A Journal of 1199SEIU March-April 2019
The Crack of Dawn Brigades National Social Work Month PCA Contract Talks Begin
WE STOPPED THE CUTS! NYS members marched and rallied to save Medicaid.
Close to 10,000 members of 1199 marched and rallied in Albany on March19 to protect Medicaid and Medicare from cuts driven by Donald Trumpâ€™s tax cuts for the wealthy. See pages 8-11.
5 The President’s Column We need a NEW New Deal. 6 Around The Regions 1199ers celebrate Lunar New Year; MD/DC members support green jobs; celebrating Union women.
8 Stop The Cuts NYS members rally across the state to stop attacks on Medicaid.
12 PCA Blitz Building strength during contract negotiations in Massachusetts. 13 The Work We Do The NYS North Country’s Carthage Area Hospital and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center. 16 PAC Victories Activists discuss the importance of building political action fund. 18 Our Delegates Joanne Rutland is social worker at Mount Sinai West in NYC.
@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2
19 Uniting to Save UMC Workers and community fight closure of stalwart D.C. hospital 20 What’s Cooking in Western NY? Homecare workers take culinary classes. 22 Our History The Crack of Dawn Brigade members helped build 1199.
1199 Magazine March-April 2019 Vol. 37, 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
Editorial: Who's Got the Power? The drumbeat of division is no match for organized workers.
These days, it's easy to go down the rabbit hole of “why”. We’re bombarded with motivation analysis. And the pitch of that conversation is ever-rising as we churn toward the 2020 election; pundits are in a 24-hour dissection cycle of electability, likeability, wonkiness, voter identity, voter class, party, etc. We hear over and over about the aggrieved “working people” who elected Donald Trump. Less frequently do we hear about the cadre of billionaires, multinational corporations and right-wing power brokers whose collective interests and work brought us the current administration. To be sure, working people are struggling; division and economic inequality are at levels unseen in recent history. Day-to-day working life for too many of us is about doing more with less and finding creative ways to make ends meet. (If the ends are anywhere near each other to begin with.) But 1199ers know that “working people” are not a monolith. Workers are far from docile, nor are we just an angry voting block. Anyone who was in Albany, NY, on March 19 knows that for sure. Tens of thousands of Union members demonstrated against Trump Administration program-driven Medicaid cuts that, if enacted, would have been disastrous for every area of healthcare. The victorious show of strength capped weeks of statewide actions and rallies. And this is happening all around our Union. In Massachusetts, Personal Care Attendants are simultaneously organizing and negotiating a new contract, in spite of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions characterized as a death-knell for labor. In Washington, D. C., Union members are fighting for United Medical Center, a vital but struggling institution in the District’s underserved Southeast community. 1199’s North Star, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., time and time again highlighted the inextricable link between civil rights and workers’ rights. As President Gresham points out in his column, President Franklin Illustration by Luba Lukova
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 photography
Jim Tynan contributors
Sara Cooper Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Erin Mei Tobias Packer Sarah Wilson
D. Roosevelt’s historic New Deal was realized only with the support of a muscular labor movement. And today, around the nation, we see a host of newly elected progressives promoting worker friendly policies that bridge ever widening gaps. Though the forces trying to divide workers through our differences have a long (and sadly successful) history, workers know we have plenty in common: We all want an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, to support our families, have dependable healthcare and to one day retire in comfort. And as members on these pages show, contrary to conventional wisdom, we know how to do it: talk about it, mobilize and organize.
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.
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Letters & Social Media
PORTABLE RETIREE BENEFITS? s a 35-year 1199 dues-paying member, I am concerned that if I choose to move out of NY State I will not have a secondary insurance to Medicare upon retirement. Many of our members move out of the state to warmer climates and should not be penalized for it. Even our brothers & sisters in New Jersey, CT, etc., have to pay for secondary coverage after they retire. It seems as though we are being penalized by the Benefit Fund withholding payment for our retirement benefit we so richly deserve.
VICTORY: Thanks in part to 1199ers' efforts, New Yorkers with low incomes may now be eligible for 50% off subways and buses. Visit https://www1.nyc. gov/office-of-the-mayor/fairfares-nyc.page or call 311 to learn more.
Monica D. Morgan Saint Luke’s Hospital Center, NYC 1199SEIU National Benefit and Pension Fund Executive Director Mitra Behroozi Responds: The Benefit Fund provides all eligible retirees with retiree health benefits to supplement their Medicare coverage, including prescription coverage. Additionally, we have been able to provide Medicare Advantage plans in areas where tens of thousands of our retirees live–the greater New York area and Florida–because we can leverage competitive rates for those retirees. While we would like to offer these plans to all retirees, there are not enough retired members living in every area to negotiate affordable prices. However, all retirees may enroll in their own low- or no-cost Medicare Advantage plan, and the Benefit Fund’s retiree health plan will cover the supplemental Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. You can contact our Retiree Services Center at (646)473-8666 if you need help.
1199SEIU WESTCHESTER, HUDSON VALLEY, CAPITOL REGION: Congratulations! 1199SEIU at Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) have spoken and by an overwhelming majority, voted to ratify a new contract—one of the best ever! This contract will improve the lives of CRMC workers and help them deliver the best possible quality care to their patients!
