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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the March 16, 2000
issue of Workers World newspaper


Student sit-in backs workers' demand for living wage

By Sharon Black


"What do you want? A living wage. When do we want it? Now!" rang out between the walls of Johns Hopkins University's campus buildings and onto the streets of Baltimore March 3, when several hundred people from the community and campus marched in support of students occupying the administration building.

On the evening of March 6, community groups--including the All Peoples Congress, Unity for Action, and Center for Poverty Solutions--were preparing to join the sit-in.

This support march marked 100 hours of the sit-in and occupation at Garland Hall. On Feb. 28, students from the Student Labor Action Committee had stunned university officials. As students pointed out, this usually staid campus has rarely seen protests--let alone a sit-in and occupation.

The students chained themselves to the banister in the building only after a two-year campaign that included thousands of signed petitions and major rallies to demand that the university system pay a living wage to its workers.

Johns Hopkins is a billion-dollar institution that includes not only the Homewood campus but also an elaborate and world-renowned medical institution that fills several city blocks on Baltimore's East Side.

Over 1,000 janitors, parking lot attendants and subcontract workers within the Johns Hopkins institution receive wages that put them below the poverty line. Ironically, most cannot afford health benefits although they are employed by a world-class medical institute. Workers with families cannot provide adequately for their children.

The students define a living wage as an hourly wage that puts a full-time worker with three dependents just above the poverty line. It therefore must include a cost-of-living adjustment. The current federal minimum wage is $5.15 or $10,712 a year for a 40-hour week. It is less than the poverty threshold for one adult and one child.

The living wage, as defined by a Baltimore City ordinance, is currently $7.70 an hour, or $16,016 annually. The federal poverty line for a family of four in 1997 was $16,588.

After two years of petitioning and rallies, the president of Johns Hopkins University agreed in February 1999 that the wage structure at Hopkins was inadequate. However, his remedy fell short. He agreed to raise the minimum to $7.75 after three years, but failed to include an affordable health care plan or cost of living adjustment.

Students demand a real living wage, cost of living adjustments and affordable health care benefits.

Student members of the Student Labor Action Committee commented, "It's shameful that Hopkins won't come up with the money to pay all its workers fairly. They made $250 million on the stock market last year and the amount we're asking for to cover the wage bill is just a tiny fraction of that kind of money."

Setting a national precedent

SLAC member Julie Eisenhardt said, "We're starting to realize the importance of this campaign in a larger context. If we win, Hopkins will be the first private-sector entity to adopt a living wage. This would set a great precedent for other universities and corporations, who are no doubt watching what is happening at Garland Hall."

Community supporters on the march agreed. Jeff Bigelow from the All Peoples Congress commented, "As community activists we are encouraged by the students. As a union organizer I believe this is a critical battle that will have a wide impact on workers throughout Maryland."

Bill Goodin, president of Unity for Action, carried a sign demanding higher wages for all workers. Said Goodin, "We salute the students and their courage. We plan to organize and mobilize more support and join their sit-in."

Supporters can fax Johns Hopkins President W. R. Brody at 410-516-6097, phone 410-516-8068, or email [email protected] with your demands for a living wage.

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