A Journal of 1199SEIU
Our Life And Times
Skyrocketing prices for groceries and other essentials are among major election issues for 1199ers like Manhattanâ€™s St. Vincentâ€™s Hospital secretary Darlene Scott, shown here with three of her children.
SOLUTIONS 1199ers look to Obama to tackle economic crisis
Contents 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 11 12 13 14 15
Welfare for Financiers Banks are saved while consumers suffer. President’s Column Obama candidacy represents real change. Workers Want Right To Choose We need the Employee Free Choice Act. Bush’s Energy Policy “Next president has to do something about this.” Obama’s The One Diverse teams of 1199ers join campaign. No Red Carpet Battle continues for Iraq War vets. “When I’m 65” Interview with economist Teresa Ghilarducci. Retirement Becomes Less Secure Bosses have declared war on pensions. Too Many Left Behind Quality, cost of education major roadblocks to success for many students. City Is Not A Dirty Word Urban areas suffered under Bush’s neglect. Is Universal Care On The Horizon? November election raises hope. Around Our Union Dennis Rivera to lead Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Our Life And Times, May/June 2008, Vol. 26, No. 3 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 Telephone (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org PR E S I DE NT: George Gresham S E C R E TA RY T R E A S U R E R :
Maria Castaneda EXEC UTIVE VIC E PR E S I DE NTS:
Norma Amsterdam Yvonne Armstrong Angela Doyle Mike Fadel Aida Garcia Patrick Gaspard George Kennedy Steve Kramer Patrick Lindsay Joyce Neil John Reid Bruce Richard Mike Rifkin Neva Shillingford Estela Vasquez E D I TO R : J.J. Johnson S TA F F W R I T E R : Patricia Kenney P H OTO G RA P H E R :
Jim Tynan P H OTO G RA P H Y A S S I S TA N T :
Belinda Gallegos A RT D I R E CT I O N & maiarelli studio C OV E R P H OTO : Jim Tynan
DE S IG N:
Our Life And Times is published six times a year by 1199SEIU, 310 West 43rd St., New York, NY 10036. Subscriptions $15 per year. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and additional mailing offices. ISSN 1090-3089. USPS 000-392. Postmaster: Send address changes to Our Life And Times, 310 West 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.
May/June • Our Life And Times
Members say our next leader must end corporate welfare amid growing economic instability.
“THEY FIX THESE BIG CORPORATE BANKS AND PEOPLE ARE LOSING EVERYTHING.” ost voters are likely to take their wallets into the voting booth with them on Nov. 4. For many, its contents will decide which lever they pull. The nation’s deepening economic woes are the primary issue our next president must address, says Liz Richardson, a labor and delivery tech at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “It’s a nightmare. They fix these big corporate banks, and regular people are losing everything. I have a friend who lost her home. There was no bailout for her,” says Richardson.
ood prices are at their highest in 17 years and the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is expected to surpass $4 by the summer. To help working families, George W. Bush offered a $600 tax rebate. To help banking giant J.P Morgan Chase with its purchase of the failing investment bank Bear, Stearns, the U.S. Federal Reserve provided up to $30 billion in financing to cover the portfolio of risky investments. It’s clear that working people can’t look to the current White House for leadership, says Marva Duhaney, a unit secretary at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I took a 15-year mortgage when I bought my house 14 years ago, and now I’m wondering if I’m going to lose my house,” says Duhaney, “It was easier before. Lights, gas, oil, food—the price of everything is exorbitant. It’s gotten so much worse. It’s a struggle. And that rebate check isn’t a good thing. The government needs to see who needs help like food stamps and other long-term programs. But they aren’t, because they don’t really care,” she says. ut government officials do care. It’s just who they care about that is the problem for many. Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain have said it is not the government’s responsibility to assist irresponsible borrowers struggling with sub-prime mortgages. Yet, they both supported the Fed’s decision to bail out Bear, Stearns, which borrowed $30 for every $1 of its own and bet heavily on failed mortgage-backed securities. “I’m really disappointed at the way things are going. They don’t think about the blue-collar worker. They need to take a good hard look at how people are trying to make it. I’m not making it,” says Personal Care Attendant Ruby Blake, from Randolph, Mass. “People are doing whatever they can to pay their rent. They’re cutting back. We need someone who will fight for us. Some of this money they’re putting into this war needs to be put into our communities.” Blake and her husband have eight adult daughters. She says they all struggle with child care or college tuition or finding a job that pays enough to cover the bills. “Our friends and family know they can come by and get a meal whenever they are tight. We have an open-door policy and I’ll always set an extra plate,” says Blake, who works seven days a week. “But my daughters that are in school are working full time. There should be some kind of stipend for my daughters that have kids for child care. We’re not asking for a lot.”
May/June • Our Life And Times
“We need to keep jobs in this country. We can’t fix this economy if there isn’t any work to do,” says Liz Richardson, a perinatal technician at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Food prices are at their highest in 17 years and the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is expected to surpass $4 by the summer.
would close special tax loopholes for the wealthy and for corporations, while protecting tax cuts that benefit the poor and middle class. He would also end the abuse of tax havens and off shore tax shelters by the wealthy. Obama would expand consumer protections against mortgage lenders and credit card companies. He also supports creating tax credits for child care and helping business expand flexible work arrangements for working families.
THE PRESIDENT’S COLUMN
Obama Represents Real Change No member can afford to be a spectator in this campaign.
