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A Journal of 1199SEIU July/August 2017

READY FOR THE FUTURE The Unity & Power Campaign Page 10


July-August 2017



3 Editorial 1199ers had their say: Now we move forward as one union.


5 The President’s Column Isn’t it time for Medicare For All? #medicareforall 6 Around the Union NJ NH workers avert a strike; a new ER for St. John’s Episcopal; victory at Blue Hill NH; Pride around the Union & more. 9 Standing Up to NYU No free ride for the mega-rich mega-system.

@1199seiu 2

July-August 2017

10 Unity and Power The votes are counted: Now we move on to do the work.

20 Unclaimed Funds in the 1199 Credit Union Check the list, there may be $$$ in it for you.

13 Our Delegates Southampton Hospital’s Jeanine Bassi.

21 TEF Graduation Annual celebration of members who completed education, training or upgrading programs.

14 Bronx Lebanon Shooting After violence and tragedy, workers stand with the community and each other. 16 The Work We Do New Jersey’s Westfield Center. 18 A Win for Care, Not Chaos We helped fight off attempts to kill the ACA.

22 Rochester’s Bhutanese Community Members from Strong Hospital in Rochester are refugees from Bhutan, a kingdom in the Himalayas.

1199 Magazine July/August 2017 Vol. 35, No. 4 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 (212) 582-1890

Editorial: Now We Move Forward As A More Perfect Union This summer’s approval of constitutional amendments affirmed members’ belief in the power of 1199.

On page ten of this issue you’ll find a report of this summer’s Unity and Power vote, which was conducted union-wide over six weeks. In nearly 1,300 elections at 800 employers, 93% of voting members approved amendments to the 1199 Constitution that will change the Union’s dues cap, adjust officer elections to help facilitate the democratic process, and give the 1199 Executive Council the authority to create a an “Associate Member” classification of membership that will diversify and strengthen the Union’s ranks. By saying yes to these changes, members weren’t just agreeing to adjust our foundational document; they were affirming their belief in 1199. “We need to remember we should never choose individual money over collective power,” says Radiological Technologist Jeanine Bassi, a delegate at Southampton Hospital on Long Island, NY. Members did indeed vote to invest in an organization they know will stand up for the rights of workers and fight for equality and justice and a properly-funded healthcare system, in which caregivers may work to the best of their ability in the important jobs they do every day. “Some members are facing threats to their jobs as health care is reorganized,” said Vickie Linnell, a phlebotomy team leader at Cape Cod Health Care in Massachusetts. “One member was very negative during the campaign, and he now started coming to meetings as he sees the value of working together to protect our jobs.” Bassi also shared her practical view of a union strength. “I now understand that our dues pay for the entity that helps us obtain our benefits. How could people come together to force an 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 Tyrek Lee Joyce Neil Monica Russo Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Veronica Turner-Biggs Laurie Vallone Estela Vazquez editor

Patricia Kenney director of photography

Jim Tynan photographer

Belinda Gallegos art direction & design Maiarelli Studio cover photograph

Jim Tynan contributors

Brinley Lloyd-Bollard JJ Johnson Emma MacDonald Erin Mei Sarah Wilson

employer’s hand on wages and benefits otherwise,” she challenges. And it’s not just employers’ hands. Because of the Union’s strength and drive, 1199ers are among the prime movers in the fight for the Affordable Care Act. Under the banner of “Care Not Chaos” members have tirelessly manned phone lines and demonstrated and lobbied in Washington, D.C. and statehouses and city halls across the country. Their work paid off in the wee hours of July 28 when a Senate bill repealing Obamacare went down in flames. “If we don’t take a stand now, where will we be in a few years’

time when they start [trying to] close hospitals?” asks Jennifer PattonOrtiz, an RN from Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY. With the new resources and strength put in place through Unity and Power, 1199ers will be on picket lines, at phone banks, at the bargaining table and in the offices of management and elected officials, fighting for justice and equality for all people. “It will not be easy,” warned Pres. Gresham. Worthwhile fights never are. Said Gresham: “We must — and will — stay vigilant in our efforts to protect and improve access to quality healthcare.”

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

REPUBLICAN HEALTH LAW THREATENS THOSE WITH DISABILITIES ’m a retired 1199 member and a person with a disability who is very relieved that the disastrous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are on hold, but we shouldn’t get comfortable. When something is unfair and unjust what do 1199ers do? We fight back! This American Healthcare Reform Act (AHCA) is still a dangerous reality and mostly for our most fragile populations. The AHCA does nothing but harm many, and any benefit will be to the wealthy with a huge tax break. I have multiple sclerosis and autoimmune hepatitis. Thankfully, I have excellent medical care and good health insurance. I count my blessings. Many people are not so lucky. Thanks to the ACA, 23 million more Americans now have insurance, including millions with disabilities. ACA plans spell out required coverage and cannot turn down people with preexisting conditions. This is a vital protection we cannot lose. We may be breathing a sigh of relief now, but 23 million people are at risk. Republicans attempted to pass a bill created secretly with no input from groups such as doctors, patients, and other providers. Groups including the AARP, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association (AHA) opposed the bill. The proposed law may be D.O.A., but a new version and budgetary attacks on Medicaid are still a threat. Thirty five percent of Medicaid recipients have a disability. Sixty four percent of Medicaid recipients are nursing home residents. As a former nursing home worker I shudder to think what might happen to my patients. And poor, rural hospitals could also suffer because they rely mostly on Medicaid for reimbursement. And for those with disabilities the effect of this bill if it passes would be twofold: it guts Medicaid, so we don’t know exactly who will lose services or what type of services will be lost. And many of healthcare jobs may be lost—leaving 1199ers without jobs and the sick without healthcare workers to care for them. As Medicaid cuts take effect, members may lose jobs. Connect to your Congress member. Check with your organizer and the Union’s social media channels for events and demonstrations and get involved with 1199’s Persons With Disabilities Caucus. We have to keep up the fight. Eve Sverdlove Shoenthal Retiree, Yorktown Heights, NY Editor’s Note: Sister Shoenthal’s letter arrived just before press time and may not reflect the latest news around the ACA.


Let’s hear from you. Send your letters to: 1199SEIU’s 1199 Magazine, 330 W. 42nd St, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10036, Attn: Patricia Kenney, Editor; or email them to Please put Letters in the subject line of your email. 4

July-August 2017

At 2AM, Friday morning, after all-night negotiations and just three hours before they were ready to walk out on strike, 270 caregivers at Teaneck Nursing Center, Amboy Care Center, and ManhattanView Nursing Home in New Jersey won a tentative agreement. So instead of striking today, they’re ratifying a contract that protects high-quality health benefits and provides much deserved wage increases! This victory shows again what happens when we have UNITY and POWER!

