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The Nose

Old Home Pique

Posted 4/18/2001

Ah, reunion week at Johns Hopkins University! The flowers of Homewood are in bloom; the men's lacrosse team is ranked No. 6. And university President William Brody has the campus at DEFCON 3.

Along with the alumni, it seems, Hopkins' chickens might be having a homecoming of their own. At noon on April 19, members of Service Employees International Union District 1199E-DC (SEIU) will walk off their jobs at Johns Hopkins Hospital, launching their third and longest strike this year to protest stalled contract talks. In contrast to the previous one-day walkouts, this one--which also involves workers at Sinai Hospital and Greater Baltimore Medical Center--is slated to last until late Saturday night, overlapping neatly with the university's scheduled checkbook-softening homecoming festivities.

In a fretful April 10 e-mail to the "university community," Brody warned of possible SEIU disruptions at homecoming and at May's commencement--"events that are unrelated to the Hospital," he noted. The distinction between hospital and university business--though Brody is a trustee of both institutions--is key: "[I]t is unfair," he e-laments, "for SEIU to target innocent third parties."

According to university spokesperson Dennis O'Shea, the National Labor Relations Board shares that view--the NLRB will go to court April 18, seeking to enjoin the hospital maintenance workers, housekeeping staff, and nurses' assistants from marring the weekend pageantry. "We are not asking that the union not be allowed to do anything," O'Shea carefully double-negativizes. But somewhere between protesters peacefully leafleting outside campus gates and storming Homewood Field, Hopkins means to draw a line.

The union says the university's fears--which were provoked, in part, by a union handout auguring "disruptive activities" at the Homewood campus--are excessive. SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill says the leaflet in question should not have gone out; the union has no intention of disrupting homecoming or commencement, he says: "This is really just about sharing information with Hopkins alumni."

But however restrained or constrained the hospital workers may be, Brody's also got to contend with the Student-Labor Action Committee (SLAC), an on-campus group with a well-established disregard for the hospital-university distinction. Committee member David Snyder--who was cited, with two other SLACers, for criminal trespass while protesting at hospital CEO Ronald Peterson's office earlier this month--promises a full slate of unwelcome activities, starting with the manning of an information table outside of the Dean's Welcome Reception at the Hopkins Club on the evening of April 19.

The purpose of such activity, Snyder says, is "to productively engage alumni," in the hope that potential donors will pressure Hopkins brass into granting higher wages and more organizing rights on the workers' behalf. But facing the prospect of a "militarized" campus, SLAC can't resist at least one piece of plain old disruption: As the Blue Jays battle Navy in the weekend's main lacrosse match Saturday afternoon, SLAC will rally outside on University Parkway, in full view (and earshot, if the protesters' sound system comes through) of the grandstand. Which is not, the Nose suspects, the kind of campus memory Brody wants alumni to take home with them.

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