Hospital workers joined fast food workers today on the 50th anniversary of the historic Memphis sanitation strike, which became a rallying cry of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to end poverty and racism led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A couple years before, in 1966, Dr. King traveled to Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood to fight for fair housing and equal opportunities for poor people. He endured a hateful mob to fight for poor people. Today, as part of a new Poor People’s Campaign led by faith leaders like Rev. Barber and workers, hospital workers marched to Marquette Park calling for a $15 minimum wage and strong unions.
Here’s hospital worker Lakeena Whitfield telling why she’s joined the new Poor People’s Campaign.
Statement by LaKeena Whitfield
Good afternoon. My name is LaKeena Whitfield. I am a patient care technician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I’m here to say that despite snow, hail or rain, hospital workers are demanding fifteen dollars as a minimum wage and the right to form a union free of intimidation.
In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in this community fighting for fair housing and equal opportunities for poor people. A few years later, Dr. King stood with sanitation workers in Memphis to fight for fair wages and the right for workers to form a union. We’re still engaged in that fight.
Workers like me are the unseen faces of hospital work. If transportation workers, housekeepers and laundry workers don’t do their jobs well – if medical equipment isn’t sterilized and patients don’t get monitored and cleaned — then the doctors and nurses can’t perform their jobs.
The foundational work that keep hospitals open is done by people like me – workers who are mostly women and mainly women of color.
I started as a housekeeper four years ago making a little more than eleven dollars an hour. But the work I did sometimes could be health and life threatening. There was a time that I had to clean rooms that could have been contaminated with the Ebola virus. That’s how serious housekeeping work in a hospital can get.
I went back to school to get my certification as a certified nursing assistant or patient care technician. People who do the work I do get to know patients better than doctors and nurses ever will.
I’m the one who cleans them, makes them feel comfortable. I talk to them about their families and sometimes I comfort them when they are having a bad day.
That also goes a long way in healthcare.
Today, far too many hospital workers can’t afford health insurance. Some workers depend on financial assistance to make ends meet. That’s not fair to the taxpayers because hospitals make too much money NOT to pay a living wage and offer affordable health insurance.
Hospital work is worth more!
I say to Dr. King, “Thank you for standing for me. Thank you for giving your life for workers like me.
“I’ve learned the lesson. Rest in peace, Dr. King. I’ve got this now.”
Dr. King said it’s always the right time to do right. It’s time for @IHAhospitals & Holy Cross hospital to do the right thing and pay $15 and let hospital workers join a #union #fightfor15 @chifightfor15 @SEIU pic.twitter.com/hAzymCfMwq
— SEIU HCIIMK (@SEIUhciimk) February 12, 2018