1199MASS: Busy week at 1199! PCAs start Bargaining for their 6th contract. #UnionStrong
@1199SEIU RT of @RachelMayNY: I see you, and hear you, @1199SEIU! Thank you for your advocacy for health care workers and patients. #StopTheCuts #SaveOurHealthcare
1199SEIUFLORIDA: Our healthcare workers know that knowledge is power. That’s why these UHealth Tower entry-level service employees are taking a 15 week course through the union’s training fund to help them become certified nursing assistants. #WECAREFORFL
Let’s hear from you. Send your letters to: 1199 Magazine, 330 W. 42nd St, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10036, Attn: 1199 Magazine, Editor; or email them to email@example.com. Please put “Letters” in the subject line of your email. 4
1199SEIU: Alice Ademas, CNA, Long Island Community Hospital. We’re out here today fighting for fair wages and affordable healthcare. Contract now! #UnionStrong #UniteFightWin
1199SEIU MARYLAND/DC: Today was a victory for working families! We are thrilled Maryland has become the sixth state to adopt a $15 minimum wage! Thank you to Maryland legislators and 1199ers and everyone who joined the Fight for $15 movement in Maryland. Thanks to your dedication, workers across the state will get higher wages! #ff15md #UnionStrong #1u
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It’s Time for A New New Deal Workers must demand that labor-backed candidates stand with us. The President’s Column by George Gresham
With 18 months until the 2020 national election, the mass media is in permanent campaign mode— handicapping who’s going to win, who’s likable, who has no chance, who’s supporting whom, and so on. The issues—the things most important about an election—are considered secondary. We working folk would be making a mistake to think like that because our lives, jobs, and families are at stake in the elections. We need to know who stands with us, and who stands against us. There is no point in even talking about the GOP candidate. By now we all know much too much about where Donald Trump stands. On the other hand, more than a dozen Democratic candidates are already running. Many of them are promoting progressive policies and exciting new positions regarding universal health care, free public college education, livable minimum wages, taxes on the wealthy and corporations, climate change, comprehensive immigration reform, and other vital concerns. But so far, among the 2020 candidates, we haven’t yet heard any discussion about the rights of working people to organize and defend their families. It is the rare candidate who is ready to walk the walk—or the picket line—and talk the talk. We’ll be looking for those who are ready to do that. We want to hear candidates who use their campaign to assert openly the rights of working people and the value of organizing for better economic and social conditions and democratic principles in the workplace. Today’s candidates projecting progressive programs often find inspiration in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration of the 1930s. Perhaps the most audacious program being proposed today, the Green New Deal, even takes its name
from FDR’s historic New Deal. But we should remember that the 1930s also was the period of the greatest upsurge of American workers. The era saw historic rates of unionization among our manufacturing industries, as well as the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (one half of today’s AFL-CIO) and 1199. In turn, the muscular labor movement partnered with FDR to give us Social Security, Workers Compensation, unemployment insurance, the 40hour work week, an end to child labor, and the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike. These great social advances had until then been considered impractical, naïve and impossible. But over the past decades, under administrations of both parties, federal and state legislatures have piece-by-piece dismantled workers’ rights. Their work was fueled by millions of dollars from chambers of commerce, Wall Street, big pharma, global retail outfits like Wal-Mart and Amazon, the oil, gas and tech industries and industrial giants like Koch Industries. (The passivity of many unions and their failure to educate, organize and defend their members also took its toll.) The unending attack has crippled workers’ rights to some degree in every state of the union. The labor movement today is in a weakened state, with only one in 10 workers in our country a union member. Forty years ago, it was one in three. Only by removing the barriers to union growth will workers have a fighting chance. In the first place, this means leveling the playing field in the workplace, which begs the question: where do the 2020 candidates stand? A true pro-worker administration and Congress would, as a start, revise labor law and strengthen the
departments and offices charged with protecting workers’ health and rights. Additionally, employers would be required to recognize a union if a majority of workers in a workplace consent to representation; furnish contact information for every employee to the union; allow the union to present their case at the workplace in case of employeremployee disputes; allow workers who are discriminated against for union activity to sue for damages; allow unions to seek damages for costs and losses incurred when employers commit unfair labor practices; and require arbitration if six months after a union has been certified in the workplace no collective bargaining agreement can be reached. Eight decades ago FDR embraced labor law and pressed the U.S. Congress to respect workers. He did so because workers demanded it—in the streets, on their jobs, at the ballot box. Much has changed since then, but some things haven’t. In the 2020 elections and beyond, we need political leaders who are advocates and fighters on behalf of workers. And we need to organize and mobilize ourselves to demand that they do so. Best to get ready now.
But so far, among the 2020 candidates, we haven’t yet heard any discussion about the rights of working people to organize and defend their families.
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Around the Regions NEW YORK
NYC Members Celebrate International Women’s Day The 1199SEIU Women’s Caucus came together at 1199’s Manhattan headquarters on March 15 to mark International Women’s Day with a vibrant costume parade celebrating the Union’s diversity. Honoring “Women are the Heartbeat of the Nations,” the event celebrated a host of women’s achievements, including the record number of women becoming lawmakers both in Washington, D.C. and in the New York State Capitol in Albany. The evening’s keynote speaker was New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who made history as the first African-American woman elected to the office. “It was a ground-breaking, glass ceiling-shattering year in 2018. Don’t let this be a moment. Let this be a movement,” said James, “In 2020 we’re coming for the orange man.” Also, on the evening’s program was the presentation of the Audrey Smith-Campbell Awards, which recognize Union members and allies for their outstanding union work. The awards are named for the Audrey SmithCampbell, an 1199 activist who died of an acute asthma attack on her way to the picket line at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Care Center in the Bronx in 2008. This year’s winners were: Cynthia Sadler, a CNA at Downtown Brooklyn Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; Oksana Solilyak, an HHA from the Personal Touch agency, and Antoinette Rose, a Medical Records Analyst at Montefiore Medical Center.
