A Journal of 1199SEIU March-April 2018
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Insert
The Dream Lives On 1199ers stand up for needs of caregivers and patients.
SECURE OUR CARE
13 3 Editorial: Dr. King Guides Us Labor is still fighting for its life. His lessons still show us the way.
@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2
5 The President’s Column Pray for the dead and fight like heck for the living. 6 Around the Regions Maryland’s day of action; Brookhaven new org win; NYC Labor Chorus; Game night in Syracuse, and more.
9 George Washington University Hospital Contract fight in D.C. turns vicious. 10 #SecureOurCare Albany rally draws thousands. 13 Special Section: Remembering Dr. King Fifty years after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still our North Star. 21 Finding Home In Her Union CNA Tamara Elzubair applies life lessons to her trade unionism.
22 No Means No Our Union does not tolerate sexual harassment. 23 Women’s History Month We celebrate the contributions of working women. 24 The Work We Do March is National Social Work Month. 27 Our Retirees Former NYU delegate Maurice Gray is a new retiree, but an old hand at activism.
28 To The Bronx, Via The Silk Road Mount Sinai delegate Ali Karim’s journey to NYC took him around the world. 29 The Last Word The young leaders of the #NeverAgain Movement.
Editorial: This Is Not About Us We are called to action by reasons greater than ourselves.
Text TK of this magazine, it’s 38 days until our Union’s membership completes the vote on the amendments that are the center of the current Unity & Power Campaign being conducted in 1199. These amendments to our Union’s Constitution were proposed in April by our Executive Council to change the structure of our organization so we would be better prepared for the new realities of a viciously anti-labor Trump Administration, larger and more coordinated management working together in unprecedented ways, and a beleaguered healthcare system in desperate need of repair and under an attack by the right wing. The result will be massive job loss and cuts in the care of
those who need it most—our poor, seniors, minorities and indigenous and rural communities. In this issue’s Letters column Linda Dickman and Erica Broussard, RNs at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY, write a poignant reminder of the very real consequences of standing down in the face of this struggle.
“We too have seen the death of children we have watched grow up. The experiences of the ORMC nurses are not isolated. Mental health and substance use disorders—including addiction and dependence on heroin and prescription opioid medications— are quickly reaching epidemic proportions. In New York, there
were 3,009 drug-induced deaths in 2015, a 54 % increase over 10 years, equaling or exceeding the national average every single year,” write Dickman and Broussard. They point out that this problem will only spiral nationwide if the AHCR with its draconian cuts is allowed to become reality. Our nurses are not alone in their concern; in our feature about members in the disability community, NYU Langone secretary Marie James expresses her fear for how the AHCA could deny coverage to millions of disabled Americans now protected under the Affordable Care Act. “The passage of the Act would relegate disabled persons to
1199 Magazine March-April 2018 Vol. 36, No. 2 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org president
George Gresham secretary treasurer
Maria Castaneda executive vice presidents
Jacqueline Alleyne Norma Amsterdam Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Ruth Heller Maria Kercado Steve Kramer Joyce Neil Monica Russo Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Veronica Turner-Biggs Laurie Vallone Estela Vazquez editor
Patricia Kenney director of photography
art direction & design Maiarelli Studio cover photograph
Jim Tynan contributors
Mindy Berman JJ Johnson Regina Heimbruch Paul Herring Erin Mei Naeem Holman Sarah Wilson 1199 Magazine is published six times a year—January/ February, March/ April, May/June, July/ August, September/ October, November/ December—for $15.00 per year by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, 310 W. 43 St, New York, NY 10036. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to 1199 Magazine, 310 W. 43 St., New York, NY 10036.
1199 Magazine 3
NJ Social Justice Award: 1199SEIU NJ: Ruby Roman, a restorative aide in Linden, NJ, accepted the Social Justice Award on behalf of her union sisters and brothers at the *Passion*Power*Progress* event hosted by the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey. “We know that without the leadership of women like us, ready to take risks and be bold, our patients and our families would suffer,” said Ruby as she spoke to the crowd about why 1199 members take the struggle for social justice so seriously.
Code Blue Rally: 1199seiu: Thank you to the 1199 sisters and brothers who boarded buses early this morning from locations all over NY to head to Albany for the #CodeBlueRally to help #SecureOurCare. 1199 was most DEFINITELY in the house!
International Women’s Day: At an International Women’s Day event hosted by the 1199SEIU Women’s Caucus, members and their guests packed the Davis/Cherkasky Penthouse on March 9 for an evening of celebration and an important panel discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace, workplace safety, sexual assault treatment and recovery, and workers’ rights. The event provided a forum for discussion and solutions.
Let’s hear from you. Send your letters to: 1199 Magazine, 330 W. 42nd St, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10036, Attn: Patricia Kenney, Editor; or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put Letters in the subject line of your email. 4
NY District 19: 1199Upstate: We will question #NY19 candidates and tell our stories about how we need to fund our facilities. Healthcare workers will be heard!
United Against Janus: 1199seiu: Delegate Antoinette Rose is a medical record analyst at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. She rallied with hundreds of workers in #foleysquare to #standup for #workersrights. “All unions are under attack and we need to fight back,” she said. #unrigthesystem #itsaboutfreedom #standupfightback
Columbia Rally: 1199SEIU: #TBT @Columbia University Majors in Union Busting 101. In 1968, Columbia University workers organized to make Columbia a UNIONversity for fair treatment and living wages. Today, student health workers at Columbia have been fighting for a contract for close to a year.
Maryland Fights For $15: 1199seiu_ mddc: We’re taking care of business and having fun meeting with elected officials today. #ff15md #fightfor15 #1199SEIUMDDC #1199SEIU #DACA #32bjseiu #unionstrong #strongertogether
Labor Is Very Much Alive West Virginia teachers prove that working people are still in the fight. The President’s Column by George Gresham
These are tough times for working people. Nothing new about that, as I’m sure you know. But they’re about to get a whole lot tougher as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to destroy public workers’ rights to collective bargaining. This has been at the top of the wish list of corporate America for years. They’ve just been waiting for the right moment, which is at hand. You may remember that when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, President Obama nominated a prestigious jurist to fill the vacancy. Republican leadership refused to even meet with the nominee. Instead, they waited until President Trump was elected and filled the position with Neil Gorsuch, one of the most right-wing judges in the country. Now, with an anti-labor majority on the Court, millions of school teachers, fire fighters, mail carriers, bus drivers and others who work for our city, state and federal governments are in danger of losing their collective bargaining rights; their unions in danger of losing their lifeblood, union dues. The labor movement has been in decline for over 30 years, so you’d think this would be the death blow. But you’d be wrong. Even in the face of the complete takeover of all branches of the federal government by forces hostile to workers and their unions, the most amazing thing happened last month in West Virginia. This is a state where public workers are forbidden by law to strike, where they have no collective bargaining rights, where they have no contract and where teacher pay is ranked 48th lowest of the 50 states. Yet in all 55 counties in the state, 35,000 West Virginia school teachers went out on strike. They were joined by cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors and other school employees. The strike followed nearly two weeks of negotiations during which teachers were informed they’d be receiving an insulting one percent salary bump that basically amounted to a pay cut once rising health care premiums, inflation, and cost of living were taken into consideration.