We made thousands of calls, organized hundreds of actions pressuring our elected officials and funded issue advertising in key swing states. Now we’ve seen the result - the Senate has rejected the healthcare repeal bill.

1199seiu 1199, @nynurses, and @cirseiu to remember Dr. Tam, the life lost at Bronx Lebanon Hospital last Friday, and @NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia who was horrifically shot this week—both died due to senseless gun violence.

Folks at @1199SEIU stand with the striking nurses at @TuftsMedicalCtr! Tufts: it’s time to respect your nurses! #NoCutsAtTufts #1u #MAPoli

Fab Grad! Fab Grand! LPN Tikina Williams, left, at the 2017 1199 TUF Recognition Ceremony w/ her grandmother Harveyette Greene. Williams completed the HC4 program this year and is now on her way to a #bsn. She says she couldn’t have done it without the support of her #grandmother, who is a retired professor. #tefgrads17 #graduation #tefgrads #unionproud #education #familypride #generations #celebrate

Healthcare For Everybody? Yes. Medicare for All Isn’t it time to start joining other advanced countries with real health care for all? The President’s Column by George Gresham

Obamacare is a huge achievement, covering tens of millions of uninsured, but it does have shortcomings: Some 20 million more still have no coverage; and for-profit insurance markets guarantee that the costs are beyond what they could be. We should view the Affordable Care Act as an important first step toward universal health care.

In this issue of the magazine, we celebrate our Union’s successful efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act and defend Medicaid. We know how crucial this fight is, because all of us have somebody in our lives—a family member or another loved one, a close friend or co-worker—who has a serious medical condition. It may be heart disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or something equally threatening. Perhaps they were in a bad traffic accident or a fire and continue to suffer from the after-affects. And of course, we help provide care every day to our patients, residents and clients who are facing these challenges. Their stories remind us that defending our current system is not enough. We have to keep fighting to make it better. While our Union fights for – and often wins -- very low-cost, high quality health insurance for our members, healthcare costs are still beyond the means of many working people. Just the cost of medications for ordinary chronic conditions, e.g. asthma or glaucoma or migraines, can put those without insurance in debt. And even with insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, may force a choice between paying the rent or mortgage and paying the medical bills. This is not the situation in much of the rest of the world. In Tunisia or Costa Rica or Thailand or virtually anywhere in Europe, like dozens of countries, there are no doctor’s bills. If you break your leg in Italy or develop tonsillitis in Singapore, you are taken to the hospital, receive the required care to make you well, and sent on your way. You don’t even have to travel so far. Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida and Canada is on our northern border. Both have universal health care, national health

insurance, single-payer programs, or whatever you want to call it. But here in the United States, the wealthiest and the highest technologically-developed country in the world, patients come out on the short end in every way. Americans pay more for healthcare and outcomes are worse than in most advanced countries. For example, in 2012, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France (not that the French patients had any out-of-pocket expenses). This is because governments are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with drug and device companies and other providers, and because there is no insurance company adding an additional cost. As for outcomes, the United States ranks a shameful 31st in the world in life expectancy. Actually, we already have national health insurance or single-payer for two sectors of our population: Veterans have the VA, and seniors have Medicare. So why not Medicare for All? It’s not impossible. After all, Medicare is (along with Social Security) the most popular government program in the country. For years, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been a leading proponent of Medicare for All. His bill, HR676, has 112 co-sponsors in the current House of Representatives. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is now introducing a companion bill in the Senate that already has the support of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Given the current stranglehold of Republicans on the federal government right now and the challenges of restructuring a sixth of our economy,

this will not be a short struggle. But a new Congress will be elected next year, and again in 2020, so it’s not too early to start advocating for it. States are also exploring the possibility of state-based universal healthcare systemsand Medicare for All bills have been introduced in 11 state legislatures. For the past seven years, the Republican leadership engaged in a never-ending campaign to defeat the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). But even with control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they have been unable to do so. Because whatever its flaws, the Affordable Care Act gave healthcare coverage to more than 20 million people who previously went without. And they don’t want to give it up, nor should they. Obamacare is a huge achievement in covering tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But it does have shortcomings: some 20 million more still have no coverage; and being based on for -profit insurance markets guarantees that the costs are beyond what they could be. We should view the Affordable Care Act as an important first step toward universal healthcare. As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to give healthcare “to everybody” and make it “cheaper than ever”. But each of the several versions of Trumpcare had two common elements—loss of coverage for more than 20 million people, and the transfer of nearly a trillion dollars in Medicaid money to the already Super Wealthy. They have yet to offer an actual healthcare bill. “Healthcare for everybody”? “Cheaper than ever”? We agree. Isn’t it time to start imagining our joining every other advanced society with Medicare for All?

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Around the Regions One Day Strike by 1199ers & NYSNA at Fresenius Dialysis On June 12, hundreds of 1199 members— including clerical staff, housekeepers, dieticians, social workers, and technicians—braved the heat and held a one-day strike at five Fresenius Dialysis Centers throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx. They were joined by their nurse colleagues, who are represented by NYSNA. Both unions’ workers voted unanimously to authorize the one-day strike, and have been standing in strength and unity by attending each other’s negotiation sessions and working together for fair contracts. Fresenius is a multi-national corporation based in Germany and the largest dialysis corporation nationwide. The company made annual profits of $1 billion last year. Yet, both 1199 and NYSNA workers have been without a contract for over two years because the company is refusing to bargain in good faith, and threatens to cut affordable health care, wages, child care and educational benefits for healthcare workers and their families. Workers are also concerned about ongoing issues with short staffing, which makes it difficult to provide the best quality of care to their beloved patients. “I am out here today with my brothers and sisters to demand that Fresenius focus on quality of care for patients over profits,” said Kathleen Doddard, a hemodialysis tech who has been an 1199 member and worker at Fresenius for 17 years. “We love our patients and do our best for them even though we are shortstaffed. We need health care we can afford. I had surgeries in 2003 and 2004, and without my affordable health care, I wouldn’t have been able to take care of myself. Fresenius can’t be allowed to get away with their egregious tactics.”

 Workers at NJ’s ManhattanView NH settled a fair agreement and averted a threeday June strike.


NJ Workers’ Tenacity Averts a Three-Home Strike I want to be able to give special care and attention to each one, but it is so difficult with our current staffing levels.” Geraldine Ballentine, Teaneck Nursing Center CNA

 1199ers and NYSNA members unanimously voted for one-day strike June 12 at Fresenius Dialysis Centers.