“It was a groundbreaking, glass ceilingshattering year in 2018. Don’t let this be a moment. Let this be a movement.” – New York State Attorney General Letitia James
NYS Attorney General Letitia James was the keynote speaker at the March 15 International Women’s Day Celebration at Union HQ in NYC.
Maryland/DC Members Support Green Jobs A host of Maryland labor organizations joined students and environmental, faith, health, labor, and civic organizations in Annapolis Feb. 15 to push for the passage of the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) and other environmental legislation being considered by the Maryland General Assembly. CEJA would double Maryland’s official standard to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and help put the state on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. CEJA is supported by a supermajority of legislators in both the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates and endorsed by more than 600 organizations, including Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Interfaith Power & Light Maryland
Environmental Health Network, and 1199SEIU. Polls indicate that Marylanders want Governor Hogan to support the legislation. Supporters of the bill point to the creation of thousands of sustainable clean energy jobs in Maryland over the next decade, with more than 20,000 coming from increased focus on solar power and 5,500 from greater reliance on offshore wind energy. Phyllis Alexis, an RN at UM Prince George’s Hospital Center, spoke out in support of a version of the bill that would limit state subsidies for dirty energy like incineration. One of Baltimore’s poorer communities is home to a large incinerator plant which is the city’s biggest industrial source of asthma-triggering pollution. “Communities of color breathe in
40 percent more polluted air and poor white Americans endure 27 percent heavier pollution than wealthy white Americans,” said Alexis, a RN and 1199SEIU delegate. “What a child looks like, where they live, and how much their parents make should not determine if they live.” Members also expressed their approval of the Maryland Healthy Green Amendment, which would add the right to a healthy, clean environment to the state constitution as a defense against the looming threat of climate change.
1199SEIU RN Phyllis Alexis testified before the Maryland State Senate about the importance of passing a Green Jobs Bill.
1199ers Celebrate The Year of The Pig Members of 1199SEIU and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) braved bone-chilling winds on Feb. 17 to celebrate the 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade and Festival in New York City. The annual celebration, which this year marked The Year of The Pig, is a mesmerizing celebration of Asian culture that winds its way through the packed streets of historic Chinatown in lower Manhattan. The event is a riot of bold colors, traditional music, expressive dance and delicious flavors. Members of the 1199 contingent, which was led by Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, staffed an information booth at the festival where local residents could access information about the union. For more information on 1199SEIU’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Member Caucus log on to www.1199seiu.org/aapi/ . 1199 Magazine 7
In a major victory for 1199SEIU members and all New Yorkers, New York State’s Assembly and Senate on April 1 passed a budget that restores some $550 million in proposed and potentially devastating healthcare cuts. Driven by Donald Trump's tax law changes, the proposed reductions would have been disastrous for the Empire State’s hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and home care providers. In typical 1199 fashion, members mobilized to let elected officials know that caregivers would not stand for the threat to their patients and institutions. From Buffalo to Brooklyn and beyond, healthcare workers and their allies marched and demonstrated to send Albany the message of a tooth and nail fight against the cuts. Weeks of action culminated in a massive Albany rally on March 19, where a purple army was joined by community allies, elected officials and other supporters. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the body’s health committee, gave fiery remarks about the broad societal benefit of investment in health care. “When people hear Medicaid they think, ‘that’s for poor people’ and they can kick them around. What they don’t understand is that everyone takes care of everyone.”
1199ers marched and rallied across NYS to stop Medicaid attacks. Barbara Moody, an RN Case Manager at LIJ-Forest Hills Hospital in Queens, NY, was enraged by the danger the cuts posed to her patients. “The nerve they have to do this! That we must stand out here and protect our most vulnerable. Replacing our nursing homes with funeral homes is not our goal. We are here to let them know 1199 is in this fight.” In the wee hours of April 1, news broke that an agreement had been reached and workers succeeded in rebuffing the Trump Administration’s assault. In an announcement on the heels of the budget settlement, 1199SEIU President George Gresham lauded Union members’ determination: “We look forward to continuing to work with Albany to ensure that New Yorkers are protected from Washington’s whims, and are able to receive the continued care needed to keep our communities healthy and strong.” For more details on the budget victory, go to www.1199SEIU.org. 8
ALBANY q Members rallying against healthcare budget cuts inside the NYS Capitol on March 19. The action helped restore full funding for the healthcare Transformation Fund, which helps fund collective bargaining agreements at many downstate NY nursing homes and hospitals.
t P R E S BY NY Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center rallied in freezing temperatures. Their determination helped win a robust New York State healthcare budget, which helps ensure accountability for Medicaid dollars among providers.