But after nine days on strike, the teachers won—coming to an agreement with the Republican governor and state lawmakers on a five percent raise and a hold on raising health insurance costs. Moreover, the agreement extends to all state workers, not just those in the schools. I tell you about these wonderful, strong West Virginia teachers not just to let you share their marvelous story, but to impress on you the first and most important lesson of their victory. They won because they were organized, they were involved from bottom to top and they were united. There can never be enough member involvement. It is how workers win. Whatever wages, health and pension benefits, training opportunities, job security, vacation and sick days we have in our contracts are there because 1199ers were willing to fight for them. Nothing is ever given to us.
A union is not its elected officers or its headquarters offices. The union is its members, and a union is strong only to the extent that the members are involved and ready to fight for what is rightfully theirs.
A union is not its elected officers or its headquarters offices. The union is its members, and a union is strong only to the extent that the members are involved and ready to fight for what is rightfully theirs. We, who are 1199 officers and staff think we know our members pretty well, but you want to know who else also knows our members well? Our employers. They know if we’re united, if our members are ready to mobilize and fight. And they know when we’re not. This year, we are bargaining contracts on behalf of more than 150,000 members. When a contract expires and negotiations begin for a new one, everything is on the table—wages, benefits, days off, rights on the job, retirement security, etc. This is the time for every member to get involved in whatever way you can—from attending chapter and department meetings and keeping informed to joining with our other sisters and brothers on the job in letting the employer know we’re ready to do whatever it takes to fight for our jobs, our patients and our families. Contract negotiations are not a spectator sport. We all need to get in the game. 1199 Magazine 5
Around the Regions
Maryland Legislative Day of Action
Brookhaven Organizing Win Makes Good Jobs Great Jobs Workers at Brookhaven Medical Center in Patchogue, NY voted 93-18 for 1199 representation in a March 1 election.
Members of 1199SEIU’s Maryland/DC Region headed to Maryland’s State Capital of Annapolis on March 1, where they met with state delegates and senators to discuss the necessity to support key issues and legislation.
Remembering The Triangle Fire On March 1, at Brookhaven Medical Center in Patchogue, NY, technical employees, including radiographers, Certified Surgical Technologists, ultrasound technologists and CAT Scan technologists, voted 93-18 to join 1199SEIU. “I have worked at Brookhaven on and off since 1978 and have wanted to have a union here ever since then,” said Alice Whidden, an emergency room and operating room x-ray technologist who was active in the union campaign. “I could never understand why the other techs were not for the union before now. They said it wasn’t for them. I told them that nurses and teachers have strong unions,” said Whidden. “Why shouldn’t medical techs bargain collectively for contracts too?” Joan Brunzel-Marra, a CAT Scan Technologist, said workers were 6
“ecstatic” about voting union. With Brookhaven in the process of being re-named Long Island Medical Center, Brunzel-Marra stressed workers’ dedication to providing compassionate and professional care to people on Long Island “My theme throughout the campaign was that we needed to make our jobs great again,” she enthused. “I really appreciate the 1199 retirement benefits, as I will be 62 next month. But the younger people here have realized that coming together in a union will improve their wages and conditions long before it’s time to retire.” Brunzel-Marra said management’s tough anti-union campaign brought the activist committee closer together. “We didn’t let it intimidate us,” she added. “We are no longer ‘at-will’ employees subject to management doing whatever it wanted without any repercussions,” she added.
“We didn’t let it intimidate us. We are no longer ‘at-will’ employees subject to management doing whatever it wanted without any repercussions.” Joan BrunzelMarra, CAT Scan Technologist, Brookhaven Medical Center
NYC 1199ers joined scores of other union members and social justice activists for a March 23 memorial marking the 107th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The March 25, 1911 fire was the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history and one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Workers—mostly young women and immigrants—were locked onto the factory floor by owners worried about theft. As a result, 146 garment workers perished in the inferno. Many died from smoke inhalation or by jumping to their deaths. The Triangle Fire spurred a wave of labor activism and passage of landmark legislation protecting workers.
Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.
Thousands Rally at MSG in NYC 1199SEIU members by the thousands rallied at New York City’s Theater at Madison Square Garden on Feb.21 to stand up for good jobs and against looming cuts to New York State’s healthcare budget. The Stand Up 1199 Rally kicked off a period of intense mobilization of union members. 1199ers were pushing back against disastrous health care cuts from D.C., even as they prepared for contract negotiations covering broad swaths of the membership and critical fall elections. “The fight is not just for today but for a long life and a better future,” said Luis
Santiago, a driver at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens. Santiago was an HIV/AIDS counsellor at the institution for nearly two decades when the funding for his position was cut. “By standing together we can make a difference and make sure our elected representatives do the right thing.” In his remarks, 1199SEIU President George Gresham reminded members that it was time to “take care of business” and ensure workers are still mobilized. “Before we get the contract we deserve, we must make sure to get the funding we need from the state legis-
lature,” Gresham reminded the cheering crowd. A centerpiece of the event was the Union’s endorsement of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo as he seeks re-election in November. “We have to take back
our country,” Cuomo thundered to riotous cheers. “We have to bring our philosophy to America. There are no haves and have nots. There are no lucky and left out. We believe in opportunity, education and healthcare for all.”
1199 Albany Rally, 1965
Question of the Month 199ers stood up to protect healthcare at Madison Square Garden rally in NYC on Feb 21.
What was your first rally? Tell us what it was like! Send your replies to: Magazine@1199.org.
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Around the Regions
Workplace Safety Is No Accident According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare workers report the highest number of non-fatal occupational injuries among all private industries. In an effort to help reduce preventable injuries and keep workers safe on the job, the Union offers members in the New York City area free health and safety classes. On April 16, some fifty members graduated from the second module of the 2017/2018 program of classes. The seminar meets weekly for three months and covers a wide range of
topics including ergonomics, hazardous materials, legal rights and workplace violence. “These classes are vital in helping me keep my workplace safer and injury free,” said XXX. “I learned so many things that might never have even caught my attention.” The classes are run by retired 1199er Jean Turner-Kelly, who recruits guest speakers with expertise in areas related to workplace health and safety. For more information or to register for September’s class email Jean.Turner-Kelly@1199.org or call 212-603-1170.
Participants in this spring’s Workplace and Health and Safety classes.
