1199 Magazine: Standing Strong

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1 A Journal of 1199SEIU May-June 2023 Commemorating Harry Belafonte: 1199 activist and friend Member Profile: RN fights healthcare discrimination NY Nursing Homes: Contract talks reopen


Editorial: Corporate Greed Can Cost Lives

That’s why safe staffing matters to members.

It is an age-old story. Management is always under pressure to cut costs to please corporate shareholders, produce more profits for owners or protect bloated administrative costs. The easiest and simplest way to do that is to reduce staffing levels. Employees on the frontline are crucial to ensure high quality care for patients and residents, but we are also the most expensive. Cutting down on supplies and closing off wards will not achieve anything like the same savings that shedding employees will.

Even before the pandemic, members were constantly having to press management to fill their open positions, instead of trying to get us to do more with less and exploiting our commitment to serve our patients.

What was a serious problem before has now become a crisis, as the staff complement in too many nursing homes and hospitals has fallen well below the levels needed to provide quality care.

The stress and danger of the pandemic, combined with rates of pay in many job titles that were too low to compensate for the risks 1199 members were expected to take on a daily basis, have driven many healthcare workers out of the profession.

oursuccess isintercon n e c det



One of the key drivers behind the demand to reopen the contracts in the Greater New York and “Group of 65” nursing homes is members’ recognition that significant pay increases are the only way that employers can hope to recruit and retain the staff they need. (See Talks Begin at NY Nursing Homes, p. 16)

contract reopener, they knew that New York State would have to foot some of the bill.

That’s why members from all over the state travelled to Albany frequently to lobby hard for higher Medicaid reimbursement rates (See Member Activism Averts NY Healthcare Crisis, p. 20)

@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org



Much of the national discussion has centered around nurse-to-patient ratios. But 1199ers know that low staffing in any department is problematic. If there are not enough dietary workers, for example, it means the CNAs must distribute the food trays, which means they have even less time to spend with residents, and RNs in turn, are stretched thinner too. It then becomes a vicious circle. Patients complain that staff are run off their feet and hospitals begin to receive worse and worse reviews. This eventually leads to further funding cuts and even less money available to improve staffing levels.

Providing quality healthcare, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, depends heavily on cash from Medicaid reimbursement rates which are decided at the state level. So, when 1199ers who work at institutions that belong to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes won 7, 6 and 5 percent over the next three years in March at their own

What was a serious problem before has now become a crisis, as the staff complement in too many nursing homes and hospitals has fallen well below the levels needed to provide quality care.

Besides raising pay, another way to address the staffing crisis is through legislation. As usual, when 1199ers spot a systemic problem with healthcare that lawmakers need to address, we come together to shine a spotlight on the issue. In New York and New Jersey our member action won safe-staffing laws. We are now turning our attention towards ensuring that they are vigorously enforced.

At the national level Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman Jan Schakowsky, have announced they are reintroducing the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, which would also protect nurses who speak out against unsafe staffing standards. And President Biden launched a process through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to issue the first-ever nationwide regulation on nursing home staffing.

Corporations and the ultra-wealthy can afford to pay lobbyists to influence elected officials, and so the forces arrayed against us our powerful. But we have made significant progress by mobilizing in numbers and telling the truth about the impact of understaffing on quality of care. Now, we must continue the struggle.


1199 Magazine 3 2 May-June 2023
4 Purple Wave 1199ers show their strength at Clara Maass hospital in NJ. 5 The President’s Column Farewell to our friend and comrade Harry Belafonte. 6 Around the Union Hudson Valley Members Win Raises up to 15% at Nuvance Health; 1199 Expands Membership in Upstate New York; Trans Health Equity Win; Time to Tax Corporate Greed. 9 Nurses of Distinction 1199 RNs gather to honor their peers. The Work We Do Nursing Home members show their value. 14 DC Member Profile Lauren Reichard, RN, on political activism. Talks Begin at NY Nursing Homes Contracts at the Greater New York and Group of 65 nursing homes are being reopened. Harry Belafonte was a Beloved 1199 Brother He marched shoulderto-shoulder with us throughout his life. Member Activism Averts NY Healthcare Crisis Sustained pressure finally forced Governor Hochul to reverse some of her planned cuts. Our History The Long Road to Nursing Home Parity.
1199 Magazine March-April 2023 Vol. 41 No.3
secretary treasurer Maria Castaneda senior executive vice presidents Yvonne Armstrong Veronica TurnerBiggs executive vice presidents Jacqueline Alleyne Lisa Brown Tim Foley Patrick Forde Todd Hobler Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Brian Morse Joyce Neil Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Nadine Williamson editor Sarah Wilson art direction and design Maiarelli Studio director of photography Kim Wessels contributors Mindy Berman Belinda Gallegos Annabelle Heckler Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson
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18 4 14 CONTENTS
Cover: Tanya Howard, an 1199 RN who has worked at Clara Maass for 23 years and was one of the leading activists in the drive to organize the hospital.

Farewell to our Friend and Comrade

May you rest in power.

