By TIM ROWDEN
Michael Jones has worked in housekeeping at St. Louis University Hospital for the better part of 11 years. He makes $11 an hour and, at age 55, can’t afford insurance.
Caprice Nevils is a patient care partner who works 12-hour shifts.
On the eve of the start of contract negotiations, the pair joined fellow hospital workers and community allies for a Jan. 12 rally in front of the hospital to launch a groundbreaking economic initiative – the “Fight for $15 and 15% campaign” to support higher standards for healthcare workers within the region and across the country.
The rally, at the corner of Vista and Grand Ave., and campaign represent a joint effort between Jobs with Justice, Fight for $15 and SLUH workers aimed at making a living wage a reality for broad swaths of the regional economy, including both the restaurant and healthcare sectors.
This will be SLUH workers first contract with SSM Health, which acquired SLUH in 2014, becoming the second largest health system in Missouri through the acquisition.
SLUH workers are proposing $15/15 percent platform:
• A wage floor of $15 an hour for those workers who make under that amount as part of their new contract.
• For those hospital workers who make over $15 an hour, a 15 percent raise spread out over the life of the contract.
“It’s not about the money,” Jones said. “It’s about being treated fair and treated right. Some of these people have been here for 15 or 16 years and they’re only making $14 or $15 an hour. That’s pitiful. That’s not right.”
Nevils, who has worked at the hospital for 10 years, said, “We are looking forward to having a constructive dialogue with SSM Health about how to invest in our healthcare workforce by providing fair wages to all hospital workers. But we won’t accept excuses. The truth is that we can increase the wages of hospital workers, at SLUH and across the industry. And by paying workers the fair wages we have earned, starting at $15 an hour as a wage floor, we improve our local economy and community.”
Nevils said, better treatment of healthcare workers will help ensure the continued quality and experienced care given to patients.
“We love our patients and we know they need us,” Nevils said. “That’s why I'm still here. If someone from my family has to be here, I want the people who are taking care of them to be happy in their work and taken care of, and treated with dignity and respect.”
Rev. Mary Albert of Epiphany United Church of Christ spoke at the rally and put the contract negotiations and campaign into perspective.
“Two years ago, fast food workers here in St. Louis and across the country came together to ask for $15 and a union, and across the country we’ve seen fast food workers getting rights and getting better wages and getting the dignity and that they deserve on the job. Since then, that movement has expanded to include healthcare workers, adjunct university professors, nursing home workers, child care workers all united in their quest to have $15 an hour and the right to form a union.”
St. Louis University Hospital workers are asking for $15 an hour and 15-percent wage increases, Rev. Albert said, “so that they get the dignity and respect that they deserve on the job.”