JUNE 23, 1959
KANSAS CITY, Kan.—I went up last Wednesday evening to talk to the Bronx Medical Association and I had an opportunity to talk with a number of doctors on the subject of New York City's recent hospital strike. One of the doctors was inclined to support the position taken by the hospital authorities and tried to show that the workers involved were in large part illiterate and unskilled labor and could probably not earn anything more than the low wages which they had received.
It gave me an uncomfortable feeling, because in all probability most of these workers are limited to their Spanish tounge, and they are probably not illiterate in spanish--only in English which is not their own original language.
But illiterate or not, it is impossible for a family, or even a single individual, to live decently in New York City on the wages the hospitals paid.
Everyone of us will agree that a business has no right to exist which cannot pay every employee a living wage. And I am very doubtful whether a voluntary hospital, which, after all, could change its policy and take in only people who can afford to pay, has a right to pay less than a living wage to its employees.
There are enough beds in city hospitals to take care of at least a majority of the free patients who go to voluntary hospitals and are paid for there by the city--not paid for at the rate of the private patients but also nto given the accommodations of th eprivate patients. The city has raised the amount it pays for their patients, but the hospitals can still say that even this raise does not entirely cover the costs incurred by these charity patients.
The voluntary hospitals, however, wish to remain charitable institutions, for it is on that basis that they get subscriptions from many people to help them meet their costs.
It is true that the cost of medical care for a person of middle income is tremendously high and I would be willing to say that out-and-out charity patients should only be admitted to voluntary hospitals when the beds in the city hospitals were completely filled. But I also feel the donations to voluntary hospitals should be used to cover the cost of such things as research and the lowering of hospital costs to the middle-income group of people who can ill afford to pay the high prices which now confront them if they are forced to enter a hospital.
All these considerations make it even more necessary that hospital managements pay a living wage. Had these managements talked over the safeguarding of these employees' rights before a strike occurred, the question of recognizing the union might never have had to come up.
Now the union will, of course, have to be recognized. Life has not been easy for these people in the past few weeks. During this time most of them have lived on union gifts.
I think it was very wise for the management of the hospitals to agree to meet finally with the representatives of the workers. The mayor and the city labor commission showed great patience in their mediation of this very difficult situation and should be congratulated on finally achieving a joint meeting.