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Hopkins workers set to strike Friday after impasse on negotiations

Service workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital plan to begin a four-day strike at the hospital Friday after contract negotiations with the East Baltimore medical institution broke down.

The 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union, which represents 2,000 Hopkins workers, gave the hospital a strike notice last week in case an agreement was not met.

The strike would be the second in two months for the union, which held a three-day walkout in April. The two sides, which began negotiations four months ago, reached a stalemate late Monday after a full day of bargaining.

The main disagreement is over wages, and Hopkins said it does not plan to make a better wage offer by Friday.

The union, which represents janitors, housekeepers and other service workers, seeks a $15 minimum wage for workers with at least 15 years of experience in the second year of a proposed four-year contract. Workers currently start at $10.71 to $27.88 per hour, depending on their job, and the union proposed that every Hopkins worker earn at least $14 an hour by the end of the contract.

Hopkins management offered to pay all workers with 15 years of experience $15 an hour by 2018, with every hospital worker making $12.25 an hour by the end of the contract, according to a breakdown provided by the union.

"We're very disappointed that the union negotiators have notified us of the intent to strike again," said Bonnie Windsor, the hospital's vice president of human resources. "We feel as if we've made great progress over the last couple of months. They believe we have a ways to go, and we believe the package we have on the table is a very good package. It is a competitive package."

Union leaders said what Hopkins is offering is not enough and that many of its workers depend on food stamps and other public assistance because of the low pay. They say the offer is insulting when Hopkins' top executives receive multimillion-dollar salaries and six-figure bonuses.

Newly released tax filings showed that the hospital's top 10 executives got tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses in fiscal year 2013. Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, received total compensation of $15.4 million. That included $1.2 million in base bay and a bonus of $455,714.

"Pay for Hopkins executives has skyrocketed, yet they are telling low-pay workers to take a raise that averages less than 2 percent a year," said John Reid, executive vice president of the Maryland-D.C. region of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "I think it is a bad offer and that Hopkins could do much better by its workers. We are going on strike because that is the only thing they understand is to withhold labor."

Much of the surge in Peterson's total compensation reflected pension benefits and one-time retirement payouts based on years of service, Hopkins said in a statement. The hospital pointed out that a committee of its board decides compensation packages based on comparisons to peers at other hospitals and performance.

The hospital's top executive did receive a raise. Peterson's base pay jumped 9.25 percent to $1,203,070 in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, up from $1,101,197 a year earlier. His bonus of $455,714 in the latest year was $4,590 more than in the 2012 fiscal year.

A group of workers and Hopkins doctors, students and former students support the unionized workers' cause and delivered a petition to Peterson's office Tuesday with about 500 signatures pushing for higher wages.

"We are taught about how poverty contributes to bad health," said 27-year-old Rebecca Abraham, who recently earned a master's in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "They are supposed to be treating health, but are contributing to bad health by paying poverty wages."

Windsor said patients should not see a disruption in care because of the strike. Nonunion workers are prepared to take on extra shifts.

"We need to be fiscally responsible so we're in business five years from now," she said. "It's a balancing act."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.



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