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Hundreds of Howard University hospital workers plan to strike over low wages

Hundreds of workers at Howard University Hospital say they are planning a one-day strike on April 11 to protest low paying wages.
Chip Somodevilla
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Hundreds of workers at Howard University Hospital say they are planning a one-day strike on April 11 to protest low paying wages.

Hundreds of workers at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., say they are planning a one-day strike next week over complaints of low wages.

The District of Columbia Nurses Association (DCNA), the labor union representing over 300 nurses, pharmacists and social workers, said the workers are understaffed and underpaid — and as such, they are demanding a fair contract and safe staffing in order to protect patients.

The union argued that nurses and other licensed healthcare professionals working at the hospital have also been understaffed throughout the pandemic.

The strike is scheduled for April 11 at 7:30 a.m., according to DCNA.

"It really comes down to treating us with dignity and respect. They are understaffing in the hospital, and they are taking from us as costs continue to rise," nurse Jeanette Ethridge said in a release regarding the upcoming strike. "Allowing us to maintain our financial dignity reflects respect. Providing enough staff so we can care for our patients the way they deserve to be cared for reflects respect."

In a letter sent last week, the union notified Howard University president Dr. Wayne Frederick and Howard University Hospital CEO Anita Jenkins of the upcoming strike.

Edward Smith, the union's executive director, told DCist/WAMU that union members fully support the strike, and hopes all employees will get involved.

"It's hard for people to say 'I'm going to strike,' especially in the health care area, because of the serious nature of the quality of care we give our patients," Smith told DCist/WAMU. "We wanted to make it clear to management that this issue was important enough for our members to strike."

The union and the university's hospital have been involved in negotiations since last July, as the collective bargaining agreement expired in November; prompting several months of negotiations between both parties.

According to DCNA, hospital management walked away from the bargaining table in mid-February once management presented their final offer.

Shortly after the walking away, the union said 13 faith leaders from across Washington, D.C., sent a letter to the university's president demanding that he bargain a fair contract. Frederick did not respond to the letter, according to the union.

"Management walked away from the bargaining table despite our efforts to convince them that there were still a number of issues that needed to be negotiated," Smith told DCist/WAMU. "Because they are refusing to come back to the bargaining table, we really have no choice but to call for a one-day strike."

Howard University did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment Tuesday.

News of the hospital's plans to strike comes after the university made headlines last month after faculty members threatened to strike over complaints of unfair working conditions and wages.

Howard University administrators and the union that represents faculty members, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, reached a tentative three-year agreement to negotiate fairer working conditions, averting a strike.

The tentative pact was voted on by union membership Monday, according to faculty members.

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