July-August 2017

In the wee hours of June 23, some 270 members at three New Jersey nursing homes settled a hard-won contract settlement and averted a one-day strike planned for the same day. Workers at Amboy Care and Rehabilitation Center in Perth Amboy, ManhattanView Nursing Home in Union City, and Teaneck Nursing Center in Teaneck—a trio of facilities owned by Broadway Healthcare Management—were weary after three years of management refusing to settle a contract and their constant pushback on even the most basic proposals. Members finally had enough and decided to push the envelope with a one-day strike, says Cerese Abraham, a CNA at Teaneck. “[They] came to the table and finally signed the contract at the last minute,” says Abraham. “This has been a long struggle. Everything was going up but our paychecks.” Nicolas Torres, a dietary worker at Amboy Care in Perth Amboy, says workers were fed up with constantly being asked to do more with less. “They wanted us to be on top of everything—taking care of patients, feeding everyone and cleaning everyone—but they didn’t want to pay us,” says Torres. “I’ve been there four years and had one raise. With the amount of money I make, I can barely get by. I can’t do anything.” Throughout the fight workers held pickets and vigils. Several elected officials

spoke out in their support, including NJ Senate Majority leader Loretta Weinberg. In a statement, Weinberg reminded Broadway’s owners of their significant funding from taxpayer dollars and their “obligation to use those resources with the utmost responsibility.” All three homes were cited by the National Labor Relations Board for their failure to bargain in good faith and make the necessary contributions to workers’ healthcare and education funds. At an April informational picket Geraldine Ballentine, a Teaneck Nursing Center CNA for over 30 years, decried the way poor working conditions exacerbate already desperate short staffing. “We used to have six CNAs on the overnight shift. Now we only have four,” she said. “That means I’m responsible for caring for 26 residents on my floor. I want to be able to give special care and attention to each one, but it is so difficult with our current staffing levels.” Bargaining committee member Yesenia LaFleche, an LPN at ManhattanView Nursing Home in Union City, said the new contract, with its wage increases and protections for pensions and benefits, will help provide security for worker and patients. “Good jobs mean less turnover, healthier staff and ultimately better care for our residents,” said LaFleche. The pact was overwhelmingly ratified in votes at the three homes on June 23.

Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.

Jamaica Workers, Advocates for Others, Speak Up & Vote 1199 Patient navigators at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, NY voted unanimously for 1199 representation in an election held June 16. The 40 patient navigators at Jamaica are liaisons between the community and healthcare providers; they have a long list of responsibilities that includes patient outreach, on-site assistance, scheduling appointments, translating, helping patients get to medical appointments, education, and more. Cynthee Cortes, a Jamaica patient navigator for two years, helped lead the organizing drive. “I felt that it was important to have representation by the Union because we are responsible for a lot of different aspects of patient care, and we aren’t being compensated. We are healthcare workers and we should have access to the benefits of the Union,” says Cortes. The workers say they are relieved they will be covered under the existing collective bargaining agreement at Jamaica. “We have a big workload, and we sometimes have to stay overtime to prepare for tomorrow’s appointments; everything depends on the day before,” said Paola Castro, a navigator for gastroenterology services. “We don’t get overtime and that will be a big help for us, but really our work is very rewarding. I have the ability to help people in two languages.” Jamaica Hospital’s patient navigators voted unanimously in a June election for 1199 representation.


ER Expanded at Rockaway’s St. John’s Episcopal When Peninsula Hospital in Rockaway, Queens was shuttered in 2012, nearby St. John’s Episcopal Hospital (SJEH) became the only healthcare provider on the New York City peninsula. A safetynet hospital, SJEH serves a community of over 135,000 residents, many of whom are low-income and Medicaredependent. The institution also serves the more than 4 million visitors who, during summer, head to New York City’s biggest beach area. “I’m not an ER nurse, but when I go down there I’m amazed at what they have to do,” says Deb Friedland, a St. John’s RN for more than two decades. “We have patients waiting in the ER for beds and it’s getting harder and harder to meet capacity needs.” SJEH’s 12,500 sq. ft. Emergency Department was built in the 1950s and designed to treat 15,000 patient visits per year. With the institution seeing more than 40,000 patients annually, the space is simply no longer adequate. In 2015, SJEH filed an application with New York State under a capital refinancing program, for a permit to expand and

renovate its emergency department. 1199, in coalition with the hospital, elected officials, community activists and residents, and clergy worked collectively with the hospital’s board of trustees and its leader, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, to move the application through the approval process. In June, the hospital was notified that the $10.4 million dollar grant overcame the last hurdle in the approval process. Construction of the area is in its initial stages. The renovated and expanded Emergency Department at SJEH is expected to be fully completed by this time next year and will nearly double the Emergency Department’s size. “This is the first project that we’ve worked with the new management team on and we’ve come to a great solution,” says Friedland. “We are beginning to alleviate a major problem. The Rockaways have always been underserved and by working collaboratively we were able to get this done. Once people see the ribbon-cutting ceremony it will raise everyone’s awareness of what we have done at SJEH.”

Morris Heights Workers Vote 1199

over again. Now we know we will be heard. Also, we are planning to negotiate better tuition reimbursement and childcare benefits as well as wage increases,” said Oton. Desire Outlaw is a Nurse Practioner at Morris Heights. “I was an 1199 member when I worked at Beth Israel hospital, so I already knew about the benefits,’ she said. “When I started working at Morris Heights just over a year ago, I heard complaints about unfair treatment and pay. So I spoke to a colleague and he called 1199 to tell them we needed a union.” “One of the issues we have here is floating. When a colleague is out the same people are asked to float into their department over and over again. We need to negotiate a schedule so that this task is shared out more fairly,” she added.

The 412 workers, including Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, social workers, business associates, medical assistants, physicians assistants and outreach workers, at Morris Heights Health Center in the Bronx, voted by roughly five to one on July 15 to join 1199. Atim Oton, works as an LPN at Morris Heights. “I voted for 1199 because we never had a voice. I have been here for three years and management kept making changes to the day-to-day workflow with no input from front-line staff. It was just trial and error over and Photo Carolina Kroon

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Around the Regions

New Contract at Blue Hills NH Workers at Blue Hills NH in Stoughton, MA pushed back against a new owner’s reluctance to accept their contract demands. Members at Blue Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center ratified a contract in July which raises their wages by 2% after a tough negotiation with the new owners. CNAs at Blue Hills will now be receiving $12.50 per hour, if they have worked at the facility for more than three years, which includes most of the workers. The raise they receive will also be back-dated five months to when the contract expired, as well as a bonus of $100. For those with less than three years of experience, their pay will increase to $12 an hour. The initial offer from management was just $11.50 per hour, only 50 cents more than the Massachusetts minimum wage. The current owners are the third company to buy the establishment in the past four years and they were initially reluctant to accept a wage increase in the new contract. But because of the hard work of the rank and file bargaining committee, the members were able to negotiate wage increases as well as an employer contribution to the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund. 8

July-August 2017


1199ers Celebrate Hispanic & Puerto Rican Culture  1199ers marched in Puerto Rican Day Parades in NYC and on Long Island in June.