NEW YORK CITY LABOR CHORUS
Performance Tickets ($35) are now available from any chrous member, or call the office at 212.929.3232
Saturday, May 5, 2018 at Symphony Space 2537 Broadway @ 96th St. Manhattan, NY
These 1199ers Aren’t All Work And No Play 1199SEIU members in the Syracuse area got together Feb. 22 for a first-annual game night. About fifty members got together for hot chocolate, snacks and a little friendly competition in a few rounds of Pictionary, Scrabble and other board games. 8
One of the premier choral groups celebrating the history and struggle of working people for twenty years invites you to our Spring performance. Come celebrate the Great Traditions of Labor, Contemporary, & Folk Music!
GWUH Workers Hold Fast Against Union Buster
At the spirited march and rally members sang, danced and shouted many calls and responses, including: “What do we want?” “A contract.” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Members also declared, “If we don’t get it (a fair contract), shut it down.” Rally speakers stressed that the fight was not just for the workers, but also for the patients and community.
Contract campaign has many components. For more than a year, some 150 workers at George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) and MD-DC Division of 1199 have been locked in a battle for a contract with an increasingly hostile management that refuses to bargain in good faith. This fight has important implications for all 1199ers. Unions across the nation have noted that bosses, emboldened by the Trump administration’s anti-worker National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), will attempt to squeeze workers, including those with Union contracts. “Management is not interested in reaching an agreement,” says Calvin Christian, a GWUH cook and 1199 delegate. “They are more interested in slandering the Union and trying to make us believe that they are the best thing since sliced bread.” Christian contends that one of management’s tactics is to frustrate the members and tire them out. For example, management did not schedule a single negotiating session for the month of March. “They are trying to divide us and pick us off so they can eventually decertify the Union,” he warns.
“They have money, but we have the power.”
No Love at GWU: Workers at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. held a Valentine’s Day rally calling the hospital to come to the table and bargain fairly.
law firm that is leading the hospital offensive against the 1199 members, has garnered a reputation as a vicious union-busting organization. Such firms are described on their websites as management or labor consultants, and union-avoidance firms, but those who have dealt with them say “hit men” or “mercenaries” are more accurate terms. But 1199, as usual, has not been an easy target. The members and district leadership are fighting back on many fronts. A high point of the campaign was a Valentine’s Day March for Justice on Feb. 14 in Washington that called on GWUH to “put the heart back into health care.”
While keeping members engaged and mobilized, the Union leadership has also filed unfair labor practice charges against Fisher Phillips with the NLRB. “I am proud of what I do, and I do a good job, despite how I’m being treated,” says Yolanda Espana, a GWUH housekeeper for the past 10 years. Espana also believes the bad treatment and rudeness on the part of management is part of their decertification effort. “But I won’t let it happen,” she says. “I was a proud Union member at Georgetown Hospital before I came to George Washington, and I know how important our Union is. We will stay united. They have the money, but we have the power.”
Among the actions management has taken in the past year include stalling to provide $80,000 in back pay to 21 workers in the hospital’s dietary department. Members say that workers have been written up and suspended for trivial violations such as arriving a few minutes late. Much of what Christian and others describe comes straight out of the standard union-busting playbook. Fisher Phillips, the international 1199 Magazine 9
WORKERS CALL A ON HEALTHCARE
CODE BLUE Albany rally demanding immediate action by lawmakers draws 10,000. Washington has launched a war on New York health care, and workers are fighting back. Over 10,000 people—including 1199ers and members of the New York State Nurses Association from around the state, elected officials, concerned citizens and community activists—packed Albany’s Times Union Center on March 14 for a “Code Blue” rally demanding action by legislators protecting the fragile hospitals, nursing homes and homecare and other social service agencies that comprise New York’s safety net healthcare system. “New York’s institutions rely on aid so they can provide the best health care in the country,” says Maurice DePalo, a pharmacist at Montefiore Medical Center’s Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx. “If these cuts go through and nothing is done about it, we will no longer be able to care for 10
Washington, D.C. has launched a war on New York health care, and workers are fighting back.
Retired nurse B. Pyne Bertsche standing up for NY health care at March 14 rally at Albany’s Times Union Center A Banner Day: Hebrew Home and NY Presbyterian were among the winners of a banner contest at the March 14 Code Blue rally.
the elderly and poor who most rely on our healthcare system.” With the aim of hastening the demise of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has refused to address the reduction of cost sharing payments that drain $870 million from New York State’s Essential Health Plan. Additionally, at press time, New York State’s legislature had not moved to repair the damage of $700 million in federal cuts to the state’s Medicaid budget. The Federal government’s attack on health care coupled with the New York State legislature’s inaction is stirring a tsunami capable of wiping out institutions, along with a multitude of jobs and services throughout New York State’s safety net healthcare system. “I have had the pleasure of serving the people of Central Brooklyn for 40 years,” said Kingsbrook Hospital RN Vivian Phillips. “These cuts coming from Washington are downright dangerous and they definitely do not heal.” Kingsbrook is among New York City’s most vulnerable safety net hospitals. Phillips emphasized the need of for-profit insurers and healthcare companies to pay their fair share. “I support this tax on insurers who were once non-profit and are now for-profit,” she said. “Corporations that profit [from it] must be made to pay their fair share for health care. They don’t care for patients like mine in Central Brooklyn, we do.” The Code Blue rally speaker program drew not only from health care’s rank and file, but also from management and both sides of the legislative aisle. Ken Raske, chief of the Greater New York Hospital Association, and Dr. Steven Sayfer, C.E.O. of the Montefiore Medical System, both called on leaders in Washington and Albany to put aside
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Top: #Winning: Retirees with their award-winning Code Blue Rally banner. Bottom: 1199ers bring their artistic flair to the fight for NY healthcare.
