Struggling Hopkins workers need better wages, not unusable benefits [Letter]

Johns Hopkins Hospital President Ronald R. Peterson talked about the "generous benefits" he offers to employees ("Balancing priorities and resources at Johns Hopkins," April 11).

But I'm a Hopkins employee, and I can't afford many of those "generous benefits."

I've worked at Hopkins for 12 years, but I make just $12.20 an hour, so the hospital's family health insurance is beyond my means. It's not Hopkins that pays for my two boys' health care, it's Maryland taxpayers and the state's medical assistance program.

My pay is so low we also rely on food stamps to make ends meet, as do many other families of Hopkins workers.

I like the idea that my sons could get tuition assistance from Hopkins when they go to college. They're bright and wonderful boys.

But right now, I'm struggling just to keep a roof over their heads. We're doubled up in a relative's apartment because I couldn't afford the rent on our old place. Now I worry that the only neighborhoods we'll be able to move to have the kind of schools where very few students go on to college.

I've enrolled in every housing assistance program I can that could move us into a better neighborhood. But it seems wrong to me that I work at America's No. 1 hospital and have to rely on public assistance to find a decent home.

As for the educational benefits offered to Hopkins employees, I have been able to take some certification classes. But it would be almost impossible for me to take advantage of the college tuition benefits President Peterson mentions.

My pay is far too low to afford the child care I'd need to make sure my sons were OK while I was away to "study for critical jobs such as nursing," as President Peterson says.

Of course, I believe that every job at Hopkins is critical. Is it fair that workers who spend their entire careers in dietary or housekeeping jobs must live in poverty?

Finally, it's true, we do have a pension at Hopkins. But a tiny paycheck means a tiny pension. If President Peterson would pay Hopkins workers a fair wage, we could start taking advantage of the hospital's benefits and stop having to rely on public assistance.

Kiva Robbins, Baltimore

The writer is an environmental services worker at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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