The Real News goes to the picket lines as Johns Hopkins Hospital workers launch a three-day strike for living wages.
PICKETER: We worked for it. We want it now! We worked for it. We want it now!
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: We’re here at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It’s considered the top hospital in the country and perhaps the world. But today it’s the front line in the battle against income inequality and the fight for a living wage.
Hundreds of workers with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East walked off the job at 6 a.m. Wednesday after contract negotiations broke down. They say they will strike for three days against what they call poverty wages.
The hospital did not respond to The Real News’ request for a comment and has thus far not spoken to the media about the strike. They’ve previously said they’re offering a fair wage and cannot afford to pay more.
WILEY RHYMER, STRIKING HOPKINS HOSPITAL WORKER: —on the bargaining committee. And we’re trying to get a fair living wage contract from Hopkins.
NOOR: And so they’re saying that they can’t afford to pay you guys any more. You know, Maryland just passed the $10.10 minimum wage, and from what I understand, all the workers get more than that. So talk about why you’re asking for more money.
RHYMER: I’m asking for more money myself ’cause I’m taking four kids, I’m on public assistance, I get food stamps, I get Medicaid. And Hopkins has the nerve to say that they don’t have the money. You’re standing in front of two buildings they just built for $1 billion. They’re buying up property on the east side to build more buildings. They got the money. They just don’t want to give it out. And Maryland did raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but that ain’t going to go into effect to, what, four years from now, and we’re barely living now on what we got.
SAMMY DAVIS, STRIKING HOPKINS WORKER: Basically, you know, I’m a 15-year veteran and making, you know, a little under $13 an hour is just not acceptable. You know, everything’s going up but the pay. And, you know, I know they say that it’s a low-skill job position, but it’s a high-risk job position as well. I get splashed with blood on a daily basis, have to take HIV prevention medicine, you know, all for basically $12.95. You know. And I’m saying I understand, you know, that they can’t afford, but they got to at least bring this up fair. You know.
So, basically, I can’t afford parking, so I park seven blocks away. I was leaving one night around eleven. You know, guys jumped me, you know, took my money because I’ve got to park so far I can’t afford parking.
So at the end of the day, at 15 years—it’ll be 16 years June 15, you know, and I’m basically making $12.97 without differential and things. And I move biohazard trash, so that’s a risk in itself.
DORTHY COLE, HOPKINS HOSPITAL WORKER: I mean, I still live home with my father and I’m 25 years old. And it affects me in a lot of ways. I have to pay for school. I have to pay for everything. And it’s just hard, living from paycheck to paycheck.
KEITH BARNES, HOPKINS HOSPITAL WORKER: Working here five and a half years, and I make $11.54 an hour.
I work in the ORs in a very hostile environment, and I have to go in there and thoroughly clean them. Sometimes—I was told 85 percent of the workers that—my coworkers that go into OR had came in with contact with hepatitis C. Now, I have contracted hepatitis C. Thank God that it’s not—they can’t find it now. I don’t know if I got it from the ORs or not.
But each day, our life is put in jeopardy because the signs—you have contact precautions on the door. Sometimes they’ll be taken off. So we’ve got to gown up and protect our whole entire body. Every day it’s blood, it’s needles, everything we’ve got to look for and watch out. You’ve got HIV in there. So if there’s a needle laying on the floor—so I got to be very careful I won’t infect myself.
This is a very hostile and a very stressful environment I work in sometimes. Now, we’ve been giving it the best we could. I’m very dedicated to this job, ’cause I like my job. But please just give us fair wages.
NOOR: So why is it important for you to be out here today in support of these workers? You’re not on strike today, but you’re out there supporting them.
GAIL KINGMAN, SEIU MEMBER AND REGISTERED NURSE: It’s important because we’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all in the health care field. So we need to make sure that people are treated fairly, you have fair wages. We take care of everyone, and we need to be taken care of also.
NOOR: So you work for the union. You know, some people have criticized the unions and the Democratic Party for only demanding a $10.10 minimum wage, and the workers here are saying $10.10, $10 is not enough. What are your thoughts about the fact that these workers are kind of pushing the front line and saying they need closer to $15 to survive.
KINGMAN: Well, most of the workers here have been here longer than—this is not a job that they just started at. They’ve been here ten or more years, and they’re still making $10.71 an hour. So even the minimum wage raising to $10.10 is not helping these workers for the support and the care that they give in the hospital.
DAVIS: You know. I mean, and I don’t mind being on the forefront of that, because if we’re doing this to better everybody that’s coming behind me, you know, I’ll do whatever it takes. No problem. Like I say, I’ll be out here every day if it need be. If we’ve got to strike for a year, if it need be, I’m with it.
NOOR: The Real News will keep following developments in this story.
With Mark Provost, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.