“We just want to be able to take care of people and fulfill their needs properly. If you do the math with these cuts you’ll see it’s impossible.” Jacob Peters CNA, Samaritan Keep, Watertown, NY
their differences and stand with the people of New York in the fight for healthcare justice. New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan both pledged their support in working toward a solution to the healthcare funding crisis. “I want to thank you for what you do with the utmost sincerity, because when I’m sick I know you have my back,” said Sen. Flanagan.” [The healthcare system] needs money and the way we do that is we work with you. We are going to make sure these Medicaid cuts go away.” Sharon Hunter, an LPN at Hebrew Hospital Home in the Bronx, said the cuts were more than just dollars and cents—they represent lives. “Our patients are the ones who are going to suffer the most in all of this,” said Hunter. “All of this goes back to the main reasons why we organized at my facility in the first place,” said Jacob Peters, a CNA at Samaritan Keep Home in Watertown, NY. “We just want to be able to take care of people and fulfill their needs properly. If you do the math with these cuts, you’ll see it’s impossible.” 12
MLK The Dream Lives On
A 1199 Magazine Commemorative Section/March-April 2018 1199 Magazine 13
The Dream Lives On MLK 50 Years Later
meeting of 1199ers, “There are times . . . that I’m often disenchanted with segments of the power structure of the labor movement. But in these moments of disenchantment, I begin to think of unions like Local 1199 and it gives me renewed courage and vigor to carry on.” Calling 1199 his favorite union, Dr. King added, “If all of labor would emulate what you have been doing over the years, our nation would be closer to victory in the fight to eliminate poverty and injustice.” Dr. King thanked 1199 for its principled struggles against economic exploitation, racism and militarism— the interconnected evils that he, too, fought mightily against. I don’t mention Dr. King’s praise of our Union as a boast, but as a challenge. Throughout our Union’s history, we have risen to that challenge by picking up his torch and following the path he forged. His example and teachings are as relevant today as they were a half-century ago. That is why I refer to him as our Union’s North Star. Political leaders and pundits highlight Dr. King’s nonviolence and love of humankind. Those qualities cannot be denied. But Dr. King was much more. He was a drum major for justice, an exceptional organizer who used civil disobedience to both build a powerful movement and rouse the nation’s conscience. And I am proud that our Union stood with him during challenging moments when he courageously took positions on foreign and domestic policies that others— including civil rights allies—harshly criticized.
DR. KING IS OUR NORTH STAR by George Gresham
I came into this world around the same time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young minister, made history by leading the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. That movement led to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. During my earliest years I attended a segregated school in Virginia where I lived with my grandparents, who had been poor sharecroppers. My parents had made the great migration, as did millions of African Americans, to seek work and a better life for their families. I joined my parents in New York when I was 8. During the coming years, our nation passed landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The broad movement that Dr. King led was the driving force behind these landmark accomplishments. My parents spoke of Dr. King’s leadership, and at an early age I became a follower of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte and Muhammad Ali. But I did not fully understand Dr. King’s greatness and genius until I joined 1199. As an 1199er I learned that on March 10, 1968, less than a month before his assassination, Dr. King told a New York City
History has confirmed the correctness of Dr. King’s positions and his incomparable contributions to our nation. Former President Barack Obama, who frequently referenced Dr. King, did so in Selma, Alabama, during the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act. President Obama said in praise of non-violent resistance and struggle: “What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?” Few have done more to call our nation to its highest ideals than Dr. King. Thankfully his work continues, most importantly through the Rev. William Barber and Dr. Liz Theoharis, leaders of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign—a revival of Dr. King’s movement a half-century ago to bring about a radical redistribution of economic and political power. We can pay Dr. King no greater honor than to further those causes for which he gave his far-too-short life.
1199 Magazine Commemorative Section
THE GUIDING HAND OF CORETTA SCOTT KING
for Nonviolent Social Change, which advances Dr. King’s legacy. She also was the driving force behind the national King Holiday, which was signed into law in 1983. Coretta Scott King’s activism – in response to the oppressive Jim Crow conditions of her youth – predated her marriage. She observed that she was married to the movement before she married Dr. King. She recalled picking cotton with family members to help pay for her and her siblings’ public-school education. The death threats she received as an adult were preceded by threats against her dad in Hieberger, Alabama, where both the Scott’s home and lumber business were burnt to the ground by racists who were never brought to justice. Another painful memory was the lynching of a great uncle.
Dr. King acknowledged that his wife bore the bulk of household activities and the rearing of the couple’s four children, but he also depended on his wife’s counsel. It was she who convinced him that he should accept the assistance of Malcolm X, after Dr. King’s 1965 arrest in Selma, Alabama. Unfortunately, the alliance never materialized as Malcolm X was assassinated just a few weeks later. Mrs. King identified as a feminist and was a staunch opponent of homophobia. She frequently spoke about the connections between different forms of women’s oppression before the term “intersectionality” was popularized by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. She said in 1973, “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe you must become its soul.” Mrs. King personified the soul of our Union.
Coretta Scott King, the wife and fellow activist of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also occupies a place of honor in 1199’s history. In 1969, less than a year after Dr. King’s assassination, 1199 embarked on a nationwide organizing campaign, of which Mrs. King enthusiastically agreed to serve as honorary chair. Her stirring oratory, media appearances and powerful presence at meetings and picket lines emboldened and energized workers. The spotlight in the national campaign was focused on Charleston, South Carolina, a bastion of conservatism and racism. Mrs. King’s leadership lifted the spirits of the poor African American women at two Charleston hospitals during a 100-day strike. During the campaign, waged under the slogan, “Union Power, Soul Power,” Mrs. King declared at a church meeting: “One thing that hospital workers, black, white or brown, have in common all over the country is that they are poor, they are terribly exploited, and they need a union more than anybody else. That is why I’m with you. And you can count on me to stay with you in your fight for justice, for human rights and for dignity.” The union was unable to win full recognition in Charleston but it did manage to improve conditions for the workers and eventually won representation elections in a dozen cities throughout the nation. And as her husband did before her, Coretta Scott King answered the call whenever 1199 needed her assistance, lending her prestige to organizing campaigns and supporting major Union initiatives. Meanwhile, Mrs. King also carried on the work she had engaged in with her late husband. She helped establish the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center 1199 Magazine 15
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The Dream Lives On MLK 50 Years Later
“I’ve been a member of 1199 since 1976. I’ve always been very proud that our headquarters is named the Martin Luther King, Jr. Labor Center and that this remarkable nonviolent warrior for equality, peace and justice considered 1199 his favorite union. He devoted his life to the struggle against what he called “the evil triplet of racism, materialism and militarism.” Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his powerful and courageous speech in Riverside Church against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Many of his closest colleagues urged him not to speak out against the war. But he firmly believed that he couldn’t continue to advocate nonviolent struggle without raising his voice against this immoral and unjust war. When he called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” he signed his own death warrant. Fifty years later our terrifying, never-ending and selfperpetuating war on terror make his words tragically truer than ever.” - Jeff Vogel, Retiree, NYC
“Seeing Dr. King on TV was seeing one of us on TV. It was seeing somebody like my daddy on TV. I remember the March on Washington. I remember them telling people to pack food that wouldn’t perish, like peanut butter and jelly. It was incredible to look at him. Somebody that powerful and see him get so much respect from people of other races. It was very empowering for all Black people. I was in school when he died and we watched his funeral on TV. Every classroom had it on, and I remember it being very, very quiet.” - Annie Obley, Retiree, Essex, NJ 18
1199 Magazine Commemorative Section