When Harry Belafonte died on April 25, the world lost a giant among us, and our union lost one of its closest friends.

was in demand from Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. He had all the fame, wealth and celebrity anyone could wish for.

Purple Wave

1199ers show their strength in New Jersey.

Members poured into busses in Manhattan on May 16, to support some of the newest members of the Union family picketing Clara Maass Hospital in Belleville, New Jersey. Management is not only stalling in first contract talks, but also engaging in a hostile campaign of intimidation against the newly-organized nurses.

Glenda Eng, an RN at Clara Maass, whose employment was recently terminated without just cause, explained, “I am here with all my co-workers correcting the wrong that was done to me. I am a nurse and I know how to care and give compassion. But even though I acted within the guidelines of the policy, my employment was terminated. Management feels they can do whatever they want. Since we formed a union, we now understand that we have a voice.

We have a seat at the table.”

Eng is one of nine Clara Maass nurses who spent National Nurses Week on suspension after being unlawfully disciplined for union activity. 1199SEIU has filed federal unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against the employer and continues to fight for Eng’s reinstatement as this edition goes to press.

Last August, some 540 RNs at RWJ-Barnabas’ Clara Maass Hospital voted to form a union with 1199SEIU. Talks at the bargaining table have stalled, with management refusing to address staffing concerns and huge gaps in pay rates between Clara Maass RNs and other nurses working in Tri-State Area hospitals.

At the same time, management has engaged in a hostile campaign of intimidation against nurses, suspending nine nurses for attempting to deliver a petition on April 26, that had been signed by over 170 nurses, doctors, and other caregivers at the facility.

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of RNs just miles away in New York City—members of 1199SEIU and NYSNA—won collective bargaining agreements that provide annual wage increases of 7, 6 and 5 per cent, while maintaining far superior benefits. This has increased the already significant disparities between RN jobs in NJ and NY, and created further urgency to close this gap to retain the pool of nurses working in the Garden State.

Tanya Howard is an RN in the ICU who has worked at Clara

 Members from NY and NJ picket over management’s intimidation campaign against newly organized RNs.

Maass for 23 years. “We always had problems at the hospital, but when Covid hit, it just highlighted all the issues we had around short staffing and not being supported by management,” she says. “A lot of nurses left because they didn’t feel safe and supported. We were devastated by these nurses leaving. Our patient ratios went even higher, which put out licenses at risk.

“I was about to leave the hospital myself. But my daughter asked me what I could do to make it better. I made a phone call to 1199, and it was the best phone call of my life!”

For the last 20 years of his life, “Mr. B,” as we 1199ers called him, housed his professional offices in our union’s New York City headquarters. But his unwavering support of 1199 dates back 60 years to the initial drive to organize the city’s hospitals—a campaign that was against the law at the time. He was an early supporter and activist in our Bread and Roses Cultural Program. And he was especially concerned about training and developing new generations of social-justice activists.

At the height of the Cold War, the State Department took away his passport and he was blacklisted from concert halls and recording studios, effectively destroying his career. But, among Black people, he was commonly called, “The Tallest Tree in Our Forest.”

Mr. B. was one of those rare, true stars who put his fame and fortune on the line for social justice, and not just for a particular cause or one-time rally or demonstration. For him, it was a lifetime commitment and defined who he was. Bertholdt Brecht, the German playwright and poet whom Mr. B admired, wrote, “There are men that fight one day and are good, others fight one year and they're better, and there are those who fight many years and are very good, but there are the ones who fight their whole lives and those are the indispensable ones.” Mr. B was indispensable.

Before most of us were born, he became the first singer ever to have a record album sell a million copies. He was the first Black person to host a national television show (short-lived because the network and sponsors objected to his having Black and white performers on the same show). He and his good friend Sidney Poitier were the first Black leading men in Hollywood movies. His concerts sold out auditoriums around the world. He

But Harry Belafonte was a man of deep conscience and devotion to his people—Black people certainly, but also social and economic justice for all people. In the earliest days of the Montgomery bus boycott that brought a 27-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr to national attention, Mr. B befriended Dr. King and became one of his closest advisors and friends. The Belafonte apartment in New York became Dr. King’s NYC home. Mr. B became the go-to fundraiser for the civil rights revolution. When organizers were jailed, he bailed them out. He underwrote the budget of SNCC, the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee. He brought his organizing gifts and energies into building the famous 1963 March on Washington, and brought on board his friends Tony Bennett, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, among others.

From that point to the end of his days, Mr. B’s primary commitment and energies went to “the movement” rather than his career. The great Paul Robeson was his role model and mentor. In the 1930s and 1940s, Robeson, a Black former All-American football player, was perhaps the world’s best-known and celebrated actor and concert singer. But he was also a militant progressive and fighter for Black American freedom and African liberation. At the height of the Cold War, the State Department took away his passport and he was blacklisted from concert halls and recording studios, effectively destroying his

career. But, among Black people, he was commonly called, “The Tallest Tree in Our Forest.”

