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Johns Hopkins living wage campaign

'President Brody you can't hide'

By Andre Powell

Baltimore

Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody can't hide from the struggle of service workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Sinai Hospital and Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Johns Hopkins--a billion-dollar institution--includes not only the Homewood campus but also a world-renowned medical institution. Brody heads up both these institutions--the largest private-sector employers in Baltimore.

The demands of the more than 2,500 nursing assistance, dietary workers, housekeepers and other service and maintenance workers--all represented by Service Employees District 1199E-DC--are modest. They are asking for a wage of at least $10 an hour, a pension they can retire on and the right to freely decide to join the union without interference from supervisors.

Brody and the rest of management have been intransigent. But the workers have found strong allies within the student body at Johns Hopkins.

On March 27, Brody tried to deliver an illustrious speech at the 125th anniversary of the prestigious university. Members of the Student Labor Action Committee unfurled a banner supporting the workers, interrupting his talk.

Brody also came under fire for not responding to harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus. So he agreed to introduce the keynote speaker for their Awareness Days--a virtually unprecedented move by a university president.

To Brody's shock, he had put himself in the position of introducing Workers World newspaper Managing Editor Leslie Feinberg. He had to tell students that she is a socialist, a lesbian transgender activist, a national organizer for the International Action Center and a founder of Rainbow Flags for Mumia.

Then Brody announced he had "to run" to a reception.

"Don't leave," Feinberg called him back from the podium. "I and other unionists and activists around the country are watching the corporate shame you preside over here." She explained that 63 percent of Johns Hopkins service workers last year earned incomes so low they were eligible for food stamps.

"President Brody, you make $446,419 a year. That's about $37,000 a month. How do you expect your workers to exist on an average monthly pension of $283 a month?"

Feinberg told the audience, "My talk tonight is about what to do when a president or CEO like Brody says no to just demands."

Brody was forced to sit and listen to half an hour of a speech that used the Living Wage Campaign and the struggle of lesbian, gay, bi and trans Johns Hopkins students as examples of the need to build a diverse, inclusive and militant movement, in which everyone fights shoulder to shoulder for a broad list of demands.

When Brody tried to sneak out unnoticed, he saw that he had to get through a standing-room-only crowd in the back that consisted of many of the student activists in the Living Wage Campaign.

"Thanks for dropping in," Feinberg mocked him from the podium.

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