Carol Watkins stood in front of the giant mangle at the Washington Hospital Center, folding and piling the white crib sheets the machine was spitting out at her.
"I just moved and I'm trying to get straightened out," she said, "so this strike is really hurting me."
Watkins, like most of the hospital center's support employees - cafeteria workers, X-ray technicians, medical secretaries, laundry workers and others - has had her hours reduced because of the 15-days-old strike by about 60 percent of the hospital's registered nurses.
Because the 911-bed hospital reduced its patient load to just over 300, and now has only 520 patients in an effort to accommodate the reduced nursing staff, the institution's administration decided last week it not only didn't need, but couldn't afford, its usual massive support staff.
The hospital, said spokeswoman Jane Snyder, was forced to make "some decisions, and some tough ones . . . in those departments where there is a diminished amount of work each department head took a look at what could be done with the least amount of harm to the people in the department."
Carol Watkins in only losing an hour's pay per day, but at $4.50 an hour that adds up to a $45 bite out of the $240 check she takes home every two weeks. And she says that hurts.
"From the nurses point of view I hope they get whatever they went on strike for," she said. "They wouldn't have gone on strike if they didn't need to. But it's hurt a lot of people. Some departments have cut back and some like ours, are working shorter hours."
Kenney Lawrence stood by one of the mangles in the sweltering basement laundry waiting for enough linens to fill up one of the "trucks" he pushes from unit to unit in the hospital. The 23-year-old laundry distributor usually moves 100 "trucks" a day. Now he is handling 50.
"I can't really get mad at the workers," said Lawrence, who earns $4.88 an hour, "but I see the signs out there (on the picket lines) that say 'help us help you,' and they're not really helping us."
Lawrence, like other workers in many departments, was given a choice between working a shorter week, taking an unpaid leave of absence, or using some of his 13 vacation or sick leave days.
One cafeteria worker, who asked that her name not be used, explained that she was working a four-day week rather than take a day of vacation because "my leave is important. I don't take my leave just because they want me to take my leave. I have a 6-year-old little boy at home and I have to think of his welfare as well as my own. If I took a week off and then got sick a week, what would I do?"
"I'm a single head of household, said the dietary hostess who makes $4.33 an hour, pays $180 rent each month. "I have to pay a baby-sitter $80 a month, it costs me 50 cents each way for the bus and I take home something around $230 (every two weeks). Can I afford to work four days a week? No! I'm going to have to see what that first (reduced) check looks like and then see whether I'll make more here or on unemployment."
Terry Gales sat at a table in the hospital cafeteria, eating chicken a la king on rice and listening to the woman.
"I'm a dietary leader," said Gales. "After everybody's through breakfast, lunch, dinner, I take their trays and put them on trucks and take them back" to the dishwashing area. "Right now I'm making $4.18. I'm single, today's payday, an I'll get a check for 80 hours. I don't know what a check for 64 hours will look like, but I do have to pay rent. I live in Mount Rainier and I pay $200 a month.
"As it is I was just getting by, but barely, I don't know how I'm going to make ends meet," said Gales. "I'll be able to pay my rent, but that's going to leave less discretionary income. Now my take-home fluctuates around $260. Now I make a lot of overtime pay. But I don't think it's going to be more than $200" with no overtime and a four-day week.
"I support strikes and I support this strike," said Gales of the nursing strike, which enters its 15th day today. "The whole think about cutbacks is I thought it might be a thing by management to make those of us who are coming in to work be mad at the nurses who are striking, say 'oh, because of them we're losing time and we're losing money. But I don't look at it that way. They have to increase their benefits."