When Belafonte was a young struggling actor, Robeson took him under his wing. Both men, great stars, refused to “stay in their lane.” Even after finally winning acceptance as Black performers in a racist society, the unwritten rule was, “You are here to entertain us, not tell us how to make a just society.” Decades later, Colin Kaepernick, one the NFL’s best quarterbacks, was blackballed for taking a knee against police violence, and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham hectored LeBron James to “Shut up and dribble” when he spoke up against cop killings of Black people. They are worthy travelers on the road paved by Paul Robeson and Mr. B.

So, Mr. B’s partnership with 1199 was natural. He was a lifelong partisan of unions and of the working class. He was forthright about criticizing some of today’s biggest stars for not using their fame and fortune to help build the social-justice movement. His entire life is a challenge to them, and to us. Let us all be worthy of the faith he had in us 1199ers. Rest in power, Mr. B.

(See page 18 for photos and obituary.)

1199 Magazine 5
“Management feels they can do whatever they want. Since we formed a union, we now understand that we have a voice. We have a seat at the table.”
4 May-June 2023
– Glenda Eng, RN at Clara Maass

Around the Regions

1199 Expands Membership in Upstate New York

Sixty-two new 1199 members at Claxton Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg, New York, were celebrated their decision to join the Union on May 2nd. The respiratory, radiology and medical lab workers, including Phlebotomists, Ultrasound Technologists, Respiratory Therapists, MRI Technologists, and others will join the 200 existing 1199SEIU members at the hospital.

Hudson Valley Members Win Raises up to 15% at Nuvance Health

After more than a year of tense negotiations with Nuvance Health —an out-of-state healthcare corporation with little affinity with or investment in the Hudson Valley communities it serves—2,500 members finally ratified a contract in late April. The contract added three new bargaining units to the former collective agreement that previously covered only technical and service workers at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and Putnam Hospital in Carmel, New York. The new members, who

joined 1199 in the past two years are technical workers at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck and biomedical engineers and radiation therapists at Vassar and Putnam.

The employer’s constant stalling forced the members to hold several informational pickets, join with concerned elected officials and patients at press conferences, hold car caravans to inform the public and contact Board members, and demand dozens of meetings with management (away from the negotiating table.)

Biomedical engineers, radiation therapists and technical workers at Northern Dutchess Hospital will see base pay increases between 10 and 15 percent in their first contact. All members will receive annual raises of 3.5 percent in the next two years and a 3 percent annual increase in the third year. Longtime members will continue their no-cost health benefits through the 1199 National Benefit Fund, and new members will be covered on December 1, 2024.

“The health benefits are an enormous victory,” said Dan Duffy, a radiation therapist at Vassar and negotiating committee member. “Most of us couldn’t afford health benefits and some of our families really suffered. Now, we’ll have the best comprehensive, no-cost health benefits around. It will dramatically improve our lives and will also attract and retain staff, something that is desperately needed.”

Sheila Ennis, a patient care technician and long-time union delegate said winning Juneteenth as a contractual holiday was a priority for her. “My greatgrandfather worked in the fields as an enslaved person—this is much deserved recognition.”

Jodi Lachenauer, is a Senior Pathology Specimen Processor, who has worked at the hospital located in the North Country for more than ten years. She said: "I voted for fairness. During COVID we processed every test and went unnoticed and unappreciated. Now, with our union we will have a voice on the job and the raises we deserve."

Ashley Gonzalez, a Radiologic Technologist, added: "I see my future here at Claxton Hepburn Medical Center. Now that we have our union, we are excited for what is to come. My family relies on this hospital and all of the people here.

 L to R: Brige Dumais, 1199SEIU political coordinator, (left) with 1199 members Rachel Smith and Daniel Mendoza at the Trans Day of Visibility in Washington, DC.

 Claxton Hepburn members celebrate organizing victory.

Trans Health Equity Win

Members in Maryland joined their newlyelected Governor, Wes Moore, in Annapolis on May 5th when he signed the Trans Health Equity Act that they helped to pass. The law requires Medicaid to cover the costs of medically necessary gender-affirming care for lowincome transgender residents.

“My late brother was transgender,” said, Joyce Jackson, an 1199er at Whitman Walker Health who attended the signing ceremony. “Back in the 70’s, he did not have access to gender affirming care at all. This is one of the reasons I fight so fiercely on behalf of my transgender patients and the entire community of lowincome transgender people in Maryland.”

Claudia Martinez,her coworker added: “Access to gender affirming healthcare is life changing for the better. Too many trans people end up dead when we are not living our authentic life as the gender we truly are.”

6 May-June 2023 1199 Magazine 7
Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.
 Nuvance healthcare members raise their voices.
“(The health benefits) will dramatically improve our lives and will also attract and retain staff, something that is desperately needed.”
– Dan Duffy, radiation therapist at Vassar

Around the Regions

Time to Tax Corporate Greed

1199ers rallied in Albany on May 30th to press for the passage of “Reinvest in NY Healthcare Act”. New York's health insurance marketplace is increasingly dominated by health insurance companies based outside of the state.