Every four years, we are told that that particular election year is absolutely crucial. And, truth be told, every presidential election is crucial. But now, in 2008, so much of importance is riding on the outcome that no Union member can afford to be a spectator. John McCain represents nothing less than a third term for George W. Bush. Nobody in the world is a bigger cheerleader for the continuing disaster in Iraq. What about his song “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”? McCain talks about a 100-year occupation of Iraq, which has already cost taxpayers an estimated two trillion dollars. Meantime, our newspapers carry photos of children in Haiti and Africa and south Asia rummaging through garbage dumps for scraps to eat. What is wrong with this picture? At a time when hundreds of thousands of families face foreclosure on their homes, and corporations are laying off employees by the tens of thousands, McCain thinks the solution is making permanent Bush’s tax cuts for billionaires. He is as clueless and uncaring as the current occupant of the White House. McCain is as fiercely anti-union as Bush, and as strongly opposed to universal health care. On the other hand, Sen. Barack Obama represents the potential of real change. The Obama phenomenon is something nobody could have predicted. Who could imagine—as just one example—that 13,000 people in Boise, Idaho—perhaps the “reddest of the red states”—would turn out for an Obama campaign appearance? But that experience is being repeated all across the country, from Arizona to South Carolina. And how many parents are being told by their grown children (many first-time voters) that Obama is the guy you “absolutely must vote for”? Obama has framed this election as a choice between the future and the past, and he is right. More than ever, this election is about safeguarding our planet for our children and for our children’s children. Imagine the possibilities: the end of the Iraq War; affordable health care for all; the Employee Free Choice Act giving cardcheck recognition to workers who want to join unions; a just tax structure where the wealthy and the corporations pay their fair share; rejoining the family of nations in international agreements to protect the environment, reducing armaments and implementing human rights; the end of torture and illegal spying on Americans; closing down Guantanamo and the restoration of the U.S. Constitution. Our Union will have a real friend in the White House in President Obama. Last month, at a particularly difficult time during the strike of our nursing home workers at Kingsbridge Heights in the Bronx, Senator Obama took time out from his hectic campaign schedule during the Pennsylvania primaries to place a phone call to our striking members. With some political figures—even those whom we elect and consider allies—it could take weeks or even months of work to bring about such a phone call. With Barack Obama, it took all of five minutes to explain the situation and he was on the phone with our striking workers pledging his support. This issue of Our Life and Times focuses on the most vital issues facing 1199SEIU members and working families all across the country. The differences between McCain and Obama on these issues are stark. As we have seen in recent weeks, this is going to be a difficult election. McCain and Bush and their friends will fight desperately to hold on to power. We will have to fight even harder. We have no choice. We have to win this one. This is where we make our stand.
1199ers at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel for last April’s observance of Dr. King’s assassination. REMEMBERING DR. KING was proud to be among the 1199ers who traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to take part in the 40th anniversary observance of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the most meaningful ceremony that I have been honored to attend with my Union. As I marched it seemed that there was no end to how many people were marching behind me. There were people from everywhere, not only those of us in purple. And we were marching also for those of our brothers and sisters who were not able to attend the recommitment ceremony. Dr. King’s dream was for many of the benefits we in 1199SEIU now receive. He dreamed of a wage that would allow us all to keep up with the cost of living, which we all have to fight for together as brothers and sisters in our Union. His dream was for equality for all, no matter one’s race or creed. So when we fight, we keep the dream alive. the Rev. Al Sharpton, televangelist Paula White and Dr. King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, told us all to recommit to change things that matter. They said that equality is for all. My experience in Memphis reinforced what I had learned in the past. When I returned, I reminded my co-workers, family and friends never to forget the dream.
MARGIE RODRIGUEZ Brookdale Hospital, Brooklyn, N.Y.
ART THERAPY FOR SENIORS rt is one of the most powerful ways of producing many different kinds of experiences, and it contributes to mental development and social adjustment. Some of the therapeutic benefits of art-making are addressing conflicted feelings, and satisfying creative and expressive urges. It truly addresses questions of aging.
While working at Daughters of Jacob (DOJ) Adult Day Health Care Program in Bronx, N.Y. as an art therapist for about ten years, I witnessed the powerful healing connections between art and the elderly clients. Art touched them— regardless of their education level, age, gender, race, or former occupation—and gave them access to joy and excitement. It also gave them the endurance and motivation to follow difficult learning processes, which in turn led to intense experiences of accomplishment and mastery. Especially, group arts experiences enable empathic connections among elderly participants, creating social support from the same factors that outside the therapeutic environment expose individuals to isolation and pain. The creative art-making in art therapy sessions connected the elderly not only to their inner selves and self-worth, but also to other people, who shared time and space together. Various mental health disciplines, including psychotherapy, are used to relieve their stress and improve the quality of their lives. Better yet, creative arts, such as music, art, drama, and dance, can span time and space therapeutically, thereby targeting specific issues and needs of the elderly for their well-being. SUNHEE KIM DOJ Adult Day Health Care Program, Bronx, N.Y.
SUPPORT IRAQ WAR know that our Union favors withdrawal from Iraq. I don’t agree. As long as the Iraqi people choose to live in freedom and dignity and want our help, and will fight side by side with us, we cannot abandon our friends. Many depend on us to finish what we started.
JOSEPH COLOMBO Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, N.Y.
HUNGER IN HAITI he world food crisis is worsening every day. The situation has gotten so bad in my native Haiti that Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis has been forced to resign. But this is not a problem for Haiti and other developing countries alone. Food lines right here in the U.S. will soon start to get longer. Our Union should immediately take steps to aid our Haitian brothers and sisters and support elected officials and progressive organizations and friends who are working to solve the crisis.
HENRY FERDINAND Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Manhattan
May/June • Our Life And Times
Employee Free Choice Act would restore organizing rights.