Patricia McElmont, HHA with People Care for 22 years, warned the rally in East Flatbush at Brookdale Hospital, that if the proposed Medicaid cuts happen, her agency would close, leaving the people they care for vulnerable. “Homecare workers perform their duties with excellence and compassion so that the people they care for can live with dignity.” – Patricia McElmont, HHA, People Care
p MONTEFIORE Montefiore Medical Center workers at a February rally fighting for health care in the Boogie Down Bronx. They helped win a NYS budget that includes an increase of $32 million to cover the uninsured and safety net patients.
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N O RT H W E L L â€“L I J Northwell Healthâ€™s Parker Jewish Rehab in Queens. The new budget they helped win includes a provision to study how staffing enhancements can improve patient safety in nursing homes and hospitals.
B RO O K DA L E Brookldale members made sure BKLYN was heard, loud and clear.
Photo: Jim Tynan
UTICA Members across Upstate NY brought serious heat to the budget fight with walk-ins, die-ins and demonstrations.
Doreen Clyburn, a delegate for 18 years at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, spoke at the Parker Jewish rally in Long Island, saying: “Tax code changes in Washington DC have left New York State amid a budget crisis. However, the answer is not to cut $550 million from Medicaid.”
All photography by Kim Wessels except where otherwise noted
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Massachusetts Home Health Workers Build Strength Despite Obstacles Recent Supreme Court decisions are challenges, but not a crippling blow. Maintaining Union Strength 1199SEIU Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) in Massachusetts have a lot of irons in the fire these days. In one of the bluest states in the nation, PCAs are working to maintain Union strength, while at the same time negotiating a new contract with the state. Undaunted, PCAs are intent on building on past gains for meaningful wage and benefit gains. With its damaging Harris v. Quinn and AFSCME v. Janus decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered all public-sector jobs “right to work.” At press time, the Trump administration was on the verge of issuing a new rule that takes away PCAs’ right to pay dues through payroll deductions. These attacks, coordinated by the anti-labor far right, have made it more difficult for caregivers to advocate for higher wages, training opportunities, and affordable healthcare. Seniors and people with 12
disabilities face new challenges in finding consistent, quality homecare. And 48,000 PCAs represented by 1199SEIU in Massachusetts must now re-affirm their Union membership and agree to an alternative dues collection process. But they’re far from the predicted deathblow to worker power. Instead, the decisions have mobilized an army of caregivers; in Connecticut, Oregon, and Illinois, home care workers negotiated improved training programs; in Washington State, they won their first-ever retirement plan; and in Massachusetts, PCAs are determined to fortify their Union, win better contracts, and develop a more skilled workforce. To that end, rank-and-filers and Union staff recently fanned out across the Commonwealth and reached out to other PCAs to re-affirm the home health workers’ Union membership. Canvassers also shared collective bargaining developments and
p PCAs at March collective bargaining session in Quincy, MA.
“Why would I not belong to the Union as a PCA? It just makes sense.“ – Ann Krebs, PCA, Worcester, MA
encouraged participation in political action programs. Ann Krebs, a PCA in Worcester, re-upped her Union membership during the blitz. She cares for her 17-year-old grandson, who has learning and developmental challenges. Union membership just makes sense, says Krebs. “It’s just logical. I worked for the state and I had a Union there. Why would I not belong to the Union as a PCA?,” she says. Krebs says Union membership and resources is vital for PCAs, who work independently and often alone with clients. “Sometimes PCAs need training. Some of us have high-needs consumers and you can’t get the kind of training you need everywhere all the time,” she says. “The fact that the Union helped get us [$15 an hour] is really a compliment to our Union strength,” she says. “And now we have to fight to get that even higher.” From Door-To-Door to the Bargaining Table At press time, PCAs had been three times to the bargaining table for contract negotiations. (Many of them fresh from the outreach blitz.) While the sessions yielded progress, workers were focused on a strong agreement that includes wage and healthcare improvements; provisions for more paid time off, additional training and clarity in job descriptions and responsibilities. Negotiating committee member Rosa Santiago, who works in Dorchester caring for her 83-year-old mother, says healthcare and secure benefits are vital to PCAs. Santiago has experienced homelessness and serious medical issues over the course of her PCA career. “What I make is not enough to pay for an apartment in the Boston area,” she says. “What I have been through is tough, so I know what we are fighting for. People around her might look at me and never think I have been homeless. It’s great that we are strong in our bargaining with the state. We need our Union and we need better wages.” For more information click on www.1199SEIU.org.
