Editorial: We need to protect workers’ rights at Hopkins

December 8, 2016

Last Thursday, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), along with labor unions Unite Here Local 7 and SEIU 32BJ, hosted a “Forum for Equality” a gathering where representatives from the various contract workers’ unions on campus could share organizing strategies.

At the event, representatives of the security guards in our dorms and the workers in our cafeterias, who are not directly employed by the University and therefore do not have equal benefits, spoke about raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, job security and access to University housing grants.

The Editorial Board endorses the Fight for 15 movement on principle, but we recognize the difficulties in achieving this goal nation- and citywide. The current minimum wage in Maryland is $8.75 per hour, above the federal minimum of $7.25. By 2018, Maryland plans to raise the minimum to $10.10. The Editorial Board recognizes that a $15 minimum wage could overwhelm employers in Baltimore if rashly enacted, but that does not excuse paying workers low wages.

Our contract workers deserve a living wage. It is difficult to live healthily at current wages, and contract employees, even though the University does not directly employ them, should receive fair wages.

University President Ronald J. Daniels’ compensation increased by $1.5 million to over $3 million total. Just his raise is enough to pay for 50 additional workers at $30,000 per year. If our president can make $3 million per year, why can’t we pay our security guards or food service employees a living wage?

We recognize that it can be difficult to change longstanding policies, and that raising the minimum wage would eat into any company’s profit margin. But worker’s rights come first. Ensuring that parents can provide for their children should be a primary concern, not just an afterthought.

Many of the University’s contract workers hold two or more jobs so they can support their families or themselves. Many of them work obscenely late into the night so that our campus is safe at all hours, and they should be compensated accordingly.

Hopkins employees, whether contract or directly employed, should eventually receive a $15 per hour minimum wage. Johns Hopkins is the largest employer in Baltimore and Maryland, and its embrace of a $15 minimum would set a powerful precedent.

This Forum for Equality was a tremendous step forward to creating real change in our community. It is incredible to see professors, students and contract workers all unite to discuss how they can improve workers’ rights on campus. We commend the organizers for providing an opportunity for workers, faculty and students to come together.

Students should not be afraid to come to these events and learn more about the lives of the people who make this community what it is. Students need to show that they care and stand in solidarity with the workers who help improve our school every day.

We are the ones with the power to make change at Hopkins, and we have the responsibility to use our privilege to protect the people who keep us safe.

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