Members at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown campus ratified their strongest contract ever in February, after months of tough bargaining. In the end, members were able to negotiate wage increases that amount to more than 10 percent for the longest-serving workers. 1199 Magazine recently caught up with some of the Union Delegates on the bargaining committee to find out how they did it. In the years since workers first organized with 1199 to form a union at the hospital, members have been working steadily to improve their wages and conditions.
1. Lewis Gilliam was certified for his job in Peri-operative Services three years ago, thanks to a Union program. He prepares the carts that go into the Operating Room with the specific instruments needed for each surgery. Before that, Gilliam worked in Materials Management, which involves stocking the wards with supplies.
“It was a good apprenticeship for what I’m doing now,” he says, “but it was getting boring. I want to continue to advance and study to be a Surgical Technician. Before getting a job in the hospital seven years ago, I was a butcher at Safeway. But meat cutting is becoming extinct, and I enjoy helping people by working in health care.”
2. “When I first came to the hospital more than 20 years ago,” says LaTanya Denton, “I started out on the night shift. I think I have worked on every floor in the hospital by now.
I started working as a PCT in the Emergency Room about ten years ago, and came onto the day shift. “This contract is the first time we got dollar raises, instead of percentages. This always works out better for the lowest-paid members.
We were also focused on rewarding the people who had been here the longest. We had way too many members who had been working here for more than 30 years and were not even making $20 per hour.
We wanted to reward those who had been loyal to the place. New people didn’t want to come here because the pay was so low. It is the best contract we’ve negotiated in all the time I have been here, with bonuses coming in each of the three years.”
Denton and her colleagues were determined to get what they deserve.
“We work hard, and we were working short all through the pandemic,” she says. “[Just like in New York], the nurses had negotiated large raises. We were happy about that, but the nurses don’t run the hospital by themselves. Just like doctors can’t do their jobs without nurses, the nurses need PCTs and CNAs— and we all need EVS. We all work together. If one part is missing the whole machine stops working.
“We won because members got involved. As a Delegate, I would tell people, ‘I’m not going to get myself worked up, if you are not going to do your part, too.’ You can’t have somebody else fight your battles and then reap the rewards later.”
3. For Shania Oliver, it was important to be on the bargaining committee so she could represent patient care. As a PCT, she deals with the impact of short-staffing on a daily basis. Her job involves comforting families at the bedside, watching over suicidal patients, and protecting those who are at risk of falling out of bed.
“I love what I do,” she says. “But we surely deserve bonuses for what we went through during the Covid pandemic. We did not get enough appreciation from management.
“Short-staffing was getting worse because nobody was coming here because the pay was too low. The increases from our new contract just started coming through in mid-March. We are more than just numbers on their spreadsheets — and management needs to show us their appreciation.”
4. Now working in catering, Betty McCrae used to be an assistant third cook.
“But I was bored and wanted to try something different,” she says.
“I started out in Food and Nutrition, was there for eight years, and then transport for six years. Then I was laid off. But because I had seniority in the union, I was able to get another job back in Food and Nutrition. If it weren’t for the Union, I would have been out of a job.” McCrae says negotiating this last contract was tough.
“Whatever we asked for, they threw it back at us,” she says. “But as Union members, we know that nothing comes without a fight. In the end, we got the largest increases we’d had in a long time. Our raises were determined by our length of service. Because I have been here for 23 years, my wages went up by roughly 11 percent.
“We really needed it. People are struggling and having to work double shifts and seven-day weeks to make ends meet.”
The Maryland minimum wage was recently increased to $13.25, but Midtown members negotiated at least $15-an-hour for all Union members.
5. Sam Preston is a Unit Clerk on the Psychiatric Ward who has worked at the Midtown campus for more than 10 years—beginning when it was still a community hospital known as the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
These days, he says, “All workers have to struggle.”
“We did a walkout two days before settling the contract,” Preston continues. “We had to say enough is enough because what we were being paid was not enough to live on. You get $20/hr to deliver packages or serve meals in restaurants. But we are here helping to save lives and we were earning less than that!”