“You can never appreciate what you have until it’s lost. We heard Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech televised. We didn’t realize at the time that he was telling us he knew was going to die. He told us, but we didn’t want to understand. I remember asking everyone at the time ‘how many people are they going to kill?’ He was the chosen Moses called to fulfill the intention of The Emancipation Proclamation. I think he would have been very disappointed to see so much of what’s happening around us today. 1199 is carrying on Dr. King’s legacy, but the current climate is so oppressive to African Americans and other people of color. We all must be freedom fighters.” – Elaine Manning, Certified Laboratory Technologist, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, NYC
“Dr. King helped organize the March 7, 1965 demonstration in which 600 people marched across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, the bridge that connects Selma and Montgomery. It was a day that would become known as Bloody Sunday. Protesting for our right to vote and against the violent treatment of those seeking equal rights, marchers were blocked by the Alabama police and state troopers. The nonviolent protestors were attacked with billy clubs and tear gas. Over 50 people were hospitalized. March leaders John Lewis and Amelia Boynton were beaten bloody and unconscious. Two days later, as solidarity marches were held around the country, Dr. King led another group across that Pettus Bridge. Here we are over 50 years later. Dr. King is gone and we are still fighting for the same things we were fighting for then—our rights and our lives. Dr. King taught us that no matter what opposition we face, we need to keep fighting for justice.” - Vickie Owens, Retiree, NYC 1199 Magazine 19
The Dream Lives On MLK 50 Years Later
“Until [I was] 17 years, I’d never heard of anybody showing resistance. If a white man said move off the sidewalk, you moved off the sidewalk. You could be arrested or beaten if you didn’t get off the sidewalk. We were intimidated. Dr. King’s movement is what changed us. One man preaching and teaching resistance. It resonated with us as young people. If he can do it, we can do it.” “Very few black people had a television in those days. We would sit on a white person’s porch and look through the window to see the protests taking place around the country. We would gather around at nighttime and listen to Blues music – BB King, Fats Domino, Little Junior Parker and Little Richard – and we would also hear Dr. King. One or two black people in my town did have televisions, and every so often we would see marches on them. A bunch of us got to the point where we said: ‘We can do this too!’” - Bill Pigford, a unit specialist at Prince George’s Hospital in Cheverly, MD
“The first time I saw Martin Luther King in person was in 1968 when he spoke to 1199. I knew there was going to be a crowd, so I got there early so I could sit up front. Coming from the South like I do, I never liked being at the back of anything or sitting in the back. As soon as I arrived in New York City from North Carolina, I swore I would never have to sit at the back again. We have come a long way from that time, but we still have so much work to do. Civil Rights is about being educated and remembering that because of people like Dr. King, we can always do better for ourselves.” - Ruby Graham, Unit Secretary, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY 20
She Found a Home in Her Union Albany CNA is leader among 1199 nursing home workers.
Tamara Elzubair, an Albany County NH CNA, is both tired and energized. “I feel it in my back, legs and feet after each shift where we’re required to do much more than we should,” Elzubair says. Although her body aches, her spirit is high, she adds, because of her Union work. Elzubair emphasizes that being a delegate and working with her Union brothers and sisters have provided a purpose and comfort that she lacked for much of her life. “My childhood in Schenectady wasn’t easy,” she admits. Born in the early 1960s, she was the eldest of five children. Her Irish-Welsh mother from Oneonta, NY, and African American father, from Columbus, Georgia, have passed away. There were few people of color in her neighborhood. Her single meeting at a Brownie/Girl Scout troop, she says, typified her harsh childhood experiences with racism. “I was excited when I got to the Brownie meeting and one of the girls told me that the teacher had told the girls that they would have a chocolate bunny at the meeting,” she says. “When I found out the chocolate bunny was me, I never went back.” She says that high school was no better. “My dad thought we would get a better education at the predominantly white school near us as opposed to the school where most of the Black kids went,” she says. “We weren’t accepted there either. I had to defend my little brother on his very first day of school when he was jumped by some of the other kids.” Elzubair says that she didn’t feel welcomed by the African American children with whom she came into contact. “My playmates as a child were two neighborhood Italian kids who had olive skin,” she says. “Their parents were really good to us.” Today, Elzubair notes that her and her coworkers’ experiences at the workplace remind her of her mistreatment as a youth. “We don’t get straight answers to our questions, and are constantly asked to do more, while we’re given less,” she says. She points to low pay, the shortening of the work week by two and a half hours to save money, lack of weekend differential pay, severe short staffing and a punishing workload. “I want to give all the residents proper comfort care,” she says. “But I can’t do that when management continues to increase the number of residents we have to care for. We need to change the staffing ratio.”
Despite the problems at the workplace, Elzubair is upbeat. “I know I can improve the situation if I continue to stand with my brothers and sisters,” she says. “I became a delegate because I realized that if I help other people I help myself. And being a delegate has taught me that unity is power.” While organizers often have problems getting members to meetings and other actions, that is not the case with Elzubair. “I’m a lover of rallies,” she says, noting that they amplify her voice and help her feel her strength. A Fight for $15 rally last year in Kingston, NY, is one of the highlights of her Union experience because she had the honor of introducing NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I still earn less than $15 an hour, and that’s why I have to share an apartment with my daughter and grandkids.” (See story about Elzubair’s grandchilren on page 31.) Elzubair says she has another powerful motivation: “Trump is pushing me into action. He’s a disgrace. I’m very worried about all the damage he can do.” She cites cuts in health care and food stamps as two of her concerns. “I also do what I do for my grandkids,” she says. “I want a better life for them than I’ve had. They attend rallies and meeting with me and they even canvassed in New Hampshire with me for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “So, I’m going to keep on fighting. I’ve found people willing to accept me and stand by me in 1199. I’ve found a family.”
TAMARA ELZUBAIR CNA, Albany County NH
“I’ve found people willing to accept me and stand by me in 1199, I’ve found a family.”
1199 Magazine 21
No Means No. Never Means Never. Our union does not tolerate sexual harassment. If you have a problem, report it to your delegate or organizer.
Dear 1199SEIU Sisters and Brothers, About twelve years ago, Tarana Burke created the phrase “Me Too.” As a survivor of sexual assault, she wanted to do something to help women and girls of color who had also survived sexual violence. In the past several months, an important movement has grown throughout our country and is now expanding to other countries. The #MeToo movement, adopting Burke’s phrase, and the #TimesUp Movement, are challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and, by extension, the age-old sexist dynamic of men using their positions of power to prey on women. You’ve read the headlines or seen the news stories about how powerful men in Hollywood, the mass media, big-time sports, politics and other areas of public life, have been exposed, fired and brought low by this movement. But, we know sexual harassment is not confined to the famous; it is commonplace throughout our society. Female farmworkers, restaurant workers, secretarial staff and, yes, healthcare workers are also victimized on the job. And sexual harassment also happens in the labor movement. In a union whose leadership, staff and membership are predominantly women, it is important that you know that 1199SEIU strictly forbids sexual harassment or unwanted sexual behavior. Sexual harassment and abuse can occur in many forms, and it is not limited by gender. As we say elsewhere in this issue, 1199 is not its officers, staff and headquarters buildings; it is our members. As the old labor movement saying goes, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” We want to make sure that every member feels that our union is a safe place for all of us. We fight to protect and expand the rights of our members. This fight must also include our staff and union leaders. To that end, we are expanding our anti-sexual harassment training of our staff and officers to recognize and help prevent all forms of sexual harassment. If any member has a problem on the job, we strongly encourage you to report it immediately to your delegate and/or organizer. If there is a problem with Union officers and staff, we want to know about it. Please report it to an officer with whom you feel comfortable speaking, without fear of retribution or retaliation. We will conduct confidential investigations and take appropriate action based upon the investigation. I know and understand that it is sometimes difficult to talk about or report such matters. But we want you to know how seriously we take this. We want our union to be safe for everyone. In unity and solidarity, George Gresham President, 1199SEIU
TOGETHER WE CAN
1199SEIU members gather for celebrations of International Women’s Month.