‘WE NEED OUR UNION RIGHTS’ No federal legislation has greater priority for labor unions than the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would simplify the union organizing process and stiffen penalties for employers who interfere with it. After the House passed the EFCA during this session of Congress, the Republican minority in the Senate prevented the measure from coming to a vote even thought a majority of Senate members favor the Act. Big business opposes the EFCA. Under the current NLRB system, employers, using legal and illegal tactics, intimidate, coerce and punish workers who seek to join unions. Some 60 million U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could, yet only 16 million today are union members, says American Rights at Work, a national nonprofit that advocates for the rights of workers to join unions. The organization also sees a link between the conservative drift in the nation and the shrinkage of organized labor. Today, fewer than one in eight workers is a union member. New York is the most unionized state at 25.2%. Massachusetts is 13.2%. Maryland is 12.9% and Washington, D.C. is 10.3%. States with higher levels of unionization tend to provide higher wages and benefits and to elect more progressive legislators. “We have been fighting for a contract for two years,” says home health aide Jean Douglas, who lives and works in Elmont, Long Island. Douglas and her 250 co-workers are seeking a first contract at the Premier Agency. Douglas also was among the leaders of the organizing campaign who helped members overcome intimidation and threats to vote 1199SEIU. Another Long Island home health aide, Lorie Reynolds, is one of 850 members from Aides at Home who have been fighting for a first contract for more than a year. “I’m a single mom whose job is to take care of elderly people, but I have to pay for health care for my daughter, who has scoliosis, and myself,” she says. “I’m on our negotiating committee and it’s shameful what management is offering us.”
Sen. Obama co-sponsored and is a strong advocate of the Employee Free Choice Act. He supports raising the minimum wage.
She says she believes that the law should be toughened to prevent bosses from stonewalling while the workers fall deeper into debt. The EFCA would do just that. Among its major components are: • Card-check recognition. A union would be certified if a majority of members sign union authorization cards. • First contract mediation and arbitration. If a union and management fail to reach a first contract agreement within 90 days of the union vote, either party may refer the dispute to a federal mediator. If the mediator fails to reach an agreement within 30 days, the dispute would be referred to an arbitrator whose decision would be binding. • Stronger penalties for employer violations during an organizing or first-contract campaign.
What good is a union if management won’t sign a contract? Lorie Reynolds is one of 850 members from Aides at Home who have been fighting for a first contract for more than a year. She is shown above with a client, Dorothy Locopeta, and Locopeta’s husband, Joseph.
“IMMIGRANTS BUILT THIS COUNTRY”
BUSH’S ENERGY POLICY: Good for industry, bad for the rest of us For the last seven years the environmental policies of George W. Bush have continued to deplete the resources they are supposed to protect. Bush’s air quality measures gave industry even more leeway in pumping hazardous waste into the atmosphere. His clean water initiatives allowed more chemicals in the drinking water supply. And his regulations to protect our forests were designed by people formerly employed by the paper and timber industries. Only recently did Bush acknowledge energy policy invests $150 the existence of global warming. billion over 10 years in clean Bush has also been slack on developing an energy sources. Obama’s plan energy policy that’s good for anyone but the seeks to reduce our country’s oil consumption by 35% or energy industry. In spite of oil prices topping 10 million barrels a day. He the $100 mark and gasoline nearing $4 per seeks to double current fuel gallon, only last year did Bush agree to raise efficiency standards and would provide support for the fuel efficiency standards for cars and light development of the next trucks. And while touting the importance of generation of biofuels with renewable energy, Bush targeted the tax incentives and government contracts. Renewable Energy Laboratory for funding cutbacks.
rom the Real ID Act to Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raids on workplaces employing immigrants, the Bush administration has regularly supported anti-immigrant legislation and regulations. A closer look at many of those measures reveals that they are also designed to limit workers’ rights. The Real ID Act, claimed by the Bush Administration to be a necessity of the War on Terror, mandates citizens and non-citizens to present more documents to obtain official identification, such as a drivers license. Birth certificates and passports must be verified by immigrants’ country of origin. Real ID takes away virtually all rights from non-citizens.
Well-publicized ICE raids in meatpacking plants and janitorial services were supposed to show the need for stronger border security, but were used by Bush as support for his guest worker program. A guest worker program would allow corporations to recruit hundreds of thousands of low paid workers with virtually no rights who live in the U.S. solely at the mercy of their employers. Magdi Barakat, a Magdi Barakat, a maintenance mechanic maintenance mechanic at St. John’s Queens at St. John’s Queens Hospital in New York Hospital in NYC City, hopes that November’s presidential election will end the current anti-immigrant sentiment so present in the U.S. today. “It’s terrible what is happening. Immigrants built this country. We all benefit from immigration,” says Barakat, who came to the U.S. from Egypt 30 years ago. “We get all kinds of workers. We get engineers, doctors. They are like the ripe fruit of their nations and they help us to make this country what it is.”
“It’s just ridiculous. Gas prices have shot up to $3.93 per gallon. Airline, bus and train tickets are crazy. I used to travel to New York to see my family three or four times a year. Now I can’t do it. I can’t afford it,” says Teresa Jones, a personal care attendant from Roxbury, Mass. Jones, the single mother of a 15-year old daughter, says energy costs are among her biggest worries. “I used to pay $30 a month, now it’s more than $70, so I try not to use as much. I do our laundry once a week—on Sundays—to save money and energy,” says Jones. “I fell behind on my bill, but I was able to use my tax refund to catch up. I can’t keep up with that. Our next president has got to do something about this.” Teresa Jones, a Massachusetts personal care attendant.
JENNY BAUER PHOTO
immigration plan includes improving the immigration system bureaucracy for those seeking a legal path to residency or citizenship in the U.S. Obama would lower application fees and improve speed of background checks and other immigration procedures. The Obama plan offers undocumented immigrants in good standing with the law a chance to pay a fine and enter the legal immigration system without penalty.