1199ers, including a large contingent of members who traveled from the Maryland/ DC region, marched under the theme of “Resistencia.”

Hundreds of 1199SEIU members turned out for parades in New York City and on Long Island to celebrate Puerto Rican and Hispanic heritage. Long Island members and staff joined the June 4 Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade in Brentwood, NY. The event drew tens of thousands of revelers. This year’s parade theme was “United More than Ever.” The event, now in its 51st year, is one of Long Island’s biggest annual celebrations. In New York City, the 59th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade made its way up Fifth Avenue on June 11—as usual the event was a pageant of Boriquen culture. 1199ers, including a large contingent of members who traveled from the Maryland/DC region, marched under the theme of “Resistencia.” They called attention to the island’s deepening financial crisis and the need for health care for all. Danielita Devora, a laundry worker from Chevy Chase Nursing Home in Maryland, was a first-timer at the celebration. “I came to show support because we are all in the same boat. We

need to support each other. Together we can do more than we can ever do alone,” said Devora, who is originally from the Dominican Republic. Ricardo Feliciano, a delegate from NYU Lutheran Hospital in Brooklyn helped carry the 1199 contingent’s banner. “This parade is about pride and love for our country,” said Feliciano. “It also means standing up for freedom and justice—especially with what’s going on now in Puerto Rico. We want to help them make progress.”

Members Celebrate Pride Around The Regions 1199SEIU members throughout the Union celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month in June. 1199ers marched in parades in Boston, Baltimore and New York City. At June 12 Boston Pride, 1199SEIU Exec. VP Tyrek Lee was joined by his mother. Lee shared the challenges of coming to terms with having a gay parent and how it has strengthened his dedication to the fight for equality. t

1199ers at June 17 Baltimore Pride Parade.


We Oppose NYU’s Union-Busting Maneuvers NLRB issues complaint against the medical center.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in June issued a complaint against New York City’s prestigious NYU Langone Medical Center (NYU) for its decision to withdraw from the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes and walk away from its collective bargaining agreement with 1199SEIU. A Sept. 17 hearing date for the complaint has been set. The NLRB found that because NYU is still under contract with the Union, its refusal to bargain through the League violates the National Labor Relations Act. Erica Ortiz a secretary in NYU’s Food and Nutrition Department, says the move has caused great unease among workers. Ortiz has two young children and a 21-year-old daughter, Jessmarie Delgado, who is a secretary at the hospital. “We are essential to our healthcare institutions, and we dedicate our lives to caring for the sick,” says Ortiz, a veteran delegate. “For me this is not just about the present, it’s also about the future of my family and patients.” 1199SEIU represents some 5,000 workers throughout the healthcare mega-system in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and on Long Island. In a post decision statement, 1199SEIU President George Gresham applauded the NLRB. “[NYU] seems to think its status as an elite health system that caters to wealthy New Yorkers means the law doesn’t apply to it,” said Gresham. “Shame on NYU for disrespecting the workforce that

makes its quality of care so well regarded. NYU apparently doesn’t care that healthcare workers’ employment security and quality patient care go hand in hand.” The NLRB complaint stems from an unfair-labor-practice charge filed by 1199SEIU and a countercharge brought by NYU. The origin of the dispute is NYU’s March 2016 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the League and bargain indepen­ dently of the employer association. In December, NYU notified the Union that the League was no longer authorized to negotiate on NYU’s behalf although the contract, which covers some 65 institutions and 85,000 members, doesn’t expire until Sept. 30, 2018. NYU also balked at the Union and the League’s contention that the institution is responsible for a higher level of payments to the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund. In retaliation, NYU commenced the lawsuit against the Union and League members, including Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York Presbyterian and Long Island-Jewish Medical Center. 1199 answered by filing an unfair retaliation charge with the NLRB. Delegate Anthony Serrano, an NYU lab runner for eight years, agrees with the contention that NYU’s ultimate aim is to cut benefits and weaken the bargaining unit. “With NYU leaving the League, it’s like they can take everything away from us,” he warns.

▲ NYU workers Anthony Serrano, a runner, Hospital for Join Diseases (HJD) x-ray tech Tanesha Marshall and HJD RN Lorraine Iorio are concerned about NYU leaving the League.

“We can’t let them run all over us and steal our kids’ future.” Anthony Serrano

Tanesha Marshall is an X-ray technician at NYU-Langone’s Hospital For Joint Diseases. “We work hard for the hospital, and we just want to make sure that we are compensated for what we do,” she said. Members affirm that they will not sit still for NYU’s attacks on the Union. Last summer, they held a lunchtime picket at NYU in Manhattan. “[NYU is] using what’s happening in Washington as a springboard for their main objective—more profits,” Serrano stated. “We have to stand together. We can’t let them run all over us and steal our kids’ future.”

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July-August 2017

Approved by a huge margin, constitutional amendments will gird the Union for many fights ahead.

 1199ers at Unity & Power Conference in Atlantic City, NJ affirmed their support for the goals of the plan. { 1199’s strength has been a force in victories like The Fight For $15 and the defeat of recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In the last weeks, 1199ers have seen their strength yield a victory in the fight against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, victory for hundreds of workers organizing and saying yes to Union membership and progress at the bargaining table in fights for contracts with decent wages and benefits. The common thread is a muscular, resilient and resourceful union. 1199ers also showed a determination to build on these victories and in their quest for a more perfect union. To do so, they overwhelmingly approved this summer a set of constitutional amendments proposed by the Executive Council and put forth as part of the Unity and Power effort. In nearly 1,300 elections conducted over six weeks, 93% of voting members at 800 employers approved amendments to the 1199SEIU Constitution that will: change the Union’s dues cap, adjust the officer elections process to help facilitate the democratic process, and give the Executive Council the authority to create of an “Associate Member” classification which will diversify and reinforce 1199’s ranks by providing a mechanism to include allies in our 1199 family. The amendments go into effect immediately with the exception of the new monthly dues cap that will go into effect October 1, 2017. The updated amended constitution will be available on 1199’s website shortly. With the extremist Republicans hell-bent on stripping working people’s gains, demonstrating unity and power is more important than ever. In every region of the Union, 1199ers are playing key roles in improving the healthcare quality and delivery, protecting the uninsured, indigent and underserved communities and winning and protecting union rights. Vickie Linnel is a phlebotomy team leader at an outpatient lab of Cape Cod Health Care in

