Demanding better treatment for contract workers – and a housing subsidy for them like the one offered to direct employees – protesters marched across Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus yesterday to deliver a petition with about 1,200 signatures to administrators.
“What’s Outrageous? Poverty Wages!” the group of nearly 50 students, employees, labor organizers and other activists chanted. Signs they held said “Students for Workers” and “Hopkins Creates Poverty.”
Group leaders said they were rallying on behalf of nearly 1,000 union and non-union workers who work as contract employees for the university, including food service workers, campus security and bus drivers.
“Hopkins says ‘We want to hire great people from the community and support the community’ but with gentrification, they’ve got to make it more affordable to live here,” said Krista Strothman, an organizer with UNITE HERE! Local 7.
Using contract employees, who are primarily African-American, means the university is making an already-challenged workforce vulnerable to outside companies’ lower wages and benefits, organizers said.
The group called on JHU to adopt a number of measures they said would ensure fairness for subcontracted workers:
• Start non-direct employees with at least $15-per-hour.
• Protect displaced workers, when changing contractors, by requiring incoming companies to hire current employees.
• Start a housing program for contracted workers similar to the “Live Near Your Work” program for direct employees.
Along with UNITE HERE!, participating in the action were the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), including JHU Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the JHU Black Student Union (BSU) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as well as SEIU 32BJ, United Workers and the Baltimore Housing Roundtable.
“Committed to Working with Fair Employers”
A spokesman did not respond to the group’s specific demands but said the university “is working to arrange a meeting for later this month with the students and other members of the coalition raising these issues.”
“The university appreciates these efforts to ensure that all who work on our campus are treated fairly, whether or not the university is their employer. As we have told the students, the compensation, benefits and job security issues they have raised are important to the long-term success of our university,” said Dennis O’Shea, executive director of media relations.
O’Shea said Hopkins is “committed to working with responsible, fair employers.”
“We clearly communicate to all contractors that we expect employees will receive fair, competitive wages and benefits, and opportunities for advancement, O’Shea said. “We also expect those employers to demonstrate a commitment to hiring, developing and advancing employees from Baltimore.”
Hopkins has been publicizing its “Live Near Your Work” program — a benefit “offered to the faculty and staff of Johns Hopkins University and Health System to assist with down payments and closing costs for homes in select neighborhoods surrounding the East Baltimore and Homewood campuses.”
Over the summer, it held a one-day lottery for employees that enabled dozens of employees to receive $36,000 through the program towards a down payment and closing costs on a new house near the East Baltimore medical campus.
But not all who work at the university can take advantage of Live Near Your Work.
Full-time, benefits-eligible employees of the university and its hospitals and other medical affiliates are eligible but contract employees, as well as part-time workers, residents, students, Broadway Services, Johns Hopkins Home Care Group and other specific categories are excluded.
One participant in yesterday’s action, a member of the social justice group United Workers, said that is unfair.
“If you’re doing a hard day’s work they should offer you the same benefits to make your life a little easier that they offer to anybody else,” said Terrel Askew.
Askew said working-class people are being priced out of neighborhoods near the university such as Remington, where he has lived for years.
“Rents are going up. I know a lot of people who are moving out because they can’t afford it,” he said.
As the groups press university officials on contract worker rights, labor negotiations are underway between dining wall workers, represented by UNITE HERE!, and and California-based Bon Appétit Management Co., which employs them.
In addition to the 200 dining hall staffers who work for Bon Appetit, Strothman said, other university contract employers include: Aramark, which employs food service workers at Johns Hopkins at Mt. Washington, AlliedBarton, which employs security guards and Broadway Services, Inc., which employs bus drivers.