December May/June • Our Life And Times
“He is the Man for the Future.” Scores of 1199ers volunteered for Obama in Pennsylvania primary. Busloads of 1199SEIU volunteers headed to Pennsylvania on April 22 to spend the day working for Barack Obama to help him in the Democratic primary there. Though Hillary Clinton won by 9%, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and many voters again showed how Obama’s candidacy has energized a diverse movement of people. They are ready to help change the nation’s direction. “When we work together we can build a movement that can make change happen in our country,” SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger told hundreds of cheering volunteers at a rally before they headed out for door knocking. “Barack Obama is just like us. He dreams big, he acts boldly and he makes a difference.” The 1199ers joined members from SEIU locals from as far away as California and Michigan in Pennsylvania along with members of the hotel and restaurant workers union, UNITE HERE! Many young people and political novices were canvassing for the first time. David Thomas went to Pennsylvania from the strike line at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx, N.Y. Thomas, an orderly, and 220 of his co-workers have been striking over their health benefits since February. “I see a lot of hope around Obama. I think people feel very positive about him,” says Thomas. “We need someone who will change this country around. We need a new face in the White House. Young people are really supporting Obama. They know he is the man for the future.” “I am not a person who is talkative but he has motivated me to come out and volunteer,” says Hema Rawal, a Kingsbridge CNA originally from Nepal. Door-knocking for Obama is her first political campaign work. “In this country I’ve learned that to make change you have to speak up.” Shawn Legare, 26, a Philadelphia resident, told volunteers Obama motivated him to vote for the very first time. “He is moving voters past their reasons for not voting by constantly giving them positive motivation,” says Legare. “I’m showing my son an example of how I want things to change because my wife and I have long conversations about what’s happening here in our neighborhood and he hears how we’d like things to change.” Volunteer Efrain Cruz, a multi-task worker from Aging in America in the Bronx, N.Y., says Obama’s candidacy can heal our divided nation. “I just love the idea of unity that he represents,” says Cruz. “He will not just bring people in America together, but also people across the globe.”
From top, left to right: Kingsbridge Rehab members get ready to board a bus back to NY after a day of door knocking in Philadelphia; Beth Abraham NH speech therapist Darlene Monda, a first time campaign volunteer, with Aging In America multitask worker Efrain Cruz; Kingsbridge NH CNAs Hema Rawal, left, and Een Mannan, both first time campaign volunteers, read canvassing map; Members cheer at rally as they prepare day of door knocking; Obama volunteers arrive at Philadelphia campaign headquarters; Philadelphia resident Shawn Legare, right, talks with volunteers Alma Ames, right, a CNA from Greater Southeast Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Chris Sharp, a Maryland 1199SEIU organizer.
Battles continue for Iraq War vets
NO RED CARPET A central issue in the presidential debate is how best to bring an end to the war in Iraq. 1199SEIU has opposed the war from the start and supports immediate withdrawal. More than four thousand of our service men and women have lost their lives in Iraq. Some estimates put Iraqi deaths at over one million. Conservative estimates put the cost of the war at $720 million a day. Part of that cost is devoted to caring for our military veterans, many of whom have returned from the war with both physical and emotional injuries. And many of these veterans say that the home front can be as traumatic as Iraq’s frontlines. Worse than my experience in Iraq was my treatment when I came home,” says Juan Alonzo, a paralegal in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of Manhattan’s Legal Aid Society. Alonzo, 31, was a member of the Army Reserve for almost 10 years and served in Iraq from January to April in 2004, when he was injured. Alonzo has first-hand experience with some of the major complaints frequently cited by Iraq War vets. Among those are the military’s abuse of the stop-loss policy, inadequate equipment on the battlefield and neglect at home. While stateside, he was asked to extend his eight-year term of service for another six months. His patriotism and a sense of duty influenced his decision to comply. “But at the close of those six months, I was told that under stop-loss my tour was being extended for two years and that I would be shipped to Iraq,” Alonzo says. Stop-loss gives the military the option of extending a service member’s tour beyond their contractual expiration date. Several enlistees have unsuccessfully challenged the policy, and it is not unusual for some service members to be stop-lossed for several tours.
‘’ Sen. Obama introduced the Dignity for
Wounded Warriors Act, which seeks to increase disability benefits, provides measures to ease transition to civilian life, assists veterans in finding adequate housing and improves treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
While in Iraq with the 424 Quartermaster Company, Alonzo fell victim to another abuse: faulty equipment. He was fitted with an armored vest that was far too large. “When I complained, I was told to ‘suck it up,’” he says. The ill-fitting vest caused a tear of Alonzo’s rotator cuff. The injury landed him in Bethesda’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center for six months. Until last year, when a team of Washington Post reporters exposed
widespread neglect and abuses, the hospital was widely considered the crown jewel of the military medical system When Alonzo arrived in April 2004, he says that some areas of the hospital were filthy and ill equipped to handle the increase in the number of injured service members. One step the hospital had taken to cut costs was to outsource its maintenance. Paradoxically, technological and medical advances contribute to the dramatic increase of injured veterans. Injuries that proved fatal in the past can be treated today. In World War II, for example, there were 1.6 injuries to each fatality and in Vietnam 2.8. The ratio in Iraq is more than 7 to 1. Through March, 263,000 troops have been treated at veterans’ medical facilities, and 224,000 have applied for disability benefits. Some 52,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alonzo spent six months at Walter Reed before being transferred to the Bronx VA Hospital. Ivan Allende, an 1199SEIU delegate and an addictions counselor at St. Barnabas NH in the Bronx, also has spent time at Walter Reed and the Bronx VA Hospital. He was injured in 1991 while serving in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Allende, who was raised in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, by his grandparents, recalls his meeting with a military recruiter at age 17. “I was young and had led a very sheltered life,” he says. He likens his experience to being seduced and abandoned by the recruiter. “They promise you the world when they try to get you to sign up, but once they get you, they don’t even want to know you,” he says.