CARTHAGE AREA HOSPITAL & CLAXTONHEPBURN MEDICAL CENTER THE WORK WE DO
These 1199ers care for New York State’s North Country. Just above the Adirondack Mountains in Northeastern New York State lies the North Country. The region is also home to several 1199-represented healthcare facilities, including Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg and Carthage Area Hospital in Carthage. An area of abundant natural beauty, the North Country is bordered by Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It’s home to Lake Champlain, the Thousand Islands and Fort Drum, home of the U.S. Army’s fabled 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed unit in the U.S. military. Because Fort Drum is one of the few military installations in the U.S. which does not have its own on-post hospital, Carthage Area Hospital and the 1199 caregivers who work there proudly treat Fort Drum’s military personnel and their families, along with tens of thousands of residents from Jefferson, northern Lewis and southern Saint Lawrence Counties. Farther north, at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg, 1199ers serve the 100,000 residents of northern Saint Lawrence County and the surrounding areas in an array of capacities, from oncology to intensive care. 1. CT Tech Josh Howland was working at Carthage Hospital as a cook when a manager encouraged him to go back to school and learn phlebotomy. The offer came with paid tuition and an agreement to stay on for three years. That was nearly 16 years ago. Today, Howland is a CT Tech who loves the community aspect of his job. “It can be very stressful, but I love it. I’m a people person,” he says. “I know everyone—from the old people to the babies. I treat my neighbors, friends and family. And I treat all my patients with respect because that’s how I would want my family to be treated.” 1199 Magazine 13
THE WORK WE DO 2. Dietetic Assistant Lori Everard has worked at Carthage Hospital for 43 years. “I was 16 when I started working. I was born and raised on a farm and my parents taught me that if you want something you have to work for it,” says Everard, an 1199 shop steward at Carthage. “The people I work with here are just terrific. They care about the hospital and treat everyone like friends and family. We are such a small hospital that we get a lot of long-time residents from the area. One of the wonderful things is that patients don’t have to talk to machines here, they talk to people.” 3. Mona Pratt, a Certified Coder, started at Claxton-Hepburn as a dietary worker 17 years ago. She’s been an 1199 delegate at the institution for two years. “I mostly code in oncology. We read the notes, and then determine the codes so [finance] can draw up the bill,” she says. “It’s important because we are the last step before the bill and we [help ensure] proper reimbursement. I think it’s important for doctors and nurses to understand; I think it’s important for anyone in health care to understand it, actually.”
4. Coder/ Clinical Documentation Specialist Holly Leary has worked at Carthage Area Hospital for 20 years. “I’ve had a lot of on-the-job training,” says Leary, who is also a Union delegate. “Sometimes the documentation for a case is lacking and I have to have a face-to-face with the doctors so I can get details and code it correctly.” 5. Head Cook Steve Rookey has been at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg for 17 years. “I went to BOCES for Culinary Arts. This job was an opportunity, and I took it,” says Rookey. “My favorite thing is shortorder cooking. We are going to be switching to restaurant-style service in a couple of months. It’s going to be good for the staff and good for the patients.” 6. Jason Brown has been an ER Tech at Claxton Hepburn Medical Center since 2007. Brown’s previous job as an EMT helped prepare him for the Emergency Department. “It’s the ER,” he says matter-of-factly. “You just never know what you’re going to get coming through that door.”
“My favorite thing is short-order cooking“ — Steve Rookey, Head Cook, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center
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P O L I T I C A L AC T I O N
Politics & That Gallon of Milk in Your Fridge Activists connect the personal and the political. “People tell me: ‘I don’t do politics,‘ so then I tell them that everything is about politics. Whether the potholes in your street are fixed or not is politics. Whether there is enough money to pay our salaries is politics.”
Antoinette Rose, a medical records analyst at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, signed up a record number of 1199ers for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Political Action Fund. 16
Antoinette Rose, a medical records analyst at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, and Anestine Bentick, a PCA at South Boston Community Health Center in Massachusetts, are among the members who are helping drive the current uptick in member involvement in the Union’s Political Action Fund. When talking about the work, Rose says she likes to keep it real. Politics, she says, is not about red or blue or R or D. “People tell me: ‘I don’t do politics,’” she says. “So then I tell them that everything is about politics. Whether the potholes in your street are fixed or not is politics. Whether there is enough money to pay our salaries is politics.” “Even how much your groceries cost is politics,” she adds. If there’s not enough affordable housing, rents will skyrocket, and local stores will feel it too, she explains. So, the price of a gallon of milk goes up to cover rent. A combination of concrete explanations like these, attention to detail, and a lot of hard work propelled Rose into the top spot in the union’s recent Political Action Committee drive. “Sometimes members would tell me they were Republicans and they didn’t want to donate to the Democratic party,” says Rose, “But I’d ask them not to get caught up in the red or the blue.” The truth is, building political action is more about green—the resources to support members and their communities. Because so much of what happens in members’ day-to-day lives is affected by decisions taken by politicians, getting the right ones elected to office and keeping the pressure on them to act in workers’ best interests is at the heart of the PAC mission. It’s why 1199ers regularly travel to Albany and other capitols and state houses to fight for state money to help fund our community hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare institutions. Bentick, a union delegate for 17 years, has been singled out for her outstanding work in signing up fellow members to support PAC. She does
“When I saw the President visit Puerto Rico and throw paper towels at the crowd as though they were secondclass citizens, it hurt me to the core.”
Anestine Bentick, a PCA at South Boston Community, makes involvement in political action a priority in her delegate duties.