Massachusetts. “Some members are facing threats to their jobs as healthcare is reorganized. One member who was very negative during the Unity and Power campaign has started coming to meetings as he now sees the value of working together to protect our jobs,” said Linnell, who has been an 1199 delegate for 14 years. “We have 120 members across 13 different sites, so we’ve started organizing meetings by text blast and it’s been very effective.” At the beginning of the vote, 1199SEIU President George Gresham sent a letter to members reminding them we are in a neverbefore-seen multi-front assault. “The healthcare industry and our country are at a crossroads. We saw with the recent horrific Congressional healthcare bill, many politicians would like to take us down a road that leads to deep cuts in healthcare funding, jobs, and access to care, while giving tax breaks to the very rich and slashing the rights of working people. We believe in a different path forward,” wrote Pres. Gresham. The Union’s core values are under attack, said Kim White, a CNA at Lake Mary Health and Rehabilitation near Orlando. She emphasized 1199’s strength flows from workers’ agency and ability to upend the plans of powerful, antiworker forces. “The union is in the people. It is about everybody. It is not just what we do inside the nursing home that counts. Our nursing homes are located in the community. We have to be too. There are people living in a constant state of fear down here in Florida that they won’t be able to pay their healthcare bills. The politicians in Washington who want to cut Medicaid are working

In every region of the Union, 1199ers are playing key roles in improving the healthcare quality and delivery, protecting the uninsured, indigent and underserved communities and winning and protecting union rights.

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 The Unity and Power “yes” vote means strength at the bargaining table, to protect hard-fought benefits like healthcare and training and education.  1199 can continue to support massive mobilizations that protect healthcare funding, access to care and good jobs.


July-August 2017

in cushy jobs and have never had to worry about paying for healthcare a day in their lives. They should be ashamed of themselves,” says White. “But whenever they go after healthcare funding, 1199 is going to bring that fight to their doorstep.” Passage of the constitutional amendments secures 1199ers’ roles in the fight for economic and social justice. The yes vote is a de facto endorsement of a vital, properlyresourced organization that is a strong voice for all working people – and collective bargaining to protect and improve our wages, benefits and working conditions; to unite union and non-union workers; and for going all in during fights for healthcare funding and expanded access to care. Cornelia Thompson is an LPN at the Methodist Home for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Bronx, NY said the vote shows that 1199ers know how to work together. “We need to remember that everything is not just about clocking in and clocking out. Our workplaces are connected to our communities and our families – especially if your work is related to healthcare, we in 1199 need to mobilize to keep Medicaid,” said Thompson, who has been a delegate since 1992. “Our jobs and our communities depend on it.”

Title I of the LMRDA contains the Bill of Rights for members of labor organizations. The Bill of Rights guarantees union members equal rights to nominate candidates for union office, to vote in union elections or referendums, and to attend ·union meetings and participate in the deliberations and voting upon the business of such meetings. Under the Bill of Rights union members are also guaranteed freedom of speech and assembly, and the right to meet and assemble freely with other members, to express views; arguments or opinions, and to express at union meetings their views on candidates for union elections or upon any business properly before the meeting-subject to each organization’s established and reasonable rules regarding the conduct of the meetings: Additionally, the Bill of Rights guarantees members a voice in setting the union’s rates of dues, fees, and assessments. Members are also assured other basic rights including protection of the right to sue, safeguards against improper disciplinary action from the union, the right to view copies of collective bargaining agreements, and the right to be informed of the LMRDA.

“We need to remember that everything is not just about clocking in and clocking out. Our workplaces are connected to our communities and our families.”


Our Delegates: Southampton Hospital’s Janine Bassi Real life turned a wary member into a Union activist. Janine Bassi did not start out as a union activist. In fact, she took some convincing before she could see the value of collective bargaining. But once she understood the basic concepts, she was all in. “I’ve been at Southampton Hospital for two and a half years and this is my first job in a union shop,” says Bassi, “I was a little bit nervous at first about what the dues would be and how the union would affect my career and my life. But I have to say that it has been nothing but beneficial.” Bassi works as a clinical laboratory technologist at Southampton Hospital on Long Island, NY. She’s an active delegate and leader in her shop and recently completed a stint as a temporary organizer, during which she helped workers at Hudson River Healthcare win their May union election. “I now understand that our dues pay for the entity that helps us to obtain benefits. How could people come together to force the employers’ hand on wages and benefits otherwise? “I’m getting ready to go back to school to get my Master’s degree and to know that the cost is covered by the 1199 National Benefit Fund is a huge weight off my shoulders,” says Bassi. Before she was hired at Southampton Hospital, Bassi relied on her husband’s health insurance plan to pay for herself and her four children. “When you add it all up, we were paying about $600 a month in premiums for the family, plus copays. With 1199 there are no co-pays or premiums, so the savings quickly

 Delegate Janine Bassi is a lab tech at Southampton Hospital on Long Island, NY.

“We’re like a family in the union. Our job is to protect each other like you would your family. For instance, we have to look out for our housekeeping colleagues and not just people like myself who work in radiology.”

mount up,” she affirms. Bassi has a keen understanding of the value of her benefits; she has a condition called Sjogren’s syndrome, which is associated with Lupus and causes dry eyes and throat. She requires twice-daily medication to keep it under control. Without her 1199 insurance, she would be paying co-pays for her many rheumatologists’ visits. “It is not only people that can afford it that deserve health care,” says Bassi. “We’re like a family in the Union. Our job is to protect each other like you would your family. For instance, we have to look out for our housekeeping colleagues and not just people like myself who work in radiology,” she adds. “Southampton is an expensive place.

Without fair compensation how can you afford to live here?” Twenty years ago, Bassi worked as a home health aide in Albuquerque, NM, earning $10 an hour. When she came to New York, she says, she couldn’t believe that people didn’t even have the same wages. Now she truly understands the value of collective bargaining: “The Fight for $15 was very important. There is such a great need for home care. It is hard, backbreaking work. But it is what our elders deserve. Our union colleagues deserve to be paid fairly for it.” She also warns against losing sight of the vulnerability of nonunionized workers. Says Bassi: “We need to remember that we should never choose individual money over collective power.”

