On the picket line

Low-paid workers win big raises at Johns Hopkins Hospital

Some 2,000 low-paid workers — janitors and service, maintenance and technical workers — at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore won substantial raises under a new four-year contract reached July 8 by Service Employees 1199 United Healthcare Workers East. In 2015 veteran workers of 20 years at one of the country’s leading nonprofit university hospital systems will receive increases to $15 an hour, with 15-year veterans earning $14.50 an hour. Hopkins workers now make so little that 70 percent qualify for food stamps, said SEIU.

The workers struck for three days in April and then held a huge downtown rally in May where they talked openly about their poverty wages and the need for food stamps and Medicaid. They voted to strike in June. Worker Yvonne Brown explained in a Baltimore Sun op-ed: “I’ve worked at Hopkins for 19 years, and I make just $12.97 an hour,” just above the poverty and food stamp line. Meanwhile, hospital President Ronald Peterson was paid $14.5 million last year. If Petersen’s pay was split up, she noted, it would give each of the 2,000 workers the raise they needed.

Highlights of the agreement include: Total raises as high as 38 percent for long-time, low-paid workers; a boost of as much as $4.30 an hour over the life of the contract; base pay of $13 an hour for all current workers, regardless of service, by 2018; across-the-board raises of at least 2 percent every year, plus an 0.5 percent bonus in the contract’s first year and a 2.75 percent raise in 2017. The two sides also agreed to establish a committee to review market rates for surgical and pharmacy techs and other workers whose pay is under market rate. (Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council, AFL-CIO, July 13)

Teamsters at grocery warehouses ratify contracts

Hundreds of Teamsters at three grocery warehouses in Washington state — Safeway, SuperValu and Unified Grocers — voted overwhelmingly July 19 and 20 to ratify contracts. The agreements contain annual wage increases and protections against subcontracting and the rising cost of health care. “Our members in the grocery distribution industry help maintain the supply chain that feeds hundreds of thousands of families across the Puget Sound region and the West,” said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. He noted that workers do physically demanding work in ambient, refrigerated and freezer environments, manually handling heavy cases and operating forklifts and pallet jacks to receive, load and stock grocery products under a tight production standard. (The Stand, July 22)

Minn. home care workers file for union recognition

More than 26,000 home care workers in Minnesota filed for union recognition on July 8. Organized under the slogan “Invisible No More,” the workers are seeking representation by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, a statewide local. “[I]n other states where home care workers have formed a union, they have won significant wage increases, access to benefits and training opportunities, and most importantly, a voice in the state decisions that affect them,” said Darleen Henry, a home care worker. Pay is currently so low that many caregivers qualify for food stamps, and they don’t receive paid sick leave or health and retirement benefits. The election, which will be the largest union vote in the state’s history, is planned for August. (Workday Minnesota, July 8)

NYC-based reality TV writers vote union

It only took four years, but writer-producers who create such popular reality TV shows as “Ink Master,” “Comic Book Men” and “Swamp People” at Original Media in New York City voted July 11 to join the Writers Guild of America, East. “We look forward to … negotiating a contract that will provide health benefits, paid time off, minimum compensation levels and other basic union protections,” said Lowell Peterson, WGAE executive director. In June, the New York City Council held a hearing exposing such conditions as 80-hour workweeks with no overtime, health care benefits, paid sick or vacation time.

New York’s reality TV sector has grown 20 percent over the past 10 years and today accounts for more than 12,000 jobs. WGAE has already negotiated agreements with three nonfiction production companies, with two more pending. (aflcio.blog.org, July 11)