While many New Yorkers faced a dramatic economic crisis and frontline healthcare providers were scrambling to provide care to gravely ill patients, these

same companies posted record pandemic profits. The companies then transferred their enormous profits to their parent companies in Indiana (Anthem), Minnesota (UnitedHealthcare), and Connecticut (Aetna). Just last year, New York's top ten insurers made more than $40 billion in profits.

Lisa Baker Morrow, a member at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, NY, said: “The Reinvest in New York Healthcare Act is a way to start

Distinction Nurses of

to address our frayed healthcare system. I believe that taxing outof-state insurance profits is a necessary and important step that we must take if we are to create a fair and equitable tax system.”

The legislation will create a 9.63 percent tax on any profit transferred out of state by health insurance companies operating in New York. The tax will provide a new and much-needed revenue source for financially distressed hospitals across the state.

“I believe that taxing out-ofstate insurance profits is a necessary and important step that we must take if we are to create a fair and equitable tax system.”

1199 RNs gather to honor their peers.

1199 Registered Nurses from a wide variety of healthcare settings donned their evening wear on May 5, to salute their dedicated colleagues at the 20th Anniversary Nurses of Distinction Awards Gala in Midtown Manhattan.

The peer-nominated event is designed to honor RNs for outstanding achievement and commitment to patient-centered care.

Celest Mars, an RN and Delegate at Mount Sinai Queens, was one of the nominees for the Preceptor of the Year Award.

“Since the pandemic, I have become one of the more seasoned RNs working in the ICU,” she says. “We are still looking after COVID-19 patients in the critical care area. A lot of my precepting has focused on how to treat patients with a high level of acuity.”

The medications for these patients’ needs are particularly complicated and require very precise adjustments, which are unfamiliar to RNs working in medical surgical or step-down wards. Like many RNs in the Union, Mars was able to utilize the 1199SEIU Training

and Upgrading Fund (TUF) to move up the career ladder. She started out at Mount Sinai Queens 37 years ago, as a Clerk in the ER while she was still a junior in High School. With the help of the TUF, Mars completed her training, obtained an Associate’s Degree and became a nurse in 1996.

“In 2016, I went back to school again to get my Bachelor’s Degree,” she says. “This time around, the Fund not only helped me with tuition, but they paid my wages for one of my 12-hour shifts each week for a couple of months, so that I could leave the floor to attend one of the classes I needed, which was not available online. These Union benefits made all the difference to me in furthering my career.”

Roxana Villanueva, another ICU RN at Mount Sinai Queens who also attended the awards gala along with Mars, started her own career at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Upper Manhattan after following her in mother Louise’s foot-

steps, an OR nurse at Mount Sinai Beth Israel who retired in 2000. As a Unit Clerk, Roxana made sure to work enough hours to earn benefits. “It took me two-and-a-half years,” she says, “but as long as I maintained at least a C average I was able to get my tuition paid by the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund.”

The first Runner-Up prize for the 2023 Nurse of Distinction award went to Victoria Patrice-Howe from Montefiore Medical Center Wakefield campus in the Bronx. She also works in ICU, and has been a nurse for more than 30 years.

Tragically, Patrice-Howe lost two uncles and an aunt to COVID-19, but says support from her fellow 1199 members helped get her through the pandemic. Patrice-How knows she could have made a lot more money if she had decided to become an agency nurse.

“But it was not just about the money,” she says. “We are a family. I felt that as difficult as it was, I would rather be out doing something to help, than to stay at home.”

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“It is not just about the money. We are family”
– Victoria PatriceHowe, RN at Montefiore Medical Center
OUR MEMBERS 1199 Magazine 9
 L to R: RNs Roxana Villanueva, Victoria PatriceHowe and Celest Mars
– Lisa Baker Morrow, member, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, Plattsburgh, NY  Lisa Baker Morrow speaks at press conference.

Nursing Homes

As the 1199 Magazine was going to press nursing home members in New York were preparing to reopen their contract to negotiate parity with fellow members in the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. Alongside the League, there are two other major consortia of owners who negotiate contracts with 1199 members. They are known as the Greater New York (GNY) nursing homes and the “Group of 65”. After nursing home members in the League used their collective power to win raises of 7, 6 and 5 percent over the next three years, members at GNY and Group homes—recognizing that their work was of equal value—decided it was time to demand wage parity. The 1199 Magazine caught up with several members in the GNY and Group homes to learn more about their jobs.

1. “These patients are like my second family,” says Sheryl Ricketts, a CNA at Five Towns in Woodmere, Long Island, which is part of “Greater New York.” Ricketts added:“When I come to check on them, I try to motivate them. I love to care for the elderly. My aunt was a nurse back in Jamaica. When I came to this country back in 1998, I went straight to CNA school.”

The work is not always easy emotionally. Tears well up as she remembers one of her residents who was always friendly and happy to see her. “Then one day he was gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye,” she says, adding that sometimes losing a resident feels like losing a family member. “I love my residents.”