1199 Magazine 13


Bronx Lebanon Community Stands Together in Wake of


“We aren’t going to let a monster push us away from our home.” 14

July-August 2017

 Bronx Lebanon Workers at July 6 vigil against gun violence and in remembrance of June 30th’s shooting victims and NYPD officer Miosotis Familia, who was shot to death July 4.

Bronx Lebanon Hospital Housekeeper Dowaine Clarke thought he was going to die on June 30. “We were right next to a guy who had been shot and we had no idea where the shooter was,” says Clarke. “I had just come in to start my shift when a guy came in saying he’d been shot. I thought he was joking.” That was the day Henry Bello, a disgruntled doctor armed with a semi-automatic weapon opened fire in a unit on the hospital’s 16th floor, killing Dr. Tracy Tam and seriously wounding six other staffers before turning the gun on himself. Patient Transporter Bernard Blondell and his wife Kenya, a medical assistant, were working on Bronx Lebanon’s 10th floor cardiac unit when alarms went off, smoke began billowing from the facility and voices came screaming over loudspeakers: code silver—an active shooter on the premises. “No one comes to work and says, ‘There is going to be an active shooter in our building today,’ or thinks they are going to get shot,” says Blondell. “People are still trying to grasp what happened.” Dr. Hassan Tariq, a surgeon, sustained a potentially career-ending hand wound, but managed to make his way from the 16th floor to near where the Blondells were working. Together with Practice Administrator for Cardiology Diana Cruz, they carried Dr. Tariq down some ten flights of stairs to the institution’s first floor emergency room. There was no time for debate. “Somebody made a judgment call. We had to get him downstairs,” says Bernard Blondell. “Everyone started screaming, but then people were running to get IV’s and medical supplies,” he adds. Recalling the afternoon, Kenya Blondell’s voice quivers. “We didn’t think about it. We just sprang into action. We didn’t know where the shooter was or what

was happening,” she says. “We had each other, but anything could have happened. We could have been killed, and our baby daughter would have been left without both her parents.” After the shooting, workers spoke about the sense responsibility for each other and the South Bronx residents they serve. Bronxites depend on Bronx Lebanon for primary healthcare, specialized medicine, emergency care and numerous other wellness services. As reported in The New York Times, even the hospital’s café is a center of neighborhood social life. Treating the wounded and calming hospital patients and visitors remained a priority in the minds Bronx Lebanon workers. Dowaine Clarke and fellow housekeeper Akeem Gray (whose father Maurice is a delegate leader at NYU Langone Medical Center) described the gravity of their encounter with a badly wounded shooting victim bleeding from his chest. “We put a towel on his chest and Akeem, the supervisor and I just hurried to get him down to the Emergency Room,” says Clarke. The reality of the events sneaks up on him, says Gray. “When I’m getting ready for work, I find myself not wanting to leave my son. He’s only one year old,” says Gray. “That could have been me getting shot. Some people are really traumatized, and everybody is quieter. I’m just trying to come to work and focus on my job. I have bills to pay.” On July 6, Bronx Lebanon workers community members, elected officials and a host of others gathered in a small park in hospital’s shadow for a vigil sponsored by 1199SEIU, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and SEIU’s Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR). The event was a united stand against gun violence and a remembrance of those killed

“We just sprang into action. We didn’t know where the shooter was or what was happening. We had each other, but anything could have happened.” – Kenya Blondell, Bronx Lebanon Medical Assistant

and injured in the attack. The event also recalled NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia, a former healthcare worker, who was shot not far from the hospital July 4 as she sat an NYPD emergency vehicle. Officer Familia died at St. Barnabas Hospital. The vigil’s program included deeply emotional remarks from New York City Council Speaker Melissa MarkViverito, New York City Central Labor Council Director Vinny Alvarez, NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo, CIR Director Eric Scherzer and 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Estela Vazquez. Vazquez shared appreciation for the bravery of Bronx Lebanon’s workers and the commitment of 1199SEIU to fighting for safety for all New Yorkers. Jose Saez, a Bronx Leb patient care technician, was off the day of the shooting, but came in anyway, to support his co-workers, patients and the community that depends on his hospital. “I used to work in EMS, so all of this happening like this hit me hard,” says Saez. “One of our nurses is best friends with Officer Familia’s family. She was just too busy at work busting her butt to support her family. It’s terrible.” “But we want people not to be afraid and to come back to this hospital,” he adds. “This community should say ‘we aren’t going to let a monster push us away from our home’.”

1199 Magazine 15

Westfield Center in Westfield, NJ 1199SEIU represents 102 members at Westfield Center, a nursing home in northeastern New Jersey. Workers at the institution care for seniors as well as patients undergoing rehabilitation. Many of their patients are Medicaid- and Medicare-dependent. Over the last few months, workers from Westfield participated in a campaign through the Union’s labor-management partnership, the Nursing Home Alliance, to increase Medicaid funding for nursing home residents. Through their efforts—meeting with state leaders and rallying at the capitol in Trenton—1199 members won an extra $5.25 million for nursing homes.






July-August 2017

“Our oldest resident is 103 and the youngest is 17, and we do our best to make them all feel special.” – Wanda Edmundson, Westfield Center Recreation Assistant



1. “What drives me to come to work every day is the relationships we build with the residents,” said Samira Suggs, who has worked as a recreation therapist at Westfield Center for six years, “It shows that you can have a good job and have fun at the same time.”


2. Rachel Bergman is a housekeeper at the Westfield Center. 3. Wanda Edmundson is a recreation assis­tant at Westfield Center. “Without us, some of our residents wouldn’t have anybody to talk to,” she says. She was a receptionist until three years ago.

4. Hermancia Santil is a certified nursing assistant at the Westfield Center. 5. Stephen Veliakath is a restorative aide at the Westfield Center.

6. Ovixon Constant has been a housekeeper at Westfield Center for 12 years. “More nursing home funding is important because every employee tries to make a difference, but oftentimes we are working short.”

1199 Magazine 17


Unionwide Mobilizations Helped Foil ACA Repeal Our fight to protect healthcare is not over.