so, she says, because she recognizes that politicians in Washington, D.C., are launching a sustained attack on unions and the institutions that serve working people. She is deeply committed to fighting back. She’s lobbied on behalf of healthcare funding, minimum-wage improvements and aid for natural disasters. With family members living in the British Virgin Islands, Bentick has gone to D.C. to press for more U.S. aid to the islands which were badly damaged by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. “When I saw the President visit Puerto Rico and throw paper towels at the crowd as though they were second-class citizens, it hurt me to
the core,” she says with more than a touch of anger in her voice. Bentick has also witnessed first hand some of the effects of the opioid crisis at the health center where she works. Making sure the money is there to fund essential services for the most vulnerable in our communities is another central goal driving Bentick’s political work. In New York, political organizing helped elect worker-friendly politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, win Pre-K for All and institute the Fair Fares Program, a public transportation subsidy for low-income
New Yorkers. In neighboring New Jersey, members helped push Phil Murphy over the finish line to win the governorship. Soon after taking office, he signed a $15 per hour minimum wage into law. Political action is not just about money, though. In Maryland, members pressed for a Clean Energy Jobs Act which includes measures designed to cut air pollution, which disproportionately affects the health of low-income people of color. In Florida, 1199 members supported a ballot initiative which will restore voting rights to well over one million people who have felony convictions on their records. In a state where electoral contests are often decided by a very small number of votes, this new law will mean the outcomes will much better reflect the popular will. That is the core message Rose carries to the members about political action: make your voice heard. It’s what she communicates to members at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, where she has worked for the past 18 years. Rose also acknowledges that it can mean different things for different people. In discussing political activism with members Rose saw that many of her co-workers had childcare and other real-world responsibilities that made canvassing and attending rallies impossible. “That is why PAC contributions are important,” she told them, “I don’t have children, so I can get on the buses and do political work around the country. If you can’t do that, you can still help by paying PAC contributions to enable other members to travel.” Rose, who is also a Union delegate, also spends much of her free time fighting for justice in her community. She recently testified before the New York City Council about a re-zoning project and the need for more affordable housing in her Bronx neighborhood “A lot of 1199 of members live in this area,” said Rose. “We need to make sure that they are not pushed out of their current homes by rising rents.”
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Photo: Carolina Kroon
O U R D E L E G AT E S
Our Delegates: Social Worker Joanne Rutland Service to others is a family value.
Mount Sinai Social Worker Joanne Rutland was thirteen when she started working in health care. “I started volunteering at Einstein Hospital in the Bronx as a candy striper. My mother did not allow idle time and taught us that a paycheck was not the be-all and end-all—that it was important to find fulfillment through helping others in any work we are doing,” says Rutland. Today, Rutland is still walking the path her mother set her on, with a 32-year career in social work that’s spanned four boroughs and as many specialties; she’s worked in addiction and recovery, psychiatry, and with blind people. Rutland’s currently working at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai West Hospital in Labor & Delivery (L&D) and its related areas, a field she entered when she took a job in 1994 at downtown Manhattan’s Beth Israel Medical Center. Rutland, who is athletic and energetic, serves a broad spectrum of patient needs and conditions in L&D, from neo-natal to post-partum care. “When I came into [the field] there was so much to learn. I blinked my eyes and three years went by. It’s all just so interesting and exciting,” she says. “I’ve worked with 15-year-old new mothers, helped place babies for adoption, and worked with mothers who have experienced neo-natal demise and still birth. People think pregnancy is a benign medical condition. It isn’t.” Much has changed over three decades (including a Mount Sinai/Beth Israel merger), but Rutland still zeal18
Social Worker at Mount Sinai West in NYC.
"You have to have compassion and understanding. You have to be aware of the struggle and indifference people have experienced. If you touch one person, you have made a difference."
ously discusses her work as a calling. “It’s very important to not lose focus on people’s humanity in this work. You can never lose perspective on yourself and what could occur in people’s life situations,” says Rutland. “You have to have compassion and understanding. You must be aware of the struggle and indifference people have experienced. If you touch one person, you have made a difference.” Those values, she says, are inherited and credits her parents for raising their children in a progressive, forward-thinking household. “I grew up with parents who were leftists and political activists. They brought me and my brothers to see Olatunji and Paul Robeson. My mother helped organize the New York Eye and Ear. She lost her job over it. I grew up with culture. I grew up with diversity. They were part of my upbringing and I draw on that at work and in my practice,” she says. As a delegate, Rutland tries to raise Union consciousness among
her fellow social workers but admits it can be challenging. She sees communication as the key. “Social workers have issues with their ability to advocate for themselves. That is a theme throughout our profession and we need to address it. We are such great advocates for others, but when we have an issue, our voice is nonexistent.” “We need to get back to grassroots organizing,” she says. “And we are in an era of such change that it can be hard to bring that philosophy forward,” she adds, but she presses on, using her own life as an example. “I was able to work my way through school and get my graduate degree from Adelphi University with help from our Training and Upgrading Fund,” she says. “We here at Mount Sinai are a real testament to the strength of the union. It’s vital to maintain that dignity in the work environment. We need to make sure people understand that our benefits don’t fall from the sky.”
UNITING TO SAVE UMC
1199ers lead the fight to save vital Washington, D.C., medical center.
