I first signed up to cover the Forum for Equality for the News-Letter without knowing exactly what I was getting into. I figured it would be more or less like my other articles thus far: Listen to a talk on a subject I knew little to nothing about, interview a few people, and leave. When I arrived at the forum, however, I was met with a completely different environment: people wearing matching red t-shirts were talking loudly and excitedly, and the walls of the room were plastered with flyers which read “The Power of our Potential.” I got the feeling I was in the midst of something big.
The forum was intended to spread information about the Hopkins contract workers’ labor union, Unite Here Local 7, and its plans for the immediate future. Contract workers are people who work on campus but are not directly employed by the university, like cafeteria workers and security guards. Thus, they are not guaranteed the same benefits as direct employees, and if the university decides to switch contract companies the workers are in danger of losing their jobs. The issues discussed at the forum were a $15 minimum wage, greater job security, and equal housing benefits.
Contract workers talked about their experiences working at Hopkins and their reasons for wanting better working conditions. I learned that the president of Johns Hopkins earns $3 million per year, but most contract workers barely receive enough to make a living, especially those who have children. Furthermore, it is much more difficult for contract workers to find affordable housing near campus than it is for direct employees. Local 7 has been trying to set up a meeting with President Daniels to negotiate, but so far the university hasn’t been very cooperative.
Undergrads, grad students, and faculty came to the forum to show their support and learn about contract workers’ issues. I was surprised but pleased at the number of Hopkins students who seemed to genuinely care about the workers, and who wanted to know how they could help. While it may not be easy, I’m certain that if the Hopkins community stands together, we can create lasting, positive change on our campus and in the great city of Baltimore. The people I talked to that night seemed optimistic, encouraged by the large turnout and determined to keep fighting until they achieved their goal.
Although sometimes it seems like everyone here is so focused on academics that there’s no space to focus on anything else, the Forum for Equality made me realize that there’s so much more to Hopkins than classes and studying. We’re in the real world now, which means we’re going to be exposed to real-world social issues. I believe that being exposed to these issues, caring about them, being involved in them is just as invaluable to our education as classes are. I never realized until I got to campus just how much I’d learn outside the classroom and how much it would impact me, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to witness the contract workers’ fight firsthand and write about it for the entire Hopkins community. I came out of the Forum that night feeling more inspired than I had in a long time, both by the progress being made regarding the contract workers’ situation, and by the strength, passion, and energy this campus is capable of when it is united by something it believes in.