Early Attempts Organize Hopkins

Early Attempts Organize Hopkins


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis



Early Attempts to Organize Johns Hopkins

Monthly Round-Up Report  (August 1959)

 Regional Directors Analysis of Activities and Developments in Region 4:


            Our current effort to bring about organization of the “housekeeping” employees of the major hospitals in Baltimore is meeting with a considerable degree of success, while at the same time eliciting expressions of dissatisfaction from two business agents because of their belief that the staff working in this campaign should sign up the workers on a variety of union membership cards. On all such demands we refer them to discussion with BSEIU [Building Service Employees International Union].

            Actual organizing activities have been more or less limited to the Johns-Hopkins Hospital, but we find that the workers of one hospital make frequent contact with workers in other hospitals and; consequently, organizational interest is developing in a number of the hospitals through their ability to secure membership application cards from our several departmental organizing committees.

            Despite any success achieved in organization, the job of gaining recognition for BSEIU will be a difficult one. On the local level we have conferred in the regional Office with Eugene Moats, George Leutkenholder, and Representative Pearman, and the unanimous opinion was that simultaneous campaigns should be conducted in the private hospital, Johns-Hospital; a Jewish hospital, Sinai, and one or more of the large catholic hospitals. This would afford us the opportunity of pressing for recognition where the most favorable climate could be obtained or where maximum pressures could be applied. Following this agreement, and on our request, Alan Kistler had conversations with a leading member of the Catholic clergy who, in turn, directed our attention to most influential layman of the Catholic Church in the Baltimore diocese. In a luncheon conference with me he expressed great sympathy for our efforts to improve the lot of these low paid hospital workers, and said he was of the opinion that the campaign could be conducted in a manner to cause the Archbishop of this diocese to come to him for labor relations advice on this matter.

            I called Mr. Walter Collins, BSEIU, and made a complete report on the above developments. Mr. Collins felt that any organizational activities other than those underway at Johns-Hopkins would not be timely, and he expressed his resistance “to spreading this campaign too thin.”

            This brings us up against the hard realities of the position taken by Dr. Russell A. Nelson, Director of Johns-Hopkins Hospital and newly elected Director of the American Hospital Association, where he pronounced his unqualified opposition to the unionization of hospital workers. He is giving every evidence of being determined to oppose any recognition of BSEIU in behalf of his workers.

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Monthly Round-Up Report  (August 1959)


A Daily Account:

August 3. Johns-Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland,

                        800 employees; Building Service Employees Int’l Union. Following earlier survey we began in early August. Now have 362 workers signed up (of approx. 800) and we have departmental organizing committees formed. Three to nine cents per house increase given this month by management. BSEIU chartered Hospital Employee Union Local 491. Organizers: Hawkins, Wood, Lorden, and Singleton.

August 3. Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland,

                        Approx. 500 employees; Building Service Employees Int’l Union. No active organizing activities yet — but 62 workers have secured membership cards and signed and mailed them in.

Organizers: Hawkins Wood, Lorden, Singleton.

August 3. Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, Approx. 350-400 employees; Building Service Employees Int’l Union. Hand-billed this hospital on one occasion and 34 membership cards returned through mail. Organizers: Hawkins, Wood, Lorden, Singleton.

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Union Study Offer Made to Hospital:

AFL-CIO Organizer Submits Plan to Hopkins Director

by Frank P.L. Somerville

The Sun

(September 22, 1959)

            The AFL-CIO yesterday proposed that any one of six mediators be allowed to judge whether a union seeking recognition by the Johns Hopkins Hospital has the backing of a majority of the employees in question.

            Oliver W. Singleton, AFL-CIO Region 4 director, made the proposals in reply to objections by the hospital that the group seeking recognition did not represent a majority of some 1,000 nonprofessionals.

            No NLRB Jurisdiction. Acknowledging that the National Labor Relations Board has no jurisdiction in disputes involving hospital workers, Mr. Singleton urged the Hopkins management to throw the question open to:

            1. A proper agency of the State of Maryland.

            2. An agent or agency of the mayor of Baltimore.

            3. Any five clergymen.

            4. A tripartite board made up of hospital directors, union representatives and impartial members.

            5. A panel of three selected court judges.

            6. Any single citizen acceptable to both parties. 


            Study Is Promised. Dr. Russell A. Nelson, director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, said yesterday after receipt of Mr. Singleton’s letter that “we will give his suggestions full and serious considerations.’

            A previous exchange of correspondence was made public Saturday in which the AFL-CIO regional director asked the Hopkins to recognize Hospital Employees Local 491, while the hospital refused on the basis that the collective bargaining agent did not represent the majority it claimed.

            Mr. Singleton wrote Dr. Nelson yesterday that “three points stand out” in the reasoning behind the hospital’s refusal to deal with the union.

            According to the union official, they are:

            1. “Your improper refusal to recognize the collective bargaining rights of your lower paid workers, despite the fact that hospitals have historically and traditionally recognized the right of group association by nurses and doctors and other higher-paid professional workers.”

            2. “Your seeming shock that your employees may have joined an organization . . . empowered to question decisions that might affect working conditions. . . .”

            Mr. Singleton said he believed that this point “will prove to be a passing thing” because “in a democratic society we all learn that there is no such thing as unquestioned authority” and that “workers in fact have the right to question management’s unilateral decisions.”

            Joining Right Noted. “Your statement that you do not believe that a majority of the employees specified . . . have joined or desire to join the . . . union.”

            Quoting Dr. Nelson as saying that “we recognize the right of our employees to join unions,” Mr. Singleton declared:

            “Of course, such recognition in all reasonableness demands recognition of the attendant right of collective bargaining, otherwise it is completely incongruous.”

            The union spokesman then made his proposal that “the matter be solved in the same way the national Labor relations Board settles questions of representation” but with the substitution of any of the mentioned third parties for the NLRB.

            Strike Seen “Unlikely.” “We accept our responsibilities to the community and with sincere respect urge you to realize that your position violates the basic rights of a free people and could generate disharmony, inimicable to the public welfare,” Mr. Singleton wrote Dr. Nelson.

            As to the possibility of a strike at the medical institution, the union official said yesterday: “A strike is possible, of course, but I believe highly unlikely.”

            He then went on to say that strike could “only come about through the continued and persistent refusal” by the hospital to recognize the union.

            Opposes “Pressures.” In addition to stating his belief that the petitioning union did not represent a majority of the hospital employees concerned, the Hopkins director had written Mr. Singleton that dealing with a collective bargaining agent “would be incompatible with the sole purpose of our existence and inimicable to those we serve.”

            “Our service to the public has been developed in an atmosphere in which the board of trustees and the hospital administration have been free to pursue our objectives without the pressures exerted by organized groups contending for their own economic benefit,” the hospital director had argued.

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