The concerns of working women took center stage at events celebrating International Women’s Day in New York City. 1199SEIU members and their guests packed the Union’s Davis/ Cherkasky Penthouse in Manhattan on March 9 for an evening panel discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace, workplace safety, sexual assault treatment and recovery, and workers’ rights. Hosted by the 1199SEIU Women’s Caucus, the event sought to provide a forum for discussion as well as solution-oriented access to expertise. 1199SEIU Sec./Treasurer Maria Castaneda welcomed attendees among whom were Union members and staff, along with their family and friends.
described how women have shaped the course of his life and continue to shape his vision as a Union leader. “When I think of the role women have played in my life, it’s the women who have allowed me to be here,” said Gresham. “As far as I can think back in my life, there was never a question of who ran the budget, who ran the house. And when I think of our members and how they manage a household on such meager earnings, it’s truly amazing.” Retiree Carolyn Smith said the event was timely and welcome, and reflected the women’s movement in
today’s society. “I believe this is the year of the woman,” said Smith. “I believe we are finally breaking away from the old boys’ network.”
Caption TK rally in Albany March 14 against vicious cuts to New York State’s healthcare budget.
“Strong women build strong communities” NYS Assemblywoman Crystal D. PeoplesStokes 1199ers gathered at the Union’s Davis/Cherkasky Penthouse on March 9 for an evening of celebration and frank discussion of women’s progress and challenges.
“As a Union that represents a membership that’s a majority of women, celebrating women is very important,” said Castaneda. “Our fight for respect and dignity is everyone’s fight and we need each other to continue that struggle.” Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (NY141-D) was the evening’s keynote speaker. She encouraged attendees to continue their work organizing and community building. Peoples-Stokes heads the NYS Legislative Women’s Caucus and Assembly Governmental Operations Committee. In her remarks, Peoples-Stokes stressed the need for women to look after their health and wellness. “Strong women build strong communities,” she said. 1199SEIU Pres. George Gresham 1199 Magazine 23
The Work We Do
Our Social Workers March is National Social Work Month. 1199SEIU represents several thousand social workers who are employed in a variety of settings. These professionals are much more than discharge planners and therapeutic ears. Social work professionals provide care in schools, hospitals, nursing
homes, and legal services organizations. 1199 Magazine caught up with some of these professionals at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where social workers play a key role in helping the community access an array of health and wellness services.
“Everything you see on television, we see it all here: domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and street crimes” Carol Grosvenor, Montefiore Medical Center
3 1. Laura Liebman, a Senior Social Worker in the Information and Referral Service at Montefiore Medical Center for 27 years, helps Montefiore patients access community resources like housing and food stamps. “Each program has a different renewal date, and it is very easy for people to find themselves disqualified because they received something in the mail and they didn’t understand it,” says Liebman who has been an 1199 delegate for 15 years.
2. Denise Velazquez, Senior Social Worker at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Division with 22 years of service. “I am part of the medical team,” explains Velazquez, “but I’m given the opportunity to get to know the patients and their families on a deeper level than the doctors do. I help them to find more peace.”
3. “Working in the ER you see all the problems of the world,” says Carol Grosvenor, an Emergency Room Social Worker at Monte’s Wakefield Campus for 28 years’ service. “Everything you see on television, we see it all here: domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and street crimes,” she says. “As a social work team, we work together. When we had a recent case where a young mother was crushed in an accident involving
an ambulance for disabled people, I asked Tom Wilhelm [see page 26] to help because he used to be a Priest. He came down and we all prayed together.”
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The Work We Do
4. Geraldine Solomon is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in General Medicine, with 40 years at Monte. Solomon’s route to social work began at a very early age. “From the time I was six years old, people always came to me for advice, and I enjoyed working with people,” she recalls. One of her biggest frustrations, says Solomon, is dealing with insurance companies who either deny coverage for services or impose unnecessary delays. “It is hard to watch someone being denied something that they really need,” she says. 5. Donna Crowe, has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Montefiore for 27 years. She works in the hospital’s HIV/AIDS Center and was first attracted to social work as a high school student in Jamaica. One of the key challenges of her job nowadays is helping patients to understand the difference between detox and rehabilitation. What keeps her going, says Crowe, is being able to help people navigate the system so that they can afford the expensive drugs they need to manage their HIV. 6. Thomas Wilhelm served as a Catholic Priest in Chile for 11 years before becoming a Licensed Master Social Worker on Montefiore’s Wakefield Hemodialysis Unit. “The Spanish I learned there definitely comes in handy now,” he says, adding: “We like to refer to people who visit our unit as ‘members’. Many of them have full-time jobs, even though they may be coming in for dialysis three times a week.”
Former NYU radiology technologist Maurice Gray is an active retiree.
Maurice Gray retired last year after 20 years in radiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Maurice Gray started his career as a high school teacher in Jamaica. It was not until he came to join his sister in New York in the 1980s that he started to consider a career in health care. When he was 40 years old, Gray got his Associate Degree in Radiology Science and became certified soon afterwards. When he retired last July, Gray had risen to Lead Radiology Technologist at the main NYU Langone Medical Center campus in Manhattan. By then, he had clocked up 20 years as a member of 1199 and 15 as a delegate. Before joining the staff at NYU he worked at two other hospitals in the Bronx. “There was a union structure,” he recalls, “But not as strong as 1199. People weren’t active. If I didn’t see the dues coming out of my paycheck, I would not even have known there was a union.” When he joined NYU and realized how powerful a united group of workers could be, Gray started to get involved in 1199 political activities. “I saw how 1199 was functioning and the importance of getting involved. You need to keep up with what is going on socially and politically,” he said. Over the years Gray has taken part in canvassing during national election campaigns and travelled to Washington D.C. and Albany for political rallies. He also travelled to Memphis, with 1199 for a ceremony to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated there in 1968.