For many residents, the staff feel like their family too, especially if their own family no longer visit them. Sometimes they get depressed, and Ricketts tell them jokes and reassure them that she will always be there for them. 1

2. “I love working here. It feels like family,” says Kiss Delva, who is a Housekeeper at Belair Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at North Bellmore, Long Island. “I enjoy bringing light to the patients faces when I see them. It doesn’t even feel like I’m at work.”

As a contract captain at Belair (which is part of the “Group of 65”) Delva knows just how important the Union is for making sure that members are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. “We are a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to caring for the elderly in our society, says Delva, adding the care he and his coworkers provide is not just practical, but we also “lift up their spirits.”

1199 Magazine 11 10 May-June 2023
“These patients are like my second family. When I come to check on them, I try to motivate them. I love to care for the elderly.”
– Sheryl Ricketts, CNA at Five Towns


5. When James Gayle began working in Five Towns kitchen 20 years ago, he learned that it was a Kosher facility, which means there is meat on one side and dairy on the other with a neutral area in between.

3. Katharine Gerber always knew she wanted to be a nurse. “When I was a teenager, I was hospitalized for a hip operation at Mercy Hospital. The nurse there stayed with me overnight. As soon as I got better, I became a candy-striper,” she remembers. She became a nurse in 1978 and now 45 years later, she has never looked back.

“They have been good to me here at Five Towns,” she says, “I got married and had kids and they never had to go to childcare. I was able to change my shifts to 4pmmidnight when they were young. It is more flexible than hospital work.”

She has been a Union member since 1989, “when I was young, skinny and single. The union is fabulous. My whole family have used the medical benefits. I have two daughters aged 26 and 29. The youngest just came off 1199 benefits and got new ones after becoming a Vet Tech. They are not nearly as good.”

When the 1199 Magazine visited Five Towns, Gerber had just been awarded Employee of the Month as she was “well known for her compassion, humor and patience.” She earned a BA in psychology, which she says helps a lot when working with geriatric patients.

4. For 27 years Mario Amaya has worked as a Housekeeper at Belair.

“Before coming here, I used to take care of my grandfather. That gave me the urge to help older people.”

Amaya is an active union member who rallied in Times Square with his fellow 1199ers during that last contract battle with employers.

“I always participate. I want to be involved. We were the essential workers during the pandemic and that needs to be recognized.

“You have to have heart to work here. It is not just for the money. If you focus on money in your life, you will be frustrated. It is much better to focus on helping people.”

“They were surprised to find out that I grew up in a Kosher household, so I walked right in and felt at home,” he remembers, “It is a different skill set, there are so many laws that you have to understand.”

He became Lead Cook and before long around 20 members sat down with him and asked him to become a Delegate. He agreed, saying: “There are those that speak up for themselves and those that can’t. The only thing I ask is that members tell me the whole truth.”

When he’s not supporting his fellow members as a Delegate, he writes and performs songs. “I was going to play one of the songs I had written with my son at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,” he says, “But after the January 6th insurrection, almost all the entertainment was cancelled for safety reasons, so I never got the chance. Scan the QR Code below to see his performance. Gayle is playing bass and his son, Jacob, is on the guitar.

6. Sasha Marriott worked at Belair for nine years and became a Delegate last year. She started out as a CNA, then trained to become an LPN. Recently, she completed her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), all with the help of the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund. She hopes to continue her studies and become a Nurse Practitioner.

After a brief stint at Jamaica Hospital, she has returned to Belair because it is “better organized” and she enjoys taking care of older people. Now six months pregnant with her first child, the hours are more family friendly too. “I wanted to be a Delegate since I had worked in several different job titles at the Belair. The CNAs are the first eyes on the residents, who can report things to me so I can provide wound care or in some cases call in the Nurse Practitioner.”

12 May-June 2023 1199 Magazine 13
“You have to have heart to work here. It is not just for the money.”
3 4 5 6
– Mario Amaya, Housekeeper at Belair

DC Member Profile Lauren Reichard

Lauren Reichard joined the hospital staff at Capital Region Health in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2020, just a few months before the pandemic lockdown began. As a newly hired RN in the Intensive Care Unit, the demands of her job intensified quickly.

“I don’t even like to talk about that period,” she says. “The hospital brought in a lot of travel nurses and I’m very grateful that they were there. God knows what would have happened without them.”

Now that hospital life is returning to normal, however, it is time for management to think again. “It was a Band-Aid in an emergency and was never meant to be a permanent fix,” says Reichard. “If someone is only there for a short-term contract, you lose the buy-in for long-term improvement projects. They don’t know of a particular service that a patient could use in the community because they are not from here.”

Working with the 1199SEIU political action department, Reichard recently testified at Prince George’s County Council in favor of legislation designed to ensure adequate staffing ratios over the long term.

“Nurses now have a better

understanding of their worth,” adds Reichard. “Providing bedside care is demanding physical and emotional labor. It can even be dangerous. Patients who are confused often get violent. It is scary and uncomfortable and makes you think twice about how close you get to someone who could potentially harm you.

