Service workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital voted overwhelmingly to approve a new contract that gives all workers raises and would set a minimum wage of $15 an hour for longtime employees.
The vote, which began Thursday and ended Friday evening, hinged on the raises for veteran workers and came after months of negotiations, a strike and intervention from the governor.
"We have gotten raises but nothing like what we are about to get," said Michelle Horton, a cafeteria worker. "In the past, maybe we got 10 cents here or 6 cents there, but this time the raises actually are going to impact people."
About 93 percent of the approximately 2,100 food service workers, cooks, janitors, surgical technicians and others who are members of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East supported the contract.
The enthusiasm was a major shift in sentiment, said Horton, 28, who was on the negotiating team and for a while didn't think workers would get much of anything. They complained wages were so low that some couldn't pay for health care for their children and needed second jobs to make ends meet.
Horton said she earned $11.35 an hour, up less than $2.50 from when she was hired nine years ago. But she expects to begin earning $11.57 now, $12.19 next year and $13.75 after that.
She said the raises "won't make me rich" but will help her care for her three children. And while she always liked her job, she said she expected Hopkins to benefit from a much happier workforce.
At Hopkins, the spotlight returns to medicine.
"Tonight, we learned that SEIU-represented employees voted to ratify the agreement reached on Monday," said Kim Hoppe, a Hopkins spokeswoman, in a statement. "We are glad that we arrived at a resolution and look forward to continuing our focus on providing world-class patient care."
The contentious negotiations had led to one three-day strike in April, and another was threatened last month. About two weeks ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley encouraged both sides to seek a resolution.
Salaries currently start at $10.71 to $27.88 per hour, depending on the job.
Under the new contract, lasting 41/2 years, all current employees will make at least $13 an hour by 2018. And all employees would get raises of at least 2 percent every year plus a 0.5 percent bonus in the first year and a 2.75 percent raise in 2017.
The pivotal break came when the hospital agreed to give those with 20 years of experience $15 an hour now and those with 15 years of experience a minimum wage of $14.50 an hour in 2015 and raises that would put them above $15 by 2017.
Carrietta Hiers, a union organizer, said she found it "chilling" that there were 1,375 workers, or two-thirds of the membership, who made less than $15 an hour — including 78 who had worked at Hopkins for more than two decades.
"When workers are shown they are appreciated they are a much happier work force," she said. "Workers are feeling very good about this."