Now that he’s retired, Gray is still involved in member outreach, doing volunteer work for the 1199 Child Care Fund. “Once a month our volunteer group gets together to plan stuff to raise the profile of the fund,” he says, “Both of my sons attended summer camp every year. But there are members who are missing out on child care, day care, sleepaway and summer camp because they aren’t aware of what they can access.” Gray’s son, now aged 26, benefitted from the 1199 Job Security Fund, which helped him get a job at Bronx Lebanon Medical Center in the maintenance department. “I’m for working-class people,” says Gray, “For hospital management, it is all about profits. If you can deny benefits, there is more money for management. It is one of the reasons why wages have been driven down. “People have to understand that without a union to protect them, they have no job security and could be fired at any time. If you don’t know the importance of the union and standing together, we all you risk having our healthcare benefits taken away in the next contract. “It is not only about protecting your own job, either, but about the community we live in. As union members who are earning a living wage, we have to be conscious of those who are less fortunate than we are. This government has tried to get rid of the unions. If we don’t protect our unions and others that are in trouble, workers are going to be in for a whole lot of hurt.”
Retiree NYU Langone Medical Center “People have to understand that without a union to protect them, they have no job security and could be fired at any time. If you don’t know the importance of the union and standing together, we all risk having our healthcare benefits taken away in the next contract.”
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Mount Sinai Medical Center PCA Ali Karim, who was born in Ghana, traveled across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East on his journey to American citizenship.
To the Bronx, Via the Silk Road Mount Sinai delegate Ali Karim’s journey from Ghana took him through the Middle East and Japan.
With just $500 in his pocket, Karim set off on a twomonth journey that took him through Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s, across Syria, into China and finally to Japan.
Ever since he was a teenager in Ghana in the early 1970’s, Ali Karim was fascinated by the United States. “My cousins came back from America wearing nice jeans and cool sneakers,” he recalls, “And I would imagine myself having those things and wondered what life would be like if I lived there, too.” But it would be another 40 years, into his late 50’s and over thousands of miles traveled all over the world, before he would finally make it to the U.S. and become an American. As one of 11 boys, Karim’s life in Ghana changed dramatically after his mother passed away. He was just eight years old. Karim went to live with an uncle, where he buried himself in his studies. His hard work paid off with acceptance letters to several U.S. colleges, but Karim could not afford the tuition. So, when he was offered a full scholarship to study
Arabic at the University of Syria, he jumped at the chance. After two years in Syria, he heard from his brother who was living in Japan, and invited Karim to come join him. Again, an opportunity presented itself, but he could not afford the plane fare. After some research, he figured out that it was possible to travel from Syria to Hong Kong mostly overland following the Silk Route, an ancient network of trade routes connecting Asia to the Middle East and Europe. With just $500 in his pocket, Karim set off on a two-month journey that took him through Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s, across Syria, into China and finally to Japan. “I could hear the mortars coming from Iraq when I was in the Iranian capital, Tehran,” he remembers. At one point, Karim’s bus
was detained for four hours at an Iraqi security checkpoint. He was suspected of being a U.S. spy. It wasn’t until another bus arrived, carrying a Ghanaian man who spoke with Karim in their native language, that officials were convinced Karim was an African national and released the bus. Travelling through northern Pakistan brought fresh challenges. It was freezing, and he had no jacket. He wore three t-shirts and two pairs of pants to keep warm. “There was a mountain slide and rocks fell on the road,” he remembers, “It took us passengers eight hours to clear them with our hands. I got pneumonia when I got to Japan and was in the hospital for a week.” After spending 13 years with his brother in Japan and becoming a speaker of fluent Japanese, Karim decided at age 37 it was time to go back to Ghana. He started a school which taught students how to build computers from scratch. It was very popular, but proved impossible to provide a sustainable living. Finally, he decided to realize his childhood dream of coming to the United States. He arrived in 2004. Six years later, he met the “amazing 1199 member” who would become his wife. She encouraged him to get a job in Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He started as a housekeeper and studied to become a Patient Care Associate. “Last year, I became an American citizen just after the Presidential election. I don’t recognize this country anymore,” said Karim, adding: “It is time to stand up and be counted. If you stay on the sidelines, the wrong people get into power and make policy that is going to affect you.”
THE LAST WORD
The Kids Are Alright Camila Duarte-Rojas and Tahziana and Tajhanae Gibson are leaders in the #NeverAgain movement against gun violence.
Camila Duarte-Rojas is an 18-year-old senior at Pompano Beach High School in Pompano Beach, FL. Duarte-Rojas came to the U.S. from Venezuela four years ago and almost immediately got involved in the fight for immigrant rights and DACA. After the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Duarte-Rojas helped organize four walkouts and became a leader in the #NeverAgain movement against gun violence.
before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting? Coming from Venezuela, gun violence has always been a thing. I grew up fearing guns. I grew up thinking not to go outside too late at night because there were always guns out there that could kill you. When I was nine, I had a gun pointed at my face because they were trying
Camila DuarteRojas, 18, is a senior at Pompano Beach Highs School in Pompano Beach, FL. She is an activist for sensible gun legislation and immigrant rights.
How did you get involved in progressive activism? It was with the Florida Immigration Coalition. I got involved through a college fair. They asked me if I wanted to volunteer. This was back in 2016 during the election. They were doing a lot of canvassing and they needed a lot of volunteers. I went out and started canvassing with them. Where were you when you found out what was happening at MSD? I was in the car with my brother. My mom picked us up early from school because we had doctors’ appointments. My brother played football with one of the victims. They were in the same league. Somebody texted us. They had a group photo with all the soccer players. Somebody texted us that they were killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas. And there were a couple of other kids who went to MSD in that group shot. They were texting “We are hiding in the closets right now. There’s a shooting in our school.” That’s how we found out – through messages from my brother’s friends. Can you remember what your first reaction was when you realized you knew some of the victims? We were in shock. We couldn’t believe it, because it’s so close. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas is ten or 15 minutes away from my house. I went to homecoming there. I went to their Halloween events. Many, many of my friends go to Stoneman
Douglas, so it’s very close to me. I was in shock for two days, and then when it all hit we were depressed. It was like the whole county was in so much pain and so much grief you could feel the tension in the air. You could feel us all mourning. How has your own life been affected by gun violence? Did you lose friends or family to gun violence
to steal my mom’s purse, and they pointed a gun at me and my brother. My brother’s godfather was attacked with a gun. My friends and family members have been attacked. We have family who died because of gun violence. Coming from Venezuela, gun violence is not a new thing to me. Here it really affects the Brown and Black communities. We live in constant fear of gun violence.
“Coming from Venezuela, gun violence is not a new thing to me. Here it really affects the Black and Brown communities.”