PARTISANSHIP SUCCUMBED TO THE COMMON GOOD People power doesn’t sleep. The nation saw proof on July 28 at about 1:30 a.m. in the U.S. Senate, when three votes from Republican senators ended the latest drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Such is the right wing’s determination to destroy Obamacare, and with it President Obama’s legacy of expanding our social safety net, that the U.S. Senate chose to follow the path of the House of Representatives and advanced a vastly unpopular vote to repeal major parts of the ACA. The plan went down in flames. After massive outcry and an inundation of worry and anger from constituents, three Republican senators could not conscience the ramifications of their actions and voted “no”. Shirley Newsome, a home health aide who works for the All Metro agency in New York City, spoke at a July 25 press conference on the steps of New York City Hall in Manhattan. It was the day after the Vice President Mike Pence stepped in as a tiebreaker to allow the vote to go forward. “I believe that affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege. It is clear that the majority of Senate Republicans feel otherwise,” said Newsome. While many in Congress rail against the ACA, it’s clear their positions don’t reflect their constituents’. People from every 18

July-August 2017

stripe and background have been united and activated; 1199ers, community groups, disability rights advocates, women’s health advocates, providers, the faith community and a host of other allies continue to turn out in massive numbers for the fight to preserve Obamacare’s coverage. In statement released after the vote, 1199SEIU President George Gresham expressed pride, relief and tempered celebration. “We applaud the Democratic and Republican Senators who averted a disaster. For now, public healthcare programs like Medicaid will continue to provide care for our most vulnerable. Insurance companies will not penalize Americans for being sick. Healthcare jobs will continue to thrive in local communities and beyond. This is a victory today, but the work will continue,” said Gresham. “We know that the Republican leaders who failed last night will be working overtime to bring this repeal back to life and plan additional attacks on healthcare funding. We must – and will – stay vigilant in our efforts to protect and improve access to quality healthcare,” he also warned. TIRELESS MOBILIZING MADE THE DIFFERENCE The Union and its allies have been battling repeal without replacement since shortly after Election Day, when President Trump made

▲ Caregivers and patients demonstrating against ACA repeal at NYC’s Foley Square.

 Demonstrations against repeal have been held throughout the regions.

clear that killing the ACA was his administration’s highest priority. Under a banner of “Care Not Chaos” 1199ers and their allies took to Washington, D.C., statehouses and city halls around the country. Leading up to the July vote, members were tireless in their mobilizing. In early July, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited 1199’s Manhattan headquarters where volunteers gathered for several days of phone

“The Republicans have not been talking about changing healthcare provision for all – just for poor people, seniors, the disabled and our veterans.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo

banking. They spoke with voters in swing states, urging them to call their Senators and tell them to vote against any bill which would repeal the ACA without an equitable replacement. “We should be proud that a huge movement has been built to protect affordable healthcare,” Mayor de Blasio told the volunteers. In the same week, Demelsa Moodie, a linen department worker at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, was among the hundreds who gathered at the hospital on July 17. Hosted by New York State’ Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and attended by New York City Mayor De Blasio, the event showcased the power of a unified labor movement. “Stay loud and stay visible! We will win this!” Schneiderman urged. “Healthcare is a lifeline for many people and I’m very worried that it is going to be taken away,” Moodie said at the rally. “I have kidney disease and without my healthcare benefits I would not be able to afford the treatments. I live by myself, so I can’t rely on family member’s insurance.” In his remarks, Gov. Cuomo hammered the Republican healthcare bill’s inequity. “The Republicans have not been talking about changing healthcare provision for all – just for poor people, seniors, the disabled and our veterans,” he insisted. In New Jersey, 1199 members and elected officials voiced similar concerns and a commitment to saving healthcare for the many, not just the few. “Without proper funding, how can we give proper care?” demands Yesinia LaFleche, an LPN at ManhattanView nursing home in Union City, New Jersey. “It affects everything if there are not the resources available to hire enough staff, to have enough supplies, to prepare them good food,” LaFleche and 200 other caregivers hosted a March rally at the New Jersey State House with nursing home residents and elected leaders to press the state to increase Medicaid funding for nursing homes –exactly the type of funding that would be

endangered if the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed. Their efforts were successful; an additional $5.25 million in Medicaid funding is included in the 2018 New Jersey state budget. Nicole Singleton, CNA at Newark’s New Vista nursing home affirmed the need to protect resources for nursing home funding. “Working at a nursing home is hard. There’s a lot of turnover because it’s easy to get frustrated and feel overwhelmed,” she said. “But I do it because I really care about my residents.  I’ve gotten to know many of them on an individual basis and I want to help them as best as possible.  That’s why I believe we need to protect Medicaid.”  WORKERS DESCRIBED THE DANGERS OF ACA REPEAL In Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) confirmed that he would have supported the Senate’s repeal bill, 1199 members gathered repeatedly at his offices to discuss its terrifying ramifications. Rubio refused to hear healthcare workers’ warnings that the proposed legislation could strain emergency rooms with an overflow of the uninsured and those who can’t afford basic care. In Maryland, 1199SEIU members shared their first hand experiences at a Moral Healthcare Forum held in June with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen and several state legislators calling on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan not to remain silent as the bill was passing through the Senate. Jennifer Patton-Ortiz was among the RNs who gathered at the Union’s Manhattan headquarters for a July phone-banking day. “If we don’t take a stand now, where will we be in a few years’ time, when they start closing hospitals?” said Jennifer Ortiz-Patton, an RN from Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY. “My background is in the ICU and we see overdoses all the time. I will never forget the day when I held a mother’s hand as she wheeled her son to the Operating Room for organ donation. We have the means to save lives, but now that funding has been under threat.”

1199 Magazine 19

Celebrating Success

Training and Employment Funds hold annual recognition ceremony.

Hundreds of 1199SEIU members gathered with family, management representatives and other supporters at a Manhattan hotel June 15 for the annual recognition ceremony of the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds (TEF). The ceremony honored 2016-17 academic year graduates of Fundsponsored programs. The evening celebrated an array of academic and professional achievement—from earning general equivalency diplomas to completing Master’s Degrees. Chris Mitchell, an RN at Bon Secours Community Hospital in New York’s Hudson Valley, completed her BSN degree on line at Jacksonville University and plans to forge ahead for a Master’s Degree from Walden University. “We had multiple counselors helping us with the decision to return to school and a support system for each other,” she says. “1199 was wonderful with reimbursements and expedited the process so we could continue our studies.”

