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The Nose

Strike Out

Posted 4/25/2001

Once, when the Nose was just a little button of a cub reporter, an older journalist warned us about the dangers of neglecting the subjunctive. "You don't know what's going to happen in the future," he told us sternly. "You only know what's supposed to happen."

Which brings us to the hospital strike of April 19-21 (The Nose, April 18). On the labor-standoff front, we generally try to fight the future by interjecting a "barring a sudden breakthrough in negotiations" or some such to the copy. Sometimes, we idly think about making it a macro: command-L (for "labor"), barringasuddenbreakthroughinnegotiations.

But last week, we didn't. Blame laziness, blame the pollen count, blame four and a half months of intractability between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Service Employees International Union District 1199E-DC (SEIU) in their negotiations over a new three-year contract for hospital service workers. We all but promised you, our readers, a walkout--and then, on Thursday, seven minutes before the noon strike deadline . . . a sudden breakthrough in negotiations.

"It's great for everyone except you," SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill told the Nose. Under the deal, the union and hospital agreed to an immediate 3 percent wage hike for workers, with a 3.5 percent raise each of the following two years--much closer to the hospital's January offer of 2.25 percent than to the union's request for 6 percent. The initial raise will be retroactive to Feb. 11, not to the Dec. 1 expiration date of the old contract. And the union's rallying living wage target of a $10-an-hour minimum is due to arrive not now but in 2003 (at least for current workers; some future hires may still make slightly less than $10).

Still, with the union making gains on pensions and health coverage, both sides say they're happy. "I wouldn't want to characterize it as one side capitulating to the other side," Hopkins spokesperson Gary Stephenson told us. "I hate to overuse an expression, but I do think this is kind of a win-win situation."

And on the heels of the Hopkins breakthrough, the union quickly came to a tentative deal with Sinai Hospital. Of the three SEIU contracts that expired in December, then, the only one still outstanding is with Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), which McNeill acknowledges the union had been neglecting as it focused on the high-profile Hopkins battle. After an unproductive bargaining session April 23, SEIU filed a 10-day notice to announce a three-day strike the first weekend in May. Barringasuddenbreakthroughinnegotiations, this long-running labor saga still has a ways to go.

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