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THE LAST WORD
The Kids Are Alright
How did you perceive America’s attitude toward guns? What do you think of the whole conversation around guns and gun violence? When I first got here, I really didn’t think guns were an issue in America. I didn’t think South Florida would have had issues with guns. I thought those things happened in other places. I thought this country was too diverse to have this kind of thing happen. But after a few years I started to realize the reality of America’s gun culture, especially in the south and in Florida where I live. I can’t believe that a country like the United States —a country of freedom and liberty— has these kinds of things going on around guns, and at the same time, these inhumane dangerous laws which affect so many Black and Brown people. What do you say to politicians unwilling to address the issue, even as children are murdered in their classrooms? I want them to know I feel unsafe. I feel scared. We do feel fear, but we are also very outraged. We also know Photo by Jay Mallin
“We do feel fear, but we are very outraged. We also know that we have a big voice. The #NeverAgain Movement has given us a lot of empowerment. For a lot of young people, this is the first time they’ve done activism because this is touching them so much.”
Tens of thousands packed Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. at the March 24 March For Our Lives against gun violence.
that now we have a big voice. The #NeverAgain Movement has given us a lot of empowerment. For a lot of young people, this is the first time they have done any activism because this is touching them so much. We are all thinking the same thing: it could have been us. It could have been my brother. It could have been my cousin. It could have been any of us. And the fact is that for some of us it WAS our brother. It WAS our cousin. It WAS our family member. You’re an experienced activist at 18. What is the importance of coalition in this fight? It’s important to address the intersectionality of every issue. Every issue is societally structural, and guns are no different. It’s like immigration; you can tie it to absolutely every issue in society. Immigrants experience gun violence every day and sometimes at the hands of deportation agents. The Brown and Black community have always lived with gun violence. I think coalitions are so important because they say to society, “we are
not just fighting this fight but we are also fighting your fight.” Giving someone else freedom gives me freedom. Your liberation means my liberation, and so we all should work together toward these goals. What was the walkout like? It was great. Every single school in South Florida had a walkout. I know that most of the schools in the country walked out. It felt so good to see that support for Florida and Stoneman Douglas. It was so powerful to see all the students from my school walk out of their classrooms and sit for 17 minutes in silence remembering the victims of the shooting. Some people who knew the victims spoke. They shared memories of their friends. A couple of students from my school walked all the way from North Broward Schools to Fort Lauderdale, which is like a three-hour walk. Some students walked six hours to the Board of Education protesting. We don’t want any guns in our schools. We don’t want armed teachers. We just don’t want guns in our schools at all. What happens next? I think this is showing the power of high school students. Before, no one really thought that high school students had a voice or cared about anything. They didn’t think high school students cared about politics. Now, we are going to see the power of youth. I saw ten-year-olds marching for four hours. We are going to see them even more engaged in the communities now. Kids will not only be speaking out about gun violence, but we are going to see more young people involved in the struggles around immigration, Black and Civil rights, unions, and women’s rights. I think this is a beautiful thing that’s happening. In some way it’s wonderful to see all these young people so empowered and ready to make change. Many of us will be voting this year and I know that they will be voting for the people who support our causes.
Twin sisters Tahziana and Tajhanae Gibson, 17, are seniors at Schenectady High School in Upstate, New York. Their grandmother, Albany Nursing Home CNA Tamara Elzubair, is a longtime Union delegate and social justice activist. (See story on page 21.) The Gibson sisters are leaders in the fight against gun violence in their community and have organized several #NeverAgain Movement walkouts at their school. Tahziana (Taz) and Tajhanae (Taj) were featured speakers at the Union’s Code Blue Rally in Albany on March 14. “For a long time, these things have been happening and people were losing hope,” says Taj of the school shootings and gun violence plaguing America. “Now, with the walkouts, people are seeing that we can really make a change if we stick together.” How did the walkout go at your school this week? Taj: We didn’t go because it was the same day as the 1199 Rally in Albany, but I saw pictures and a lot of the Schenectady kids really showed out. Our whole parking lot was full. How did you organize for the walkout? What conversations did you have with your classmates? Taz: We would meet up at the library at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. We talked about the purpose of [the walkout] and why we are doing it. We discussed questions. How does this relate to us? How does it affect us? We talked about gun violence. We discussed who would say what at different events. What activities should be incorporated? How can we make the event and the message more local? We discussed safety precautions that we can take against gun violence in our schools. How did your classmates react to the walkout? Taz: A lot of people were saying that this is something that doesn’t affect us, because it can’t happen here and at Schenectady High School. Our answer was: OK, even if it doesn’t happen here in Schenectady High School, gun violence has always been a problem in Schenectady for our youth. We have a lot of teenagers who die from gun violence. So even if you’re not going to take a stand because you don’t think
it can happen in school, take a stand because it’s something that’s still happening in your community. Have you been personally affected by gun violence? Taz: We don’t know anyone personally, but we had a street ceremony, and the parents of kids who have been killed in Schenectady by gun violence showed up. It was very sad and people cried, but it was great to see everyone in Schenectady show up for them and support them. What’s it like to be leaders in this movement? Especially since adults don’t seem to have been able to accomplish what you and your peers have been able to accomplish. Taj: It makes me excited because we are the future. You know the future is going to be good. This is the beginning of everything. This movement will change things for everyone after us. But at the same time, it’s disappointing because those who aren’t waking up may not have role models or leaders to help them start something good. What do your friends who are against #NeverAgain and the walkouts say to you? Taj: Sometimes people say that they don’t think it’s that important because it’s something that never happened to them. Why should you wait until something happens to you to do something
or stop bad things from happening? What advice do you have for young people who want to get involved in a movement? Taz: If you truly believe in it, you should get involved. Not everyone is always going to be the same, but you need to find the people who think like you and agree with you and get involved with those things, because right now unity is really important. Your voice is important. Even if you don’t like talking in front of people, your voice matters. And if you don’t know where you want to go, come link up with us in the #NeverAgain Movement. What’s next? Taj: Our school is providing a bus for the March 24 March. Me, Taz and my best friend are going to take a ride down there and march with them. And after speaking at the rally at The Times Union Center, I want to do more speeches about the problems happening around the world and all the things that people need to be aware of, like racism and feminism. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was nervous, but when you hear people clapping and agreeing with you, you realize it’s OK. I liked seeing everyone brought together by the same causes.
Twin sisters Tahziana (left) and Tajhanae Gibson (right), 17, are seniors at Schenectady High School in Upstate New York.
“If you truly believe in it, you should get involved. Not everyone is going to be the same, but you need to find the people who think like you and agree with you and get involved in those things, because right now unity is really important.”
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Our Social Workers
“The kids with problems in our neighborhood were always drawn to me,” she recalls. “For me, social work is not just a profession. It is a vocation,” says Carmen DeLeon, Licensed Master Social Worker in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Montefiore for 27 years. See story on page 24.
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1199 Magazine March / April 2018 Secure Our Care