May/June • Our Life And Times
“If you fight for your country, you expect to at least be spoken to with some respect.”
Ivan Allende, a substance abuse counselor at St. Barnabas NH in the Bronx, N.Y., still struggles with injuries suffered helping relocate Iraqis displaced by Operation Desert Storm. Allende says he “wanted to continue to help” upon his return from Iraq and took a job working with people with HIV.
Corporation study, released in April, found that 19% of service members—nearly 300,000—who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD or major depression. Only about half of these receive treatment that researchers consider minimally adequate. “After I returned, any loud noise just freaked me out,” he says. “I didn’t think about getting help until my mother suggested that maybe my jumpiness was related to my service in Iraq.” Unlike many veterans who are struggling to find a safe space and a measure of peace in their lives, Allende was able to receive help and now devotes himself to helping others. “My last assignment in Iraq was to help relocate displaced Iraqis,” he says. “I decided I wanted to continue to help. When I returned, I worked at a Bronx non-profit for nine years helping people with HIV.” Allende rose to the position of manager at the non-profit before leaving to become a drug rehab counselor at St. Barnabas, where he’s excelled for the past five years. He is a Union activist and delegate. When he’s not helping his clients or fellow 1199ers, he can be found at home with this wife and four children – ages 18 months to 18 years.
Iraq War veteran Juan Alonzo with son, Jeremiah, 3. Alonzo works for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. “I care deeply about the treatment of vets,” he says.
While taking part in Iraq Desert Storm from November 1990 to May 1991, Allende injured his back as a member of an Army cannon unit. After his honorable discharge, he sought medical treatment. “I was told by VA representatives that they would agree to treat me if I came to the hospital every day for six months to prove that I had a serious injury,” he says. “I told them that I have a job and a family to support and that I couldn’t afford to take off six months.
May/June • Our Life And Times
“They suggested heavy medication. They just wanted to get rid of me and their attitude was dismissive. If you fight for your country, you at least expect to be spoken to with some respect.” Allende has since had back surgery, which included the removal of three herniated disks. “I can’t play basketball with my kids,” he says, “but unlike many other vets, I can still earn a living.” More difficult to treat are the psychic injuries that Allende and other veterans have suffered. A groundbreaking Rand
Alonzo, whose mother is from Puerto Rico and whose father is from the Dominican Republic, also talks about psychic scars. He recently walked out of the Hollywood movie, “Stop-Loss” because he found it “too close to home.” “I find myself often looking up at roofs and my friends say that I don’t smile like I used to” he says. “But I don’t want to be diagnosed as having PTSD because that can be used against you.” Alonzo recently was promoted at work and he has earned his bachelor’s degree and looks forward to time with his 3-year-old son. At Legal Aid, he works with people who can’t afford to hire their own lawyers. Alonzo frequently attends activities of the Union’s Young Workers Program. “I don’t want to be a poster boy for the anti-war movement, but I care deeply about the treatment of vets and our lack of opportunities,” he says. “We’re heroes until we come home.”
A SECURE RETIREMENT INCOME IS A HALLMARK OF A CIVILIZED SOCIETY.
soaring faster than inflation and people are living longer. Retirement income has been falling for many reasons—people are spending their IRAs and 401(k)s before retiring, employers are cutting back on pensions, people are losing equity in their homes, and costs of Medicare insurance are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of Social Security benefits. Q: The title of your book suggests that there is a plot against pensions. How so?
The Plot Against Pensions Economist Teresa Ghilarducci discusses the realities of retirement income in her book “When I’m 65.” eresa Ghilarducci is the Irene and Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Before that, she spent 25 years at the University of Notre Dame as a professor of economics and 10 years as director of the university’s Higgins Labor Research Center. Her forthcoming book, “When I’m 65: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them,” Princeton University Press, investigates the effect of pension losses on older Americans. Her book, “Labor’s Capital: The Economics and Politics of Employer Pensions,” MIT Press, won an Association of American Publishers award in 1992. She co-authored “Portable Pension Plans for Casual Labor Markets” in 1995. She was interviewed by Our Life And Times in April.
Q: Workers who retired as late as the 1980s did so with some measure of security. Why do today’s retiring workers feel so insecure? A: Simple: the cost of retirement is going up and the funds to pay for retirement are going down. Healthcare costs for retirees are
A: The “plot” against pensions sounds sinister, doesn’t it? Well, the more I researched the growing nonchalance among political and academic elites that workers would have to work two or three years longer just to survive in old age, the more I saw efforts to save the government and corporations money by eroding pensions. There are important groups that have pushed back and resisted the erosion. First, the age eligible to first collect Social Security, age 62, has not changed, even though the age to collect full Social Security benefits has increased to 67. Second, many unionized employees have experienced increases in pension security. The American economy is addicted to cheap labor and some policy makers can’t resist the notion that older people are a source of casual part-time labor. That is not good policy. We all need the choice to work in old age — but we also deserve the choice to walk away from a job in our late sixties and beyond. A secure retirement income is a hallmark of a civilized society. Q: What role, if any, does the sub-prime mortgage crisis play in the ability of workers to look forward to a comfortable retirement? A: The sub-prime mortgage crisis is the starting point for the credit squeeze that firms, households, and federal and state governments are going to face. The end of the “easy money era” means a prolonged recession. Immediately the return on assets—pensions, housing, etc.— will be much lower. The parttime jobs that retirees may have counted on will dry up. The only
thing future retirees can count on is Social Security because it is not tied to the fluctuations of the financial markets. Q: Since Social Security doesn’t provide sufficient retirement income, why not replace it with a defined contribution plan such as a 401K? A: Social Security provides over 70% of retirees with most of their retirement income. If it weren’t for Social Security, over 50% of older Americans would be poor, instead of the 8% we have now. If everyone had an individual private account instead of Social Security, every time the market bumps down that group of retirees would suffer. There is no justice or practical goal served under that system except to provide profits to the commercial providers who run 401(k)-type accounts. Q: How would your plan for a guaranteed retirement account (GRA) work? A: My plan for a GRA would require every employee to save 5% in an account guaranteed by the federal government to earn a steady inflation-adjusted return— 3% in addition to inflation. If inflation is 3% the return would be 6%. The accumulation in the account would be used to supplement Social Security and paid out in retirement. The average worker would have 70% of their pre-retirement earnings replaced in retirement. A lower income worker would have much more replaced. Every American would have a low fee, professional financial provider for their pension savings. They would have the same kind of financial institution federal employees, members of Congress, state and local workers have. I recommend my book “When I’m 65” for more information. Q: How would federal tax reform and government spending help to resolve our economic woes? A: Federal government policy directed toward infrastructure spending and progressive tax reform would restore consistent consumer spending and government investment. The private sector depends on the federal government to stabilize the economy.
