, WEAA: Good to have you all with us today on this bright and sunny day here in Baltimore, Maryland. And, of course, you’re listening to The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA 88.9 FM, the voice of the community.

[snip] going to speak with labor activists and workers involved in many struggles around here, including people starting off the program who work at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

We are joined here in the studio by Daniel Roberts, who is a transporter who’s been working at Johns Hopkins a year and a half and makes $12.50 an hour as a member of SEIULocal 1199.

Good to have you in the studio.

DANIEL ROBERTS, HOPKINS HOSPITAL WORKER: It’s good to be here.

STEINER: It’s a storied union.

Carrietta Hiers is with us in the studio. She’s a longtime SEIU199 organizer at the Johns Hopkins hospital. She’s been present at the ongoing contract talks between the workers and the hospital.

Carrieta, good to have you with us in the studio.

CARRIETTA HIERS, SEIU UNION ORGANIZER: Thank you.

STEINER: Your reputation precedes you. Good to have you here.

Jeff Singer’s in the studio. He’s founder and former executive director of Health Care for the Homeless and teaches now at the University of Baltimore School of Social Work and wrote this interesting piece–a letter, actually, to the editor in The Baltimore Sun outlining why Johns Hopkins could afford to pay their workers more. And he’s here just to be able to throw all those facts on the table that he’s been researching and talk about that.

We did ask Hopkins to join us. They sent a statement instead and said they could not join us. And I wrote other people at Hopkins, asking them to please bring people here, even if they want to do a one-on-one and not a debate with the workers, which is fine, but didn’t get any–did not hear back from them about that, either. So we did very hard try to reach out to the folks at Hopkins. They wrote here saying this. This is the official statement from their press people. Then we’ll launch into our conversation.

Thanks to careful planning and hard work on the part of so many Johns Hopkins employees, we have been able to conduct business as usual at the hospital, focusing as we always do on providing world-class care to our patients and their families.

The workers represented by the union are primarily maintenance and food service workers. They are approximately 2,000 of the nearly 20,000 people working at and providing services for the Johns Hopkins hospital, which includes employees, medical staff, and trainees. These union-represented employees, like all of our employees, are important members of the Johns Hopkins team. They do not provide direct clinical patient care, though they support all of our clinical areas and operations. We had contingency staffing plans in place to ensure no disruptions to our patients and their families would take place.

We remain hopeful that continued good-faith efforts toward negotiating will result in a contract that all parties feel is fair and equitable.

That was sent by Kim Hoppe, who is director of media relations and public affairs at Johns Hopkins Medicine. So that’s their statement.

And I see at the end of our table Carrietta Hiers is smiling. I’m curious what you’re smiling about.

HIERS: I’m actually smiling because–at the statement. Our union actually represents surgical techs, pharmacy techs, supply coordinators, instrument processors, OR support associates, support associates, radiology transport, general transport, then maintenance of all the facilities, EVS, linen, and dietary.

STEINER: All of that.

HIERS: All of that.

STEINER: So tell about what’s at the heart of this strike for both of you. We’ll start with you, Carrietta. Then I’m going to come over to Daniel, who’s–and hear his thoughts on what he does for a living and what it means to him. But talk about what’s at the heart of this strike at the moment.

HIERS: First, the actual heart of this is raising what we call the floor level up, and that’s when we’re talking about our most senior workers, workers who have been there for at least 15 years or more and who have yet to be able to make at least $15 an hour.

Initially, folks were talking about, oh, we have to change the multiplier on a pension, we have to do this. But there’s no need in changing the multiplier on the pension if you’re not making an hourly wage.

STEINER: And you’ve been working at Hopkins for how long right now, Daniel?

ROBERTS: A year and a half.

STEINER: So tell me about your job. What’s your job there?

ROBERTS: I’m a general service patient transporter.

STEINER: What does that mean?

ROBERTS: I transport patients back and forth through the hospital all over Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins Hospital is a pretty big campus. I get asked on a daily basis, how long do you–or how long did it take you to learn the Hopkins Hospital? And I also get asked, how far do you walk a day? And then one day I had on a pedometer on my phone, and it didn’t tell me the miles, but it told me the steps. In just six hours, I walked 39,000 steps.

STEINER: Well, you must be in shape.

ROBERTS: I like to think so.

STEINER: But all joking aside, that’s a lot. And so your work, actually, is really direct patient service, ’cause you’re talking to, working with, and transporting patients across the hospital for various tests or whatever they have to do, right?

ROBERTS: Yes. I transport beds, stretchers, wheelchairs. I even do ambulatory. I get to talk a lot with the patients and hear their story and actually listen to, you know, how they feel. You know, I try to give an encouraging word, you know, throughout the day, you know, to different patients that may be going into something that’s very frightening. You know, sometimes you have some patients going into life-threatening surgeries. And so, you know, just to, you know, provide them, you know, with a quick word or some type of encouragement, you know, to help them out.

STEINER: I mean, I asked that question because I think it’s important, Daniel Roberts, to the men and women who you represent just with your voice do similar work. I mean, is the humanity in your job, is the–part of your job is–it’s more than just pushing a patient or a bed across campus from one place to the other. It’s the interaction you have that is part of medical care.

ROBERTS: Very important.

STEINER: Right?

ROBERTS: Yes.

STEINER: And I don’t think I’m making too much of that, ’cause, I mean, you’re–

HIERS: Absolutely not.

STEINER: You know, I think not. I grew up in a medical family and I understand how those things work.

And so the question [incompr.] But Hopkins is saying also in the paper–I mean, the folks at Johns Hopkins were saying in the articles I read both in The Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Brew, which cover this pretty intensely in different ways, they’re saying that the pot of money’s just not there. They’re offering step salaries coming up to–what did they say it is? [incompr.] It’s now $12, maybe they’ll go to $14, but that money in that particular part of Hopkins was not there.

And Jeff Singer, you wrote a piece in The Sun that kind of takes that on a little bit.

JEFF SINGER, FOUNDER AND FMR. EXEC. Dir., HEALTH CARE FOR THE HOMELESS: Yes, I don’t have access to any of the proprietary data at Johns Hopkins, but I know how to get on the internet and find their tax forms. It’s called the 990.

And according to their tax forms, Hopkins has both very large assets and a good deal of income. Nonprofits–you know, and Hopkins is one–need to have more money at the end of the year than they started with or else they’ll go out of business. And in the Hopkins case for their latest 990 on the internet, they had revenue over expenses of $84 million. Now, that’s less than they had the year before and the year before that. The hospital business is a difficult one, for sure. Nonetheless, $84 million would be about 28 times what they need to pay a decent wage to the folks that work there.

Hopkins wouldn’t be the number one hospital in the U.S. without people like Carrietta and Daniel and the many other people I met while walking the picket line there. So these core employees deserve a living wage, and they’re not getting a living wage.

End

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