In her remarks, TEF Executive Director Sandi Vito marveled at the dedication of graduates in realizing their educational and professional goals. Among the honorees were 69 who earned high school diplomas; 214 who completed college preparatory classes; 1,128 who completed college or graduate school; 241 graduates from nursing programs; and 400 graduates of the 1199SEIU Citizenship Program. “The community to which we belong—the union and management—recognizes the value of education and the importance for you as caregivers to have the opportunity to advance your careers,” she said. Bruce McIver, president of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes of New York, spoke of the League’s pride in helping workers reach their goals and his experience as an adult student. “My appreciation is heartfelt,”

said McIver. “Health care is going to go through a lot of changes and we are going to appreciate people with the kind of skill sets you have.” In 1969, 1199 and the League created the original Training Fund. Today, the 1199SEIU League Training and Upgrading Fund (TUF), Job Security Fund, Registered Nurse Training and Job Security Fund, Greater New York Education Fund, Homecare Industry Education Fund and Labor Management Initiatives, Inc. sponsor the graduates’ programs. Althea Elliott, an RN at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, this year completed the U.S. Citizenship Program. Elliott, who was born in Jamaica on the 4th of July, was among the first recruits to a “fast track” RN program sponsored several years ago by the TEF. 1199 and the Funds helped her realize her dream of becoming a nurse, and now a U.S. citizen, she said. “It is the potential and the opportunity for immigrants in America we must always preserve,”  Mount Sinai said a tearful Elliott. “We are not here Beth Israel RN to take, we are here to give.” Althea Elliott The evening’s keynote speaker (center) with was Northwell Health Executive family members at this year’s June Vice President for Strategy and TEF recognition Analytics Jeffrey Kraut, who is a ceremony. Elliott former 1199SEIU member and TEF became a U.S graduate. He reminded the graduates citizen this year that they are limited only by how big with help from the 1199 Training they can dream. Fund. Tikina Williams, an LPN at the Martine Center in Westchester County, completed her HC4 and is en “It is the route to a nursing degree. Williams potential brought her grandmother, retired and the professor Harveyette Williams, to opportunity for immigrants share the evening with her. in America we “I feel so much more confident must always in myself and satisfied,” says preserve. We Williams. “And I brought my are not here to grandmother because I’m following take, we are in her footsteps. She has been a big here to give.” support.” – Althea Elliott, For more information about Mount Sinai Beth the 1199SEIU Training and Israel RN and Employment Funds, log on to naturalized U.S. citizen 1199 Magazine 21

FROM THE HIMALAYAS TO UPSTATE NEW YORK Rochester’s Bhutanese refugees are building new lives, strengthening the union and re-making the city.


July-August 2017

In Rochester, NY, America’s immigration story is unfolding among a community of refugees from Asia’s mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Aided by the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, Strong Hospital, 1199SEIU and a handful of non-government organizations, Bhutanese immigrants are making new lives in Upstate New York and in turn, re-making the city of Rochester. “A lot of people got kicked out of Bhutan for their religion,” says environmental worker Ishora Archaya, 24, who came to the U.S. in 2009. “We had to live in Bhutanese camps in Nepal. I was in a camp for 16 years.” In the early 1990’s Bhutan purged hundreds of thousands of Hindus of mixed ancestry. Nepal accepted the refugees into squalid camps. “I was six when I went to the camp in Nepal and spent 20 years there,” says Prem Biswa, a Strong Hospital environmental service worker. “I spent a lot of terrible life there. We struggled. We had nothing. We made a house from bamboo that somebody donated.”

In spite of international pressure and condemnation by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the exiles had no rights. Many were ethnic Nepalis, but were still denied citizenship in Nepal and prevented from leaving the camps. They could not work or attend school. Access to health care and other basic necessities was limited. In 2007, the UNHCR and a core group of countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, came together for an unprecedented resettlement effort for the refugees. More than 60,000 people accepted resettlement assistance to a handful of western nations. Catholic Family Services (CFS) has been instrumental in Rochester-area relocation efforts. The organization provides economic assistance and help with housing and employment – like finding good-paying jobs at Strong Memorial Hospital. The work has rooted an organic community in the city and at the hospital. Strong’s Bhutanese workers are employed in a broad spectrum of roles, from environmental services to professional and technical positions. And outside of work, they are buying homes, building families, setting and achieving educational goals and strengthening the union by volunteering for leadership positions. Building solidarity was a slow process, points out 1199SEIU Organizer Tracey Harrison. “There was some initial division,” he says. “Some people saw it as ‘they’re taking our jobs’, so we put together these ‘meet and greets’ at the monthly delegate meeting that turned into a breaking of bread because people brought food. We all saw each other going through the same struggles and real trust was established.”

“I miss my country, but I don’t want to go back there. I’m an American citizen now.” – Shiva Kandel Environmental service worker Shiva Kandel spent 20 years in a Nepal refugee camp. He came to the U.S. in 2011. He’s now an active union mem­ber and leader in the Bhutanese community. “Because of the Union we are able to work very well together at Strong. The Union helps us do our work maintaining the hospital by training us about working with other people.” he says. “The Union fights for us. At other jobs I’ve had to pay $40 or $50 a week for my own health care; that left me with very little to support my family. It isn’t like that as a member of 1199.” 1199SEIU Training Fund Field Coordinator Chris Bonawitz worked with many immigrants when he was teaching the Fund’s English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes. “When you see refugee workers step into delegate positions it’s inspi­ rational, especially when you think of what these people have gone through to get here,” says Bonawitz. “The cul­ ture tends to be ‘let’s not rock the boat,’ but 1199 is at times a rock the boat organization. When I see one of those members take on that [delegate] role I’m extremely proud because I understand what it takes for them to advocate for themselves and their co-workers.” Kandel, a widower with two adult sons who live in the U.S., says he is saddened by what happened to his people, but his new life in the U.S. is full of opportunities. “We lost everything when they threw us out of Bhutan; people left businesses and land,” he says. “But here we are all equal. People support each other a way that is very different from other countries. In other places there are no basic human rights. I miss my country, but I don’t want to go back there. I’m an American citizen now.”

Top: Environmental service worker Shiva Kandel at home in Rochester with his grandchildren. Bottom: Prem Biswa, who is also a Strong environmental service worker, with his wife Uma Ronia and their daughter.

 Photos at Left: Top: Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY employs many Bhutanese refugees. The Bhutanese community that has taken root in Rochester has strengthened the city’s neighborhoods and diversified the workforce. Middle: Prem Biswa is among the hundreds of thousands of Hindus kicked out of Bhutan when the government undertook an ethnic cleansing of the country in the early 2000’s. Bottom: Environmental service worker Hari M. Kadariya.

1199 Magazine 23

From the Himalayas to NYS At Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, Bhutanese refugees from Nepal are remaking the institution and their new home city. See pages 22–23. 1199 Magazine 24

1199 Magazine | July / August 2017  

1199 Magazine July / August 2017 Ready For The Future

1199 Magazine | July / August 2017  

1199 Magazine July / August 2017 Ready For The Future