May/June • Our Life And Times
RETIREMENT SECURITY BECOMING A THING OF THE PAST Bosses have declared war on pensions. irtually all the baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) are expected to retire within the next two decades. For many of these 75 million Americans, there is danger on the horizon. Many workers are aware of our nation’s healthcare catastrophe. Not so about the looming retirement crisis. During the first Ronald Reagan presidency in the 1980s, about two in five U.S. workers had defined pension plans. Today, that number is just one in five. 1199ers in the National Pension plan can go to sleep each night confident that their Social Security benefits will be supplemented by monthly checks that will bring their income close to their monthly earnings as workers. But many younger members and others such as homecare members have fallen victim to the nationwide trend against defined benefit plans. “My union has been good to me,” says 1199SEIU retiree Ruth Burton, a former Mt. Vernon, N.Y., hospital CNA and among the growing number of retirees who have settled in South Carolina. “I retired 20 years ago and with my pension and healthcare coverage, I’ve had a good life, but I don’t know if it will be as good for those who are coming after me.” “I’m fortunate that I’ll be able to depend on my pension and Social Security,” says Erica Broussard, an RN at Orange Regional Medical Center in New York’s mid-Hudson region. “I’ve also managed to put money aside, so I will be drawing from three different sources.”
Erica Broussard, an RN at Orange Regional Medical Center in New York’s mid-Hudson region.
lthough she will be covered by the 1199SEIU NBF, Broussard says that she is more concerned about the cost of health care. “I’m in a good position,” she says, “but I see patients every day who need two or three jobs just to make ends meet. I’m sure they are concerned about being able to retire.” Those concerns are well founded. Pres. Bush in 2006 attempted to privatize Social Security. Among the U.S. senators who supported the move was Sen. John McCain, who also voted against several measures that would have assisted retirees, including one to provide temporary health insurance assistance to retirees of bankrupt steel companies. McCain also has proposed raising the retirement age to 68 and reducing Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. “I’m working to make sure that Sen. McCain is not the next president,” says Yvonne Richardson, a West Lakewood, Florida, resident, who after 41 years of service retired from New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center in 2002. “Of course, I’m concerned about issues like Social Security and health care for seniors, but I’m just as concerned about the overall economy and issues that affect all the people in this country,” Richardson says.
ichardson talks fondly about the gains she made at Beth Israel, including the fight for $100-perweek wages in the late 1960s, after earning about $39 per week in the early 1960s. She says that she is proud that she was the first chair of Beth Israel’s labormanagement committee. “Nothing came easy, we marched with Dr. King and we worked for the election of the Kennedys,” she recalls. “All three of my children graduated from college with the help of our Union’s Joseph Tauber Scholarship Program,” she says. “It seems that even though we had to organize and fight for what we won, the world seemed simpler then. “I’m supporting Senator Obama because we need to change things just to keep what we have.”
“My Union has been good to me. I retired 20 years ago with my pension and healthcare coverage.”
proposes to strengthen retirement security by ensuring the viability of the Social Security system, reforming corporate bankruptcy laws, creating automatic workplace pensions and eliminating income taxes for seniors earning less than $50,000 per year.
Bush education policies fail students at every level
TOO MANY LEFT BEHIND In spite of his promise to leave no child behind, George W. Bush’s policies continue to put educational goals out of reach for students of all ages. In his 2007 budget, Pres. Bush proposed the largest cuts in the history of the U.S. Department of Education—cuts totaling some $2.1 billion. Bush was unable to push through his entire package. Congress funded some of Bush’s cuts with money from the defense and foreign aid budgets. Still, many vital programs fell to the budget axe, including the Federal Perkins Loan, funding for math, science and reading programs and demonstration projects for students with disabilities. “A working parent can’t get what they need in the public school system. There is no balance,” says Darlene Scott, a secretary at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. “Our next president needs to look at what education really is. They need to step back and see what’s really going on.” Scott speaks from experience. She is a mother of six children, ages 26, 18, 15, 12, 10 and two. She is also a member of the 1199SEIU Employer/Child Care Fund Advisory Committee. “I have children in different schools. They need more programs to help them pass tests,” she says. “Some schools are empowered and others don’t get resources. There aren’t enough counselors. They are just making things harder.” Resources are also becoming limited for those pursuing higher education. Financing options for students and parents struggling to meet soaring college tuition costs are
Darlene Scott, a secretary at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in New York City, with three of her six kids. From left: Mandell, Jr., 12, Scott holding Josiah, 2 and Shatera, 10. “A lot of parents can’t even afford what their kids need for school,” says Scott.
