Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (2/2)
The second part of Marc Steiner’s discussion on whether Johns Hopkins has the money to pay a living wage. Joining him are Hopkins Hospital worker Daniel Roberts, SEIU union organizer Carrietta Hiers and Jeff Singer, founder and former Executive Director of Health Care for the Homeless
MARC STEINER, HOST, THE MARC STEINER SHOW, WEAA: Yeah, I do want to get to that point, too, because I have made a comment–I’ve made several comments on the air about this where I’ve said we have taken on Walmart for their low wages and not paying their workers enough, so that it ends up that their workers are on Medicaid and on food stamps because they don’t have enough to live on. And your argument, I think, if I’m not mistaken, Carrietta, is the same situation takes place at Hopkins.
CARRIETTA HIERS, SEIU UNION ORGANIZER: Yeah, absolutely. It was rather startling. We had one of our unit employees, you know, talk to me and began crying about–and I’ll call her daughter number two–and I’m like, what’s wrong? And she said, I’ve been working here for nine years. I go to school. I take care of my three kids. But I never realized that I was making poverty wages until I was able to see it in print.
And it’s heart-wrenching, because I represent these workers, and just talking to them on a daily basis, some things we just, like, take for granted. You know, you’re the mother to everybody once you get to know them and they’re, like, in your family. So, you know, you get a couple of dollars here, you do this.
But then just to sit and listen and talk to these folks–. We were at the table, and the attorney said, well, we appreciate you having, you know, a few of your members give us their stories, but, you know, we think that we’re giving you a fair proposal. The sad part is that you may have only been able to view three or four of the workers, but it’s hundreds, and it shouldn’t be the norm at such a prestigious place as Johns Hopkins Hospital. It just should not happen.
STEINER: So one quick question again for you, Carrietta, before I moved back to Daniel and Jeff. One of the quotes from the people from the union was the percentage that these raises would take out of the Hopkins budget.
HIERS: Yeah. Well, when we did it, they told us. We gave them the proposal. They sat in stone shocked and said that the proposal would cost than $12 million–four-year contract. A four-year contract would cost them $12 million. And they told us that it took their breath away.
STEINER: Hm. Took their breath away.
HIERS: It took their breath away. Now, mind you, Jeff just said $84 million in one year, but a four-year contract would cost them $12 million. And it took–actual words–it took their breath away.
STEINER: So we’re talking $3 million a year this contract might cost.
HIERS: That’s it.
HIERS: Thirty-two cents. Thirty-two cents.
STEINER: What do you mean, $0.32?
HIERS: It would cost them–32 percent of the total payroll costs is what it would cost Hopkins for this contract. That’s it. Thirty-two–0.32.
STEINER: So, before we come back to Jeff and kind of–I want to go back and to talk about the salaries and the questions of Hopkins and where money could come from that, and I think this is a really critical point. I’m glad you researched this. Daniel, I mean, you’re a single man, right?
DANIEL ROBERTS, HOPKINS HOSPITAL WORKER: Yes, sir.
STEINER: Okay. But even a single person living on–what did you say? Twelve dollars an hour?
STEINER: So how do you live on $12 an hour? How do you live on $12 an hour?
ROBERTS: It is–it’s rough. I–just in gas going back and forth from Parkville to Hopkins–.
STEINER: Which is where you live, obviously, Parkville.
ROBERTS: Yes, Parkville, I live in Parkville. Just going back and forth five days a week is–it’s rough, it’s rough, because, you know, everything is going up. You know, I still–you know, I do live at home, but I still do, you know, provide for myself, I still, you know, do the–you know, wash my clothes, you know, buy things for the house, you know, get my mom something. And it’s still–you know, I still am in need of, you know, more money, because I don’t want to have to struggle, I don’t want to have to–you know, I just want to make it easier for me and my mom [incompr.]
STEINER: I mean, ’cause at a $15 an hour rate, that would be, like, $31,000 a year, or maybe a bit more if it’s $15.50 [incompr.] but that’s approximately it. That would be a huge boost.
ROBERTS: An amazing boost.
STEINER: I mean, because if you thought about two hospital workers making $31,000 a year, two people making that salary together–let’s say they were married and living together, whatever–you’re talking about a couple being able to live on $60,000 bucks a year. You can begin to live on that.
STEINER: Begin to live on that in this country.
HIERS: Yeah, yes. It’s not going to make them rich, but they can at least have their head above the water.
JEFF SINGER, FOUNDER AND FMR. EXEC. Dir., HEALTH CARE FOR THE HOMELESS: Yeah. Well, speaking of rich, the CEO of Hopkins Hospital–a fine man. I know him. He’s been generous to organizations with which I have worked. However, his annual compensation is more than the cost annually of bringing the workers up to a living wage.
Larry Page, you know, one of the founders of Google, takes a salary of $1 a year ’cause he was to make sure that the company has, you know, rich benefit packages and pays their workers reasonably well. And maybe that’s an idea for other CEOs around here, because the distinction now between the wage that the Hopkins workers earn and the CEO’s salary is 156 to one. The CEO earns 156 times what the starting wage is.
And, you know, there’s been an awful lot of talk about income inequality. President Obama recently said income inequality is the defining issue of our times. But it’s time that we put our money where our talk is. We can reduce income inequality, for sure, but we have to start somewhere. I would say that Hopkins, as the leading hospital in the nation, could start by reducing income inequality and paying this living wage. They can clearly afford it. Their assets in their last 990, their assets were $470 million. That means that that’s what they have essentially sitting around.