“Verbal assaults from family members is also common. Nobody wants to go into the hospital. It is not Disneyland. People are in a vulnerable state and emotions run high.”

Reichard acknowledges that safe staffing is not just about RNs. “Even if the nursing team is well-staffed, if there is only one person cleaning, not enough people to deliver food trays, not enough PCTs to monitor suicidal patients—there are still going to be problems,” she says. “Patient satisfaction will go down.”

Inadequate staffing levels across the care team seriously affect patient care and also makes the RN’s job harder.

Before joining the hospital staff, Reichard did not really understand what a union was. “I always liked to speak my mind,” she says.

“I now realize that with the Union

we can provide education to public officials. It is not just one person against the entire system.”

Last year, Reichard went to the Maryland state capital, Annapolis, to testify in favor of legislation that will allow Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care. The Trans Health Equity Act, which later passed, requires the Maryland Medical Assistance Program to provide gender-affirming treatment in a nondiscriminatory manner.

“As an RN, I want to be very clear that gender affirming healthcare (GAC) is medically necessary,” Reichard told lawmakers. “Without GAC, transgender people experience both psychological and biological distress. Transgender people who ‘look’ transgender face a lot of stigma that is traumatizing and damaging to their mental health. Furthermore, trans patients are less likely to seek healthcare for physical conditions like wounds and preventable illnesses—I have had multiple patients who were transgender women that delayed coming to the hospital because they feared being stigmatized. If they had had access to affordable GAC, they may have been more confident in seeking medical treatment much sooner.”

Improving access to healthcare for vulnerable populations is something which Reichard feels passionate about. With tuition assistance from the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund, she will graduate in December with a Master’s Degree in Community and Public Health.

“There are so many preventative health measures that ensure that people can stay at home instead of in the hospital,” says Reichard. “Something as simple as being supported to find a primary care doctor that they can trust and feel comfortable with; making sure they can pick up and take their medication and healthy diet with access to nutritious foods; overcoming language barriers and simplifying the more complex medical forms.”

It is far too easy for insurance coverage to lapse accidentally. For a diabetic person, this can be catastrophic if they cannot get their insulin and they easily fall into a diabetic coma,” says Reichard, who also advocates a wholistic approach to health.

“Healthcare is not just about going to the doctor,” she says. “So much of it takes place in your home.”

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"Nurses now have a better understanding of their worth.
Providing bedside care is demanding physical and emotional labor. It can even be dangerous.”
– Lauren Reichard

Talks Begin at NY HomesNursing

The last time nursing home members in downstate New York were at the bargaining table, the pandemic was still raging and emotions around losing residents, co-workers and family members were still very raw. Negotiations began in August 2021, and employers hardly budged for months. It took until November 29, for an agreement to be reached less than 48 hours before members were planning to strike the institutions. Thousands of members marched on Times Square a few weeks before the settlement in a massive rally and show of strength.

A lot has happened since that settlement between roughly 33,000 Union nursing home members and management at the Greater New York (GNY) and “Group of 65” homes. The pandemic may have subsided, but its longterm effects are still very much being felt—particularly when it comes to staffing levels.

Earlier this year, the roughly 90,000 1199ers who work at institutions which belong to the

League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes were able to negotiate pay increases of 7, 6 and 5 percent over three years. Nursing home members in GNY and Group homes are committed to achieving parity with their League colleagues.

As this edition of the 1199 Magazine went to press, members at GNY and Group homes were due to reopen their contract and begin negotiating a new settlement on June 6.

“The cost of living is going up and up,” says Lynette Brown-Roberts, a Dietary member at the Horizon Care Center in Far Rockaway, Queens. “And if our paycheck can’t meet it, how can we survive? We are working so hard and our salaries do not reflect that. Sometimes, you are working three jobs because we are so short-staffed. But you only get one paycheck.

“It is getting to be harder and harder to find people who will work for the pay we are getting. It is easier to go off and work for Uber and take a vacation any time

you want.”

Michael Guevarez is an 1199 Delegate and Recreational Leader at the Seagate Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Brooklyn. In March, he took part in a non-violent act of civil disobedience to highlight that New York State Governor Kathy Hochul is not doing enough to “Close the Medicaid Gap” and budget for badly-needed increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates. Together with 1199SEIU President George Gresham, fellow members, Union officers and community allies, they stopped traffic during rush hour in a sit-down protest outside the governor’s New York City office.

“I believe that we were willing to be arrested for what we believe made an impression on the state’s legislators,” Guevarez said.

In the final NYS budget, an increase to Medicaid rates for nursing homes was agreed, which amounts to roughly four percent when existing staffing monies are taken into account.

“The cost of living is going up and up and if our paycheck can’t meet it, how can we survive?”

1199 Magazine 17 16 May-June 2023 OUR UNION
– Lynette Brown-Roberts, Dietary member at the Horizon Care Center in Far Rockaway. Contracts at the Greater New York and Group of 65 nursing homes are being reopened.
Annabelle Heckler
 Members picket the Pavilion Nursing Home in Queens (top) and the Grand in Great Neck, Long Island.

