Johns Hopkins University community demand a living wage for campus and health system employees, 1996-2000

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Time Period:  
30 April
16 March
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Baltimore, Maryland
Location Description: 
Johns Hopkins University campus
To have Johns Hopkins University administration agree to a permanently indexed living wage and access to affordable health care for all Johns Hopkins Institution workers and subcontracted workers. (Living wage was defined as the wage paid by Baltimore City under the city's living wage ordinance)

In December 1994, the city of Baltimore passed a city ordinance mandating that employees of companies receiving city contracts be paid a living wage (defined as a wage that keeps a family of four above the federally determined poverty level adjusted yearly for cost of living increases and inflation). The city ordinance was the first so-called living wage ordinance to be passed in the country and was slated to go into effect in July 1995. Wanting to build upon the organizing efforts of the Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), an organization of 46 churches affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in influencing the successful passage and enactment of Baltimore’s living wage city ordinance, students and faculty at Johns Hopkins University began to organize a living wage campaign targeted at changing the wage policies of the University and its Health System.

This coalition of students, faculty members, and local activists formed the Student Labor Action Committee (SLAC) in 1996. SLAC held their first rally on April 30, 1996 to raise awareness for the living wage campaign and wanted to raise awareness about the university employees who were earning the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour without benefits in the employment of Broadway Services Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of the Dome Corporation, which was jointly owned by the university and the Johns Hopkins health system. At the rally, speakers demanded that Hopkins pay its contracted employees at least $6.10 an hour with benefits. From 1996 to 1997, SLAC’s goal was to influence the Johns Hopkins administration to agree to wage increases that matched the wage levels of the Baltimore living wage ordinance for all of its direct and subcontracted employees at the university and hospital. On February 23, 1997, the day of William R. Brody’s inauguration as the 13th president of Johns Hopkins University, a small number of SLAC protestors gathered outside Shriver Hall, holding placards and passing out flyers. SLAC would continue to organize rallies and protests while also participating in talks with the Hopkins administration over the implementation of a living wage policy for the next three years. SLAC also circulated a petition to support the living wage campaign among Hopkins faculty members and was successful in collecting about 111 signatures.

A turning point came on February 2, 1999 when President William R. Brody agreed to a new minimum wage of at least $7.75 an hour for the lowest-paid Hopkins employees, after a meeting with students and faculty from SLAC. This was an increase from the university’s previous minimum wage of $6.00, a wage policy that had been in place since October 1997. President Brody planned to phase in the wage increase over a period of three years, stating that financial realities, including the financial pressure of medical centers under managed care and Medicare cost controls, made it unfeasible to immediately implement a $7.75 minimum wage for contracted employees at the Johns Hopkins Health System. While not formally agreeing to an indexed living wage policy, President Brody said that his wage policy change to a $7.75 minimum wage expressed his commitment to a living wage for campus and healthcare employees since the living wage ordinance in Baltimore required a minimum wage of $7.70 at the time. However, SLAC was still not satisfied because the administration did not agree to adjust wages to match inflation and SLAC argued that by the time the $7.75 wage finally went into effect for all of Hopkins employees in 2002, it no longer would be a true living wage.

Ben Cashdan, a student member of SLAC and a doctoral student in economic geography, authored an opinions piece entitled “Hopkins and the living wage” that was published by The Baltimore Sun on May 20, 1999. In the piece, Cashdan articulated SLAC’s stance in continuing the living wage campaign at Hopkins until the administration introduced an indexed living wage policy. James McGill, the senior vice president for administration at Johns Hopkins University, fired back with a response piece published on June 2, 1999 in The Baltimore Sun. McGill argued that the university’s agreement in February 1999 had gone far enough in addressing the demands of SLAC.