Workers and community members in Washington, D.C., are fighting to change the narrative at one local hospital. United Medical Center (UMC), a quasi-public facility which has for generations served the residents of the District’s Southeast and Wards 7 and 8, is slated for a dramatic downsizing which activists say is dangerous for Southeast residents and unfair to workers. “This hospital is the only one on the east side of the [Anacostia] river. We have nursing homes and clinics but no hospitals that can do what we do,” says Tony Powell, a Unit Secretary at UMC for 43 years. “Right now, we’re being run [in part] by George Washington University Hospital, which is all the way up in Foggy Bottom. If they close this hospital and people wind up having to go all the way there in an emergency, they could die.” Over the years, the hospital has been plagued by accusations of mismanagement, financial turmoil and concerns about patient safety. Long a thorn in the side of D.C. officials, the District is working to get the hospital—and the challenges
“They want to build condos and maybe stores. Real high-end stuff that changes the dynamic of the community,”
that come with running one—off its books. “Every time they bring in a new consultant they’re from somewhere else, like Florida or somewhere,” says Mammo Tech Tracey Williams. “They come in with ideas that don’t necessarily work here. They don’t know the culture or what it’s like here.” UMC has been rescued from the brink of closure numerous times by determined workers, an involved union, active local residents, and political will. But over the last two years UMC has been battered by a particularly vicious storm of challenges, including service reductions, a secretive board determined to reduce the hospital’s size, questionable actions by the Washington, D.C., City Council and a takeover attempt by unionbusting, Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based concern that runs scores of hospitals and clinics across the U.S. and the United Kingdom. “We keep hearing that Universal is going to take us over, but that our jobs aren’t guaranteed,” says Jesse Adams, a UMC floor tech for 17 years. “They keep saying we will get first preference for any new jobs. People
are worried about losing seniority. What about the people who have been working for UMC for 20 years?” And Universal Health Services has shown workers they have good reason to be concerned; the company’s holdings include George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) in the District’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, where 1199ers are currently in a protracted contract struggle with the company for refusing to recognize the collective bargaining agreement. Powell notes that Universal Health is another in a long succession of managers hungrily eyeing UMC. “They have been trying to get their hands on our hospital for a long time. They want to build condos and maybe stores. Real high-end stuff that changes the dynamic of the community,” he says. But in spite of union-busting management and unreliable elected officials, Powell says 1199ers aren’t giving up on UMC. “I’m concerned about my community,” he says. “The people of Southeast need someone to advocate for them.” Photo: Jay Mallin
– Tony Powell, Unit Secretary at United
Unit Secretary Tony Powell is among the 1199ers fighting for the life of United Medical Center in the Greater Southeast neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
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Upstate New York Caregivers Stir the Pot Buffalo-area cooking classes promote health and develop professional skills.
Most of us have heard the message that a balanced diet packed full of fresh produce and limited in fried foods and sugar is one of the best ways to maintain overall health. But in many communities, it’s easier and cheaper to access processed foods than fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. These food deserts, with their dearth of healthful foods, are a particularly acute problem in Western New 20
York, even though cities like Buffalo and Niagara Falls are surrounded by much of the New York farmland where fruit and vegetables are grown and harvested. Healthcare Workers Rising (HCWR), a movement of healthcare workers in Northwestern New York, is addressing the problem while coming together with the support of 1199SEIU, to improve professional standards and communities.
Homecare workers who are part of Healthcare Workers Rising (HCWR), an Upstate New York movement of homecare workers, participated in cooking classes. The classes are part of a larger module of skills-building programs offered through HCWR.
Members of HCWR recently attended a two-day workshop at Niagara County Community College’s new state-of-art hospitality school. Among the goals of the seminar was developing recognition of how closely what we eat is related to how healthy we feel. “I loved it,” said Linda Wilson, an 1199 member who works part time at an Elderwood nursing home near Buffalo. “The seasonings the instructor gave us, I had never tried them before and they were so flavorful. I started buying them for myself at home. “She taught us that more healthy food can still be flavorful. Squeezing lemon on food gives it pop, for example, and baking and boiling is better than frying. I realized the way I was cooking was fattening. I live by myself and I used to use things like chipotle sauce for flavoring, but not anymore. Now I’m trying to eat healthier.” Wilson also works as a Home Health Aide (HHA) for her sister, who suffered extensive paralysis after having three strokes. Her experience as an agency worker led her into HCWR to connect with other workers and press for better working conditions and standards in the profession. Ivelisse Ramos lives in Niagara Falls with her daughter and five grandchildren, who are between the ages of one and 13 years old. In addition to helping with her grandchildren, Ramos cares for three adult men with cerebral palsy in a group home run by the Empower agency. She’s using the skills and tips from the cooking class at home and at work. “I have to cook at home because I have such a large family. But in the group home they are used to fast food and ready meals heated up in the microwave. After
“I loved it. The seasonings the instructor gave us, I had never tried them before and they were so flavorful. I started buying them for myself at home.“ – Linda Wilson, Elderwood Nursing Home near Buffalo
the class, I used the Jerk chicken spice rub we’d learned about, along with sweet potatoes and corn, and they loved it.” For her own family, Ramos made the Mexican spice bowl that they had been taught how to prepare in class. She also learned the best techniques for chopping vegetables both quickly and safely with a sharp knife. In Buffalo, Brianna Kincannon has been working as an HHA for the past six years, looking after four different clients. She previously worked at an assisted living facility as a PCA. Kincannon says most of her clients are elderly and rely on Meals on Wheels. She’s used her new culinary skills to diversify their diets and healthfully spice up the delivered meals. “One client is Jamaican, and she was so surprised when I made her the Jerk chicken recipe we learned in class,” she said, “We also found out how to make soup from scratch with chicken broth, as well as Greek salad and souvlaki.” Currently under way is the development of additional modules for the Culinary Continuing Education Training Program. 1199SEIU has been named as one of New York State’s Workforce Investment Organizations and will help implement this program. 1199 Magazine 21
Was Key Ingredient in Historic 1959 Victory Pharmacy workers went the extra mile.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of 1199’s emergence as New York’s major healthcare union. The saga began with a resounding Dec. 30, 1958, victory of a 5,000-member pharmacy Union at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. But it was in 1959 when the workers won their first contract and 1199 undertook the daunting task of organizing 3,500 maintenance and service workers at seven private, nonprofit hospitals. The hospitals, led by some of the most powerful and wealthy New Yorkers, were Mount Sinai, Beth Israel, Lenox Hill, Flower-Fifth Ave. and Beth David (the latter two have since closed) in Manhattan; Bronx (now BronxCare Health System); and Brooklyn Jewish (now Interfaith). The workers were among the city’s most exploited. Most earned about $32 a week with no benefits and often horrendous working conditions. The media characterized the campaign as David versus Goliath. Hospitals were exempt from labor laws because they were considered charitable organizations. And the great majority of unions were reluctant to organize poverty-wage workers, most of whom were women of color. But pundits and management of the hospitals greatly underestimated 1199. They assumed the campaign would sputter because they doubted that the workers could endure a protracted strike.