Harry Belafonte was a Beloved 1199 Brother

He marched shoulder-to-shoulder with us throughout his life.

Harry Belafonte was a legendary singer, actor, author, producer, and civil and human rights icon. The incomparable people’s champion was also a beloved 1199 Union brother. He passed away at 96 on April 25, at his home in New York City.

For nearly 70 years, he lent his voice and intellect to our struggles and many others. Moe Foner, the late 1199 public relations director and founder of the Bread and Roses Cultural Project (B&R), wrote about Belafonte performing for 1199ers in the early 1950s—before becoming a household name later in the decade.

The Harlem-born “Mr. B” (as he was affectionately known in his later years) is widely regarded as a key confidante of another iconic 1199 ally—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Belafonte was a major donor to Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and repeatedly provided funds to bail out King and other civil-rights activists from jail. He was also a major financial supporter of the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer, which helped African-Americans register to vote.

As a principal architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he worked closely with 1199 and District 65, its sister union at the time. In a 2012 interview with 1199 magazine Our Life and Times, Belafonte stressed how his Jamaican-born mother, Melvine Love Bellanfanti, taught him to “stand up to oppression wherever you see it.” He said that his relationship with 1199 helped him to heed that admonition. The members, he added, also reminded him of his humble roots. His mother was a seamstress and domestic, his father,

Harold Sr.—also from the Caribbean—was a merchant marine and cook.

“On every issue worth fighting for, 1199 has been there,” Belafonte declared at a 1979 soldout Lincoln Center concert that helped launch B&R. “I have to be involved with 1199 as long as there is an 1199,” he said. The concert was his first New York City appearance in nearly 20 years, yet he refused to accept a fee.

Mr. B. supported movements for national liberation as well as for world peace and disarmament. He was a steadfast internationalist and anti-colonialist. Throughout South African leader Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, Belafonte lobbied for his release, exchanging letters with the anti-apartheid hero.

Among his many honors were three Grammys, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy Award, a Tony Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. Belafonte was also the recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the BET Humanitarian Award, the NAACP Spingarn Medal and the Legal Defense Fund’s first

Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award. He was appointed a UNICEF (United Nation’s Children’s Fund) Goodwill Ambassador in 1987. On learning of Mr. B’s death, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres said, “Mr. Belafonte devoted his life fighting for human rights and against injustice in all its forms. He was a fearless campaigner for civil rights and a powerful voice in the struggle against Apartheid, the fight against AIDS and the quest to eradicate poverty.”

In 2011 at the age of 84, Belafonte assumed leadership of B&R. “The cultural journey we’re beginning is not about Harry Belafonte,” he stressed at the time. “It’s not about celebrity. It’s about the members. But we also have a greater mission—to reach into the cultural life of America and attract it into the labor movement. The arts and labor was, once upon a time, a marriage made in heaven that emerged during the Great Depression.”

Mr. B was instrumental in ensuring that marriage could thrive.

1199 Magazine 19 18 May-June 2023
“On every issue worth fighting for, 1199 has been there.”
– Harry
 Belafonte speaks at the 50th anniversary celebration for 1199SEIU.  Belafonte sings at “Salute to Freedom” concert at Lincoln Center, Manhattan, in 1979.


It took 1199 members four months of intense lobbying in the New York State capital to convince Governor Kathy Hochul to reverse her planned cuts to safety net hospitals and home care wages. The final NYS budget was delayed by more than a month as members kept up the pressure with the support of House Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In the end, 1199ers won higher wages for home care, as well as policy changes that will even the playing field with nonunion providers and regulate staffing agencies.

Instead of being capped at $18, the home care minimum wage will grow to $19.65 downstate and $18.65 upstate over the next two years—and then be indexed to inflation. Medicaid funding for health care benefits will be dedicated to

those employers who actually provide benefits. This means that 1199 employers will be able to offer more competitive wages while still maintaining the Union benefit package.

“I am very proud that we stuck together and made sure that the state recognized our value, so we could get what we deserve,” said Bianca Graniela, a home care member with the Bestcare agency. “I am a hospice aide which means that I am that face, that hand touch, that you see before you draw your last breath. It often feels like our elected officials don’t recognize who we really are. I have looked after doctors, lawyers and even a judge once. I appreciate the fact that the noise we made in Albany seems to have been heard this time.”

In another victory, temporary

healthcare staffing agencies will be regulated for the first time, allowing the state to collect key ownership and financial information. This will provide the tools to rein in the “Uberization” of nursing. There is also $120 million in new funding for behavioral health services and $850 million in new capital funds, mostly for supportive housing.

But despite the members’ massive mobilization, a hard push from the legislature and an $8.7 billion surplus, Governor Hochul could not bring herself to make the necessary investments to stabilize our healthcare system after the devastation of the pandemic with sufficient increases in Medicaid rates. Healthcare costs have risen by nine percent in recent years because of inflation and a pandemic-driven staffing crisis. The Medicaid rate increase in 2024 will only offset a fraction of these costs, leaving many NYS hospitals and nursing homes in the red.