STEINER: You’re talking about [incompr.] talking about real estate? What are you talking about?
SINGER: Well, yes, we’re talking about real estate, but we’re also talking about Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. They have over $25 million in mortgage-backed securities. They could easily take one source of their assets and put them in essentially a lockbox and keep that money for nothing but investing in their employees. It wouldn’t harm one current employee. It wouldn’t reduce the number of employees who–by the way, compensation is over a half a million dollars–they have 13 people on the Hopkins payroll whose compensation’s over half a million dollars a year. And yet they can’t afford to pay more than a nonliving wage? They can’t afford to bring the salaries beyond the foodstamp requirements?
STEINER: We’re going to take a very sort of break here. And when we come back, we’ll get a couple of phone calls in and ask our workers and our spokespeople to stay here with us. Carrietta Hiers, who is an organizer for 1199, and Jamie Roberts, who’s a member of 1199 and works at Johns Hopkins University, and Jeff Singer, will come back with us for the next few minutes and take a couple of calls before we move into our next segment about the future of labor in America. Don’t go away.
STEINER: We are continuing our conversation here for the next few minutes with Carrietta Hiers, who is a long-time organizer for 1199, SEIU1199 organizer at Hopkins. She’s in the middle of this contract negotiations. We’re also joined here by Daniel Roberts, who is a member of 1199 and a transporter who’s been working at Hopkins for a year and a half and is also working his way through college as he’s doing it, here at Morgan State University, and has to move in and out of that because wage is what keeps him in school and he has to work to go to school, and we forget that here in our world. Jeff Singer’s here with us, a founder and former executive director of Health Care for the Homeless, now teaches at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and is here in this capacity today because he wrote an article after his research on the finance of Hopkins, talking about where the money comes from. You can join us here at 410-319-8888.
But there’s a couple of pieces we did not really tackle here.
Oh, and what little sidebar. I got a text from my wife that I have to read to you all, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t, and where she told me that I made a mistake, which I usually do at least once or twice a show. It’s not Manor Tavern, it’s the Milton Inn on York Road that used to be where the prep school was that John Wilkes Booth went to, so I have to put that out there. Okay. So here we go.
So, Carrietta, tell me a bit now about–I’m curious about why the strike had–many people don’t understand why the strike had to end after three days. It’s not that you wanted to end it, but what was it that forced the end of the strike?
HIERS: Well, the bargaining committee’s comprised of our members. The members actually voted to have the three-day strike. And in thinking strategically about actually performing this strike, [incompr.] these workers–it’s a unpaid strike. That’s most importantly. It’s a unpaid strike.
Now, you had a few workers that wanted to do it for a week, but then we had to sit back and think about we’re protesting against our members not being able to afford and not having a livable wage. To have them out on the line for a week or longer than three days without proper preparation, it’s a hard hardship, and we don’t want to put our members into hardship. But you had, you actually had folks who were willing to stand–it’s on, you know, pure principal. You know, they don’t appreciate us. And they were willing to take that risk.
STEINER: So how do you feel about that?
ROBERTS: I’m glad they did it, and I’m glad they did it that way, because there are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck. So, I mean, for them to miss $100 to $200 is a big hit. I know myself, I actually tried to go back in and get a little overtime just because I know the next time pay comes around, you know, I don’t want to look back and say, you know, geez, that was a pretty big hit. You know? Like I said before, you know, for me, gas is expensive. So, you know, I have to be able to, you know, get back and forth to Hopkins. So, you know, yeah, I’m pretty happy they did it that way.
STEINER: I think that it’s important [incompr.] and we’re going to bring some other guests in here right now, in a minute, Mike Lewis from the Steelworkers union and Bill Fletcher, who is a union activist, to continue the conversation. Our Hopkins workers are going to stay with us for a bit for that part of this conversation so we can have this dialog [incompr.] over the next hour or so. And I think it’s important, because what I wanted to raise with them was that at least your union had the heart to walk out. A lot of unions won’t stand up and walk out anymore.
STEINER: Even if it’s a symbolic walking out, saying, we’re saying this is not acceptable, ’cause you’re saying you’re going back to negotiations, but you might have to walk out again.
HIERS: We very well have to. Yeah.
STEINER: Nat that you want to.
HIERS: You know what? And that’s it. We have buttons that says that we don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to. This was a hard decision. We had to sit down and really educate our members on this process, because we had some folks that have never been in a union before. And we haven’t had a strike at Hopkins since 2001. Nobody wants to. And our members actually care about these–you heard Daniel–they care about the patients that they care for. You know, they really care about this. But ultimately, family comes first.
STEINER: Right. So we’re going to take a very sort break. We’re going to come right back. And I want to thank our guests here for being with us here from Johns Hopkins, from the union, from 1199. It’s one of our storied unions. I remember when Bob Moore and others formed this union here in Baltimore 30-odd, 40 years ago–
HIERS: Forty years.
STEINER: –40 years ago as a union and the work that we all did that point together with 1199–I have to put that disclaimer out there–[incompr.] a long time ago, and they’re still here fighting for the rights of workers. And it’s good to have you here.
We are–the music [incompr.] now is Loretta Lynn, because she was born on this day in 1935, speaking of working-class roots. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.
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