The federal student loan system is so overburdened that the U.S. Department of Education recently put into place a wideranging safety net. shrinking as colleges compete for limited financial aid dollars. Last year students and parents borrowed $60 billion in federally guaranteed loans alone. The federal student loan system is so overburdened that the U.S. Department of Education recently put in place a wide-ranging safety net, which if necessary, would ensure the continued availability of funds for borrowers. Danielle Gates is a patient financial representative at Kaleida Health in Buffalo, N.Y., and is studying to be a social worker at Buffalo State College. Over the course of her studies Gates says she’s seen classes get more crowded, limited and expensive, book prices soar, and financial aid become scarce. Though Gates qualifies for tuition assistance from 1199SEIU’s Training And Upgrading Fund, she occasionally incurs extra educational costs. “My classes are $225 per credit hour and sometimes I have to sacrifice. They
have a tuition repayment plan and they have loans, but I don’t want to get too involved with that because I know I’ll have to repay them in the future,” she says. “Books are $150 each for one class. It’s not a good feeling. If I can’t take my classes it puts my educational goals at a standstill.” Statistics show that there is a pay gap of up to 70% between those with a high school diploma and those with a college degree. “Where I work you need an Associate’s Degree. You may have experience, but you won’t get a job without a degree. It can be demoralizing,” says Gates. Scott says young people face tremendous pressure and competition in the job market today. “My daughter may need a Master’s Degree to be a secretary,” says Scott. “But it’s also hard on kids and a lot of them might get discouraged, so they don’t do it. What are we going to do then?”
plans for education include the expansion of Early Head Start and Head Start programs and reforming the No Child Left Behind Act with proper funding and support, not punishment, for failing schools. He’ll also seek to address the dropout crisis with intervention programs and create a tax credit program to make college more affordable.
CITY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD Members from urban areas say a muchneeded agenda is necessary to undo years of Bush administration neglect. Presidential candidates may wrangle over small town voters, but in the cities one thing is undeniable: Bush administration policies have failed our nation’s urban areas. The nation’s 100 largest cities are home to 65% of the nation’s population, yet under George W. Bush, the federal government has grown increasingly hostile to urban needs. Equal access to education, public transportation, housing, health care and infrastructure continues to challenge these older and mostly poorer communities. As Bush has invoked the power of community uplift initiatives and faith based organizations, he has privatized and limited many programs that foster urban development. “I’ve watched Buffalo deteriorate. We had green grass and trees,” says Charlene Redrick, a CNA at Waterfront Healthcare in Buffalo, N.Y. “We didn’t have boarded up buildings and dilapidated buildings. In the past there would create a White House were more services and things were Office of Urban Policy to better taken care of.” focus on our cities. Obama’s Manufacturing job losses and a plan supports urban-centered shrinking population have hobbled job creation and worker training. He also seeks to Buffalo. The city’s difficulties have been create more affordable compounded by Bush’s cuts to funding housing in our cities and for programs like Head Start, day care expand the Earned Income and home heating assistance for lowTax Credit program. Sen. income families. Obama’s plan provides access to capital for small By abandoning cities, says Ebony businesses. It also fosters Hansen, a patient financial services healthy urban communities through green initiatives and representative at Kaleida Health requires polluters to pay for Services in Buffalo, the administration cleanup of the sites they has perpetuated their image as polluted. disintegrating centers of poverty and crime. In spite of their challenges, cities and their surrounding communities are the nation’s economic and cultural centers and produce 75% of its gross domestic product. “When [people from outside the city] hear about it they think ghetto. They think drug addicts, crack addicts and alcoholics and uneducated people,” says Hansen. “That is not the case. We are very educated people here and we want the same things for our children as they want for their children.” Over the last eight years U.S. cities and the people who live in them have suffered from the Bush administration’s laissez faire attitude. “They’ve cut the schools so badly they don’t even have books anymore,” says Redrick. “My granddaughter told me there weren’t enough to go around.”
One result is that local officials like Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York, Thomas Menino of Boston and Baltimore’s Sheila Dixon have been forced into jousting with the administration on key issues such as gun violence, health care and education. As a result, they insist that the next president must have a comprehensive urban policy and allocate resources to implement it. During February’s Ohio primaries, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson went so far as to promise his endorsement to the candidate who agreed to fulfill his city’s $6.3 billion wish list—which included money for sewage treatment, early childhood education, mortgage counseling and law enforcement. Barack Obama won the endorsement.
Top: “A lot of people need to know that it’s not too late for our cities,” says Ebony Hansen, a patient financial representative for Buffalo, N.Y., Kaleida Health. “We need to see that they are willing to help us achieve our dreams. It’s not about making a move. It’s about taking care of each other.” Bottom: “We need places for our children to go. Our schools have been cut so badly they don’t have books anymore,” says Charlene Redrick, a CNA at Waterfront Healthcare in Buffalo, N.Y. ROBERT KIRKHAM PHOTOS
May/June • Our Life And Times
“IF WE HAD UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE THE PLAYING FIELD WOULD BE LEVEL AND THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO TAKE THINGS AWAY FROM US.” be level and they wouldn’t be able to take things away from us.” few states, such as Massachusetts with its Commonwealth Healthcare Connector Authority, have designed programs to cover large portions of their populations. Others, such as Maryland, have generated funding to increase healthcare coverage by raising taxes on tobacco. The number of U.S. residents relying on public health insurance programs is increasing. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that as of 2004, nearly 45% of Americans relied on some form of public insurance program for their health care. States and localities are struggling to find funding to keep up skyrocketing healthcare costs. Lora Morrison works as a personal care attendant in Roxbury, Mass. Though she’s eligible for low-cost health insurance from the state, Morrison says it’s a stretch on her income. “Health care is so important. People are looking for wages, but when your health is messed up it can really bend you over backwards,” she says. Santiago agrees. “Once you’ve worked for your health benefits you can’t say they’re not valuable, because you haven’t lost what I’ve lost,” says Santiago. “My wife is diabetic. When she needs her medicine, she needs it. My son is asthmatic. When he needs his medicine I have to go into my pocket.”