"If our hospital were to close it would create a healthcare desert in Brooklyn,” Angela Sanchez, 1199 RN at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn told an Albany rally in April. “We see patients on the worst days of their lives. The need for healthcare is growing, but the budget is shrinking. It makes no sense."

Another member warned Governor Hochul that staffing levels in nursing homes were well below what they need to be. Mary Samaroo-Ali, and LPN at Queens Nassau Nursing Home, said: “We need to find a way of closing the Medicaid Gap once and for all.”

1199 Magazine 21 20 May-June 2023
Sustained pressure finally forced Governor Hochul to reverse some of her planned cuts.
“I am very proud that we stuck together and made sure that the state recognized our value so we could get what we deserve.”
– Bianca Graniela,
a home care member with the Bestcare agency  Members keeping up the pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul, making sure their voices are heard in Albany.


In 1997, fistfights involving 1199, SEIU Local 144, and District 1115 members and organizers erupted outside Lydia Hall Hospital on Long Island. That was unusual because most of the earlier confrontations were over nursing homes.

It proved to be the straw which broke the camel’s back, though. Fighting came to an end the following year, after 1199 affiliated with the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Local 144’s 30,000 members later voted to merge with 1199. More than 200 nursing home members, half former 144 members, attended a national SEIU Dignity Conference in Detroit soon after.

“Organizing of all nursing home workers and unity between 1199 and former 144 members are vital,” said Fanny Alexander, an LPN at Ross Health Care Center in Brentwood, Long Island. “That way, the owners can’t play one against

the other.”

SEIU declared 1999 the “Year of the Nursing Home Worker. District 1115, which had recently voted to affiliate with SEIU, worked with 1199 on a series of programs. By 2000, District 1115 had also merged with 1199. The 144 and 1115 mergers helped establish 1199’s Nursing Home Division and vastly strengthen 1199’s influence within the industry in New York.

That unity bore fruit in 2002, when members of the Association of Voluntary Nursing Homes and the Greater New York Healthcare Facilities Association (former 144 members) ratified groundbreaking contracts.

A highlight of that agreement was the establishment of a common expiration date with 100,000 other 1199ers—almost all of whom were members of the flagship League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. Members

also won a wage increase of 13.63% over three years, improved health & pension benefits and inclusion in the Child Care and Job Security Funds.

“It doesn’t matter what political party we belong to,” Forest Hills CNA Mae Smith said at the time. “We got this contract because we are united and are all 1199.”

Unlike the 1199 hospital workers in the League, 1199 nursing home workers are employed in homes that are grouped together in various associations. Members represented by the League set the pace for contract provisions. Generally, after the League contract ratification, negotiations begin with the Group of 65 and the Greater New York Healthcare Facilities Association. The smaller associations, in turn, tend to agree to the settlements reached with the Group and Greater.

1199’s increased influence

in the nursing home sector after the merger, helped the Union to initiate the formation of quality Care Committees (QCC)—labormanagement teams that focused on worker recruitment and retention, work redesign and other reforms designed to vastly improve nursing home care.

Increased density and member participation and PAC contributions have also translated into greater political influence. Political and legislative action that in New York State has prevented the loss of billions of dollars of Medicaid funding. That political clout extends to other regions, too. Last year in Florida, a right-to-work (for less) state, members helped to win a $15-per-hour minimum wage for all Florida nursing home workers.

Despite their historic victories, however, 1199 nursing home members face serious head winds only worsened by the COVID-19 crisis. Nursing homes, for instance, are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny as hospitals. 1199 has consistently lobbied legislators to exercise greater oversight over the homes and to address the plague of understaffing, over the years, but corporatization remains a major challenge.

Today, roughly 70 percent of the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes are for-profit operations. The growing trend towards extracting profit from nursing homes, which were once considered the responsibility of the state, has exerted profound

downward pressure on care.

Studies show that for-profit nursing homes are twice as likely to have lower ratings than non-profits. Many nursing homes fail to meet minimum requirements, and clearly put profits before people.

1199’s nursing home campaigns have always focused on quality care. The path to that goal includes fair wages, safe working conditions and adequate benefits for those who have been willing to put their own lives on the line to care for others.

 Members from the GNY institutions cheer a tentative agreement on Feb 1, 2002 at Manhattan hotel.

 A former Local SEIU 144 member speaks at the same GNY negotiations in 2002.

22 May-June 2023
The only way to fight industry consolidation is by bringing nursing home members together in one union.
“It doesn’t matter what political party we belong to. We got this contract because we are united and are all 1199”
1199 Magazine 23
– Mae Smith, a CNA at Forest Hills Nursing Home said in 2002

See page 13.

1199 Magazine 24
“There are those that speak up for themselves and those that can’t. The only thing I ask is that members tell me the whole truth.”
—James Gayle, 1199 Delegate and Lead Cook at Five Towns Premier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Woodmere, Long Island.
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