The tentative contract agreement reached during Tuesday’s wee morning hours between Johns Hopkins Hospital and the union representing about 2,000 of its workers hasn’t even been officially adopted yet, but proponents are wasting no time in declaring victory.
Union officials, hospital workers and labor advocates are already hailing the deal as a triumph not only for Hopkins employees but for health care workers across Baltimore and, perhaps, the state.
“Johns Hopkins Hospital sets the standard for health care in our city, and that standard has just been raised,” said John Reid, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East for the Maryland/D.C. region, in a statement.
Although several labor experts echoed the union’s assertion, some administrators at other hospitals downplayed Hopkins’ influence on their operations.
“I don’t actually believe that the negotiations elsewhere — whether it be Hopkins or someone else — really affect us very much,” said Dr. John Chessare, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where about 500 employees are unionized with 1199SEIU.
GBMC is currently negotiating a new contract with the union, and Deloris Tuggle, GBMC’s vice president of human resources, said those talks have been “cordial and amicable.”
At least one labor exert, though, said it’s hard to believe other local hospitals are entirely uninterested in the Hopkins outcome.
Bill Barry, the retired director of labor studies at the Community College of Baltimore County, said the Hopkins contract will be “enormously influential” and predicted a “huge, huge” overall impact on the Baltimore health care market.
Barry said other hospitals likely don’t want people to think they’re influenced by other institutions, particularly competitors.
“I am sure that all the other hospital administrators are getting together as we speak and looking at the [Hopkins] settlement to compare what they’re doing to what Hopkins just did,” Barry said. “They’ll be asking themselves, ‘Now what? Where does this leave us?’”
At this point, other hospitals’ responses are “impossible to predict,” Barry added.
The impact on employees of other health systems could be felt more immediately, several people said.
Michelle Horton, 28, a food service worker at Hopkins and a member of the bargaining committee, said she hopes her efforts will encourage other employees to seek better pay.
“Our success shows other employees that if we all stand together, we can actually accomplish something and make things better,” said Horton, who’s worked at Hopkins for nine years and makes $11.35 an hour.
Additionally, Barry said, the Hopkins outcome could embolden the union to step up its recruitment efforts at nonunionized hospitals.
In addition to GBMC, 1199SEIU represents employees at Sinai Hospital (which is part of LifeBridge Health), the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus (formerly called Maryland General Hospital) and about two dozen nursing homes, according to union spokesman Jim McNeill.
Officials from those hospitals were not ready to comment immediately on the potential impact of the Hopkins’ contract.
McNeill said the workers’ bargaining committee voted unanimously in favor of the deal. The rank-and-file union members — housekeepers, maintenance workers, pharmacy technicians and other types of employees — will vote Thursday and Friday whether to ratify it.
McNeill said that although the union can’t point to specific studies proving that other health systems emulate Hopkins’ wages, he said he thinks it’s a “reasonable assumption.”
“When you’re the biggest health care employer and the second-biggest employer in all of Baltimore, you really do have an outsized influence on other employers,” McNeill said, adding that he believes Hopkins could sway negotiations in the entire local health care market not just at hospitals with unionized employees.
“If one employer is increasing wages, it can cause others to follow suit,” McNeill said. “It’s just the market at work.”
But the health care market isn’t that simple, Chessare said. Each hospital is in a different financial position, and not all are able to pay a certain wage, he said.
“Generally, collective bargaining units want to reach an agreement with the largest employer first, but I really believe that each individual employer will negotiate based on their own financial situation,” Chessare said. “So the outcome of negotiations will be more dependent on the finances of the individual hospital than on any standard in the Baltimore market.”