Pablo Santiago, a porter at Kingsbridge Heights Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Bronx, N.Y. Santiago and 220 of his co-workers have been on strike over their health benefits since February.
IS UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE FINALLY ON THE HORIZON? November’s election could end eight years of Bush stalling on health care for all.
would make available a portable, national health plan with easy enrollment, comprehensive benefits and guaranteed eligibility. Obama’s plan would create a National Health Insurance Exchange, a watchdog group that would reform the insurance market and ensure fairness for individuals who wish to purchase private insurance.
or the last eight years the Bush Administration has strongarmed state governments into financing health care for our nation’s 46 million uninsured. At the same time the White House has fought off any discussion of a nationalized healthcare plan. With this November’s presidential election, Americans may finally get a workable plan for universal healthcare coverage. Health care tops the agenda of Pablo Santiago, a porter at Kingsbridge Heights Center for Nursing in the Bronx, N.Y. Santiago is among the 220 Kingsbridge workers who have been striking over their health benefits since February 20. He’s been without healthcare coverage for four months. “If we had universal health care everybody would be even in this fight,” says Santiago of the struggle with Kingsbridge management. “The playing field would
lma Ames, a nursing assistant at Greater Southeast Hospital in Washington, D.C. says the health care a society provides its citizens it is a measure of its decency. “We need to address this for our young people and our elderly especially,” says Ames. “Our elderly are being robbed of the care they’ve worked so hard for. They shouldn’t have to worry about what insurance will not cover.” PCA Morrison says there should be a special interest in providing healthcare workers with coverage. “You never know,” she says, laughing. “You may need me one day. It pays to keep me healthy.”
May/June • Our Life And Times
Around Our Union Members and supporters joined Kingsbridge strikers at April 5 candlelight vigil, below.
SEIU Healthcare Chair Dennis Rivera has been named grand marshal of this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade. It is the first time a labor leader has been so honored since the parade began in 1957. The parade up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan will be on Sunday, June 8. Rivera, until last year the President of 1199SEIU, will be accompanied by an 1199SEIU
float and a contingent of 1,000 Union members. The Puerto Rican Day Parade is an annual tribute to Puerto Rican culture and to the contributions of Puerto Ricans to American society. About three million people are expected to attend, with another two million viewing it on live television. Born in Aibonito, P.R., Rivera was educated on the island, where his family still lives. He came to New York City in 1977, where he was hired as an 1199 organizer of
BOSTON HEALTHCARE WORKERS SEEK FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
Hundreds of Massachusetts healthcare workers and their supporters rallied in Boston last October for free and fair union elections at institutions in their state. This year they took the organizing message to opening day at Fenway Park and the Boston Marathon on April 21.
DENNIS RIVERA NAMED GRAND MARSHAL OF 2008 PUERTO RICAN DAY PARADE
On the Boston Red Sox home opener on April 8, 1199SEIU members and non-union hospital workers from Boston teamed up to hand out 15,000 free souvenir scorecards to fans outside Fenway Park calling on Boston hospital executives to allow free and fair secret ballot union elections for hospital staff. Thousands of non-union Massachusetts hospital workers are struggling to make ends meet and thousands can’t afford health insurance for themselves or their families. The caregivers used a familiar game-day tradition to promote their message. Historically, Boston hospital administrators have spent scarce patient care dollars on fear and intimidation campaigns against their own staff in union votes. The workers have asked the CEOs to guarantee that they will not spend patient care dollars to campaign against or intimidate their own workers if the caregivers choose to organize a union for better jobs and patient care.
May/June • Our Life And Times
hospital workers at Montefiore Medical Center and other Bronx facilities. As part of what was then an 1199 national union, he returned to the island to help organize 1199 in Puerto Rico. He was elected President of 1199 in 1989 and reelected through 2007, when he left to take up the leadership of SEIU Healthcare, the 1.1 million member national healthcare workers union. Rivera is the highest ranking Puerto Rican labor leader in the United States.
THOUSANDS SET TO RALLY WITH KINGSBRIDGE STRIKERS At press time, thousands of 1199SEIU members were preparing to take part in a massive May 3 march and rally in solidarity with the striking workers at Kingsbridge Heights Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Bronx, N.Y. The workers struck on Feb. 20 after home owner Helen Sieger cut off the members’ health benefits and refused to negotiate. The strikers were joined by about 3,000 members of 1199SEIU, community supporters and elected officials at a March 15 rally near the facility. The entire Bronx delegation in the New York State Legislature has written to state Health Commissioner Richard Daines urging that he take the home out of the hands of owner Sieger and put it into receivership in the interest of patient care. In appealing to Commissioner Daines, the legislators cited various investigations of possible Medicaid fraud and misuse of government funding, as well as patient care issues. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the state Department of Labor, the Medicaid Inspector General, and the state Department of Health are investigating Sieger’s management of the home and her unfair labor practices.
THE BACK PAGE “We Need Something New” Hema Rawal, left, and Een Mannan, striking CNAs from Kingsbridge Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Bronx, N.Y., temporarily left the picket line at their facility to volunteer for Barack Obama in the April 22 Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. See page 7.
“I am not a person who is talkative, but Obama has motivated me to come out and volunteer. In this country I’ve learned that to make change you have to speak up.” — HEMA RAWAL