On November 19, 1999, about 200 students and faculty supporters gathered in front of the Johns Hopkins University administration building, Garland Hall, at noon to press for their demands for an indexed living wage for university and health system workers. Additionally, they demanded that the wage increases, which Hopkins had previously agreed to, take effect immediately instead of being phased in over three years. After a rally was held in front of the building, students attempted to enter the administration building but were blocked by security.

On February 22, 2000, SLAC members constructed a 6-foot wooden shanty, meant to symbolize the living conditions of the working poor, in front of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library on the Homewood campus. Protesters occupied the structure for 24 hours a day until March 1, 2000. On February 24, protestors tried to move into Garland Hall but were unsuccessful in doing so. On February 28, 2000, SLAC members began a sit-in inside Garland Hall, strategically occupying the building that contained the offices of the president and other top administrators. During the sit-in, some members chained themselves together inside the building. Protestors took turns occupying the lobby and reception of Garland Hall during the day, with about a dozen people in the building at any one time, and remained in the building at night. While Garland offices remained open throughout the sit-in, the Admissions Office shifted to Levering Hall.

During the sit-in, SLAC had three specific demands for the Hopkins University administration: (1) the immediate implementation of an indexed living wage for its campus and healthcare employees; (2) the establishment of a governance committee composed of students, faculty, workers, administrators and community members to address Hopkins’ labor practices; (3) the withdrawal of its membership in the Fair Labor Association and joining the workers Rights Consortium instead.

In response, on March 2, 2000, the Johns Hopkins University and Health Systems administration issued a point-by-point response to the demands being circulated around campus by the Student Labor Action Committee. The administration continued to state it could not commit to an indexed living wage policy that would match the wage levels that the Baltimore City Council determined as living wages under the city living wage ordinance

On March 16, 2000, SLAC ended its 17-day sit-in in Garland Hall after reaching an agreement with the administration. In the agreement, the administration formally committed to “the principle that workers should be able to live in dignity and support themselves and their families, and Hopkins recognizes that compensation is critical to the well-being of such workers”. The agreement included a commitment from the institution to continue discussions on the wage issue with the establishment of a committee and to accelerate wage increases. Additionally, in the agreement, SLAC withdrew its demand for Hopkins to leave the Fair Labor Association and join the Workers Rights Consortium. Julie Eisenhardt and James T. McGill signed a written agreement as representatives of SLAC and the John Hopkins Institutions administration, respectively.

Since this agreement, SLAC has ensured that the University’s agreement to commit to the principle that its workers should live poverty-free lives has been followed through as time passes. While SLAC’s pressure from 1996 to 2000 was not successful in forcing Hopkins to adopt an official indexed living wage policy, SLAC was able to move Hopkins to internalize regular raises for its employees so that virtually no worker was being paid poverty wages. After 2000, SLAC pressured Hopkins administration for wage increases several times with its most recent actions in 2002 influencing Hopkins to increase wages to $8.50 an hour and to implement this policy starting May 1, 2003 for campus workers and starting July 1, 2003 for health system workers.

Research Notes

The SLAC were influenced by the success of the organizing efforts of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) in pressuring the city of Baltimore to pass its living wage ordinance. (1)

As one of the first university living wage campaigns, the campaign at Johns Hopkins influenced living wage campaigns at other US college and universities including: Harvard, Stanford, Brown, Towson Universities, and the University of Virginia. (2)

"An Open Letter to Members and Friends of the Johns Hopkins Community". The Gazette Online, 8 Mar. 1999. Web. <>.

Bowler, Mike. "Hopkins Protesters Encamp for Living Wage." The Baltimore Sun, 09 March 2000. <>.

"Johns Hopkins Response to SLAC Demands." Johns Hopkins University, 2 Mar. 2000. Internet Archive.<>.

"‘Living Wage’ Adopted." The Gazette Online, 8 Feb. 1999. Web.<>.

"Student-Labor Action Committee (SLAC)/Johns Hopkins University Agreement." Johns Hopkins University, 16 Mar. 2000. Internet Archive.<>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Rosanna Kim, 16/09/2012