The Union’s history told a different story. Founded by leftwing activists, 1199’s officers and members, led by President Leon Davis, were committed to wall-towall unionism, as well as racial and ethnic solidarity. Partly resulting from the anti-Semitic quota system in many medical schools, Jewish men dominated the pharmacist trade. And about 20 percent were Irish or Italian. Also in 1937, the Union launched a campaign to hire Black pharmacists in Harlem and to promote Black workers to the position of porter. 1199 was also one of the first unions to hold annual observances of Negro History Week—now AfricanAmerican History Month. The Union leaders also understood the importance social and political activism. The Union not only assembled crack organizers, but also had on its team, Moe Foner, widely acknowledged as labor’s most astute public relations director. But the key ingredient was the committed members. They demonstrated their support for the organizing campaign by voting to increase their monthly dues by $1 for finance the campaign. “African American workers were downtrodden, and we felt that bringing pharmacy and hospital workers together would help us all,” says Morton Wechsler, an 1199 pharmacist in the 1950s. “We won because we were like family.” Now 93, Wechsler worked
at several pharmacies on Long Island most of which have closed. He credits 1199 with elevating the status of pharmacists and says he wishes he had put in more years at 1199-organized drugstores. His son, Robert Wechsler is a pharmacist and delegate at Northwell Plainview Hospital on Long Island. During the organizing campaign, other pharmacy workers, including stockmen, porters and soda men, demonstrated their commitment by joining the “Crack of Dawn Brigades.” That was the name given to the hundreds of workers who picked up organizing leaflets in the evening before rising early the next morning to distribute the leaflets to hospital workers. After that, they would head to their pharmacy jobs. Leon Fink and Brian Greenberg in “Upheaval in the Quiet Zone,” the fine history of 1199, recount an early episode of the Brigades. Phil Kamenkowitz, then the Union director for the Bronx and Washington Heights, wanted to demonstrate to member organizers how to interest workers at Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem. Before dawn, Kamenkowitz approached an older worker outside the hospital and announced, “I’m from 1199 here to organize you.” Before he could say another word, the worker grabbed his hand and declared, “Thank God the Union’s here.” A frequent refrain of the hospital workers was, “What do we
have to lose!” In a 2009 interview, John Perkins, a former pharmacy clerk and president of the Union’s Retired Members Division (RMD), recalled his days as a youthful Brigade member. “I’m not a professional organizer,” Perkins said. “But I always made sure people heard what we had to say. We made sure that management knew we were human beings and that we were the ones who were doing the work.” The hospital campaign was led by Organizing Director Elliott Godoff and Teddy Mitchell, a former drugstore clerk and 1199’s first African American VP. Also, the Union hired as organizers Montefiore worker activists. Among them were Puerto Rican and immigrant workers from the Caribbean. Montefiore LPN Thelma Bowles was one of a few
women organizers. The number of women pharmacists and drugstore workers at the time was minuscule. During the campaign, dozens of women emerged from the ranks. The late Lena Hayes, a former RMD president, earned $29 for a 44-hour week as an aide at Manhattan’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. “That struggle changed my life forever,” Hayes said in a 2015 interview. She resisted the pleas of her mother to cross the picket lines or to find another job, noting that the Union, though it didn’t have much in its treasury, provided strikers with food, car fare and other forms of assistance. Julia Davis, the wife of Leon and a former welfare worker, headed up the strikers’ welfare committee. During the strike, the committee helped some 600 workers apply for public assistance. After 46 days, management agreed in June, 1959 to a compromise
settlement. They didn’t recognize the union, but all workers returned to work and a “Permanent Administrative Committee” was set up to review the strikers’ demands. “It was the unity of the pharmacists and hospital workers that made the difference,” Wechsler says. Lawrence Silber, another pharmacist at the time and a former Pathmark 10-years delegate, agrees. “We pharmacists agreed to add a dollar to our monthly dues because we knew that building a bigger more powerful union would help us all,” he says. Silber, now 88, points with pride to the many picket lines and negotiating committees on his resume. “Today, retired pharmacists like me have a great pension and health benefits. Politicians and bosses know when they deal with 1199, they are dealing with a powerful union.”
Early morning “Crack of Dawn Brigades” drafted from 1199’s staff and delegate body, were central to the Union’s 1959 organizing campaign.
Stockmen, porters and soda men demonstrated their commitment by joining the “Crack of Dawn Brigades.”
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The Work We Do: Our North Country Caregivers Head Cook Steve Rookey has worked at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg, NY for 17 years. See story on pages 13-15.
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1199 Magazine | March / April 2019 We Stopped The Cuts!