A JOURNAL OF 1199SEIU Spring 2013
WE’VE GOT OUR MARCHING SHOES ON And we’re making our voices heard Nicole Darling has been a dietary aide at Absolut of Houghton in Houghton, NY for 10 years. “I really like the residents,” she says. “Some of them I know from my town or other towns around here. They know my parents or my grandparents.” See story on page 8.
Contents 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 14 15
WE’VE GOT OUR MARCHING SHOES ON 1199SEIU members are in the streets and the halls of government fighting for working people’s interests. PRESIDENT’S COLUMN We Are the Union. FLORIDA LOBBY DAY Members flood Tallahassee and tell legislators to have heart, brains and courage. IMMIGRATION REFORM NOW Hundreds of 1199ers headed to Washington, D.C. on April 10 for a national day of action. THE WORK WE DO Absolut of Houghton in Houghton, NY. OUR BOSTON HEROES 1199ers were on the front lines caring for victims of the Marathon Day tragedy. THE WISDOM OF EXPERIENCE Part II of our feature about the special insights of long-time delegates. ONE WHO PAVED THE WAY Retiree Lawrence Silber joined 1199 in 1953. AROUND THE UNION NYC members against gun violence; NJ endorses Barbara Buono for Governor; 1199SEIU supports paid sick day law in NYC.
p.8 Our Life And Times, Spring 2013, Vol 31, No 2 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 Telephone (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org
ACTI NG E DITOR : Patricia Kenney DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY:
Jim Tynan PHOTOG RAPH E R :
Belinda Gallegos ART DI RECTION & DES IG N :
Maiarelli Studio COVE R PHOTOG RAPH :
Jim Tynan PRES I DE NT :
George Gresham S EC RETARY TREASURE R :
Maria Castaneda EXEC UTIVE VIC E PRES I DE NTS :
Norma Amsterdam Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Angela Doyle George Kennedy Steve Kramer Patrick Lindsay Joyce Neil John Reid Bruce Richard Mike Rifkin Monica Russo Rona Shapiro (acting) Neva Shillingford Milly Silva Veronica Turner Laurie Vallone Estela Vazquez
CONTRI BUTORS : Kim Diehl Mike Givens JJ Johnson Bryn Lloyd-Bollard
Our Life And Times is published 5 times a year: Dec/Jan, Feb/Mar, Spring, Summer, and Fall 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 1080-3089. USPS 000-392. Postmaster: Send address changes to Our Life And Times, 310 West 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.
Millicent Peterkin, Grace Plaza Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, Great Neck, NY.
KEEPING OUR MARCHING BOOTS ON On the streets or in the halls of government, 1199ers are on the move and making our voices heard.
embers of 1199SEIU have wellworn marching shoes. We’ve been wearing them since our Union’s founding in 1932. This issue of Our Life And Times is about some of the reasons we still have them on. And why today they’re still laced up tight and ready to go. While we have undoubtedly made progress on the road we have traveled, it’s ultimately the same road. We still march and rally in our streets and at our statehouses and city halls for our union rights, quality healthcare, fair wages, good schools, safe neighborhoods, peace and equality. We’re working to help our children keep the things our grandparents won.
t a rally in Harlem in New York City on March 21 hundreds of 1199ers turned out to support New York State’s SAFE Act and against the gun violence plaguing our nation. Sherril Christian, a linen department worker at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, attended with her co-workers. “A lot of times people don’t understand an issue until it hits home for them — until it happens to them,” said Christian. “But we can’t afford to stand back and let it get to that for people. It’s not what we want or what we are about.” 1199SEIU members are never afraid to speak the truth to those in power; we know there are more of us than there are of them. On March 6, hundreds of Florida region members flooded Tallahassee and challenged lawmakers to accept funding that
Spring • Our Life And Times
ROSE LINCOLN PHOTO
would expand Medicaid to cover more than one million uninsured Floridians. Among them was veteran activist and delegate Pearl Gooden, a CNA at Accentia Health and Rehabilitation Center in Tampa. “It’s a crime if they don’t accept that money from the federal government when our tax dollars pay for them to have healthcare,” said Gooden. “I’m calling the question: we take care of you, but will you take care of us?”
t’s practically in the DNA of 1199SEIU members to stand up for the poor, disenfranchised and voiceless and refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice. We do it best in big numbers, with unity and by being unafraid to raise our voices.
“I have always been like that, even before I was a delegate,” says Richard Colon, a patient access rep II at Boston Medical Center who has served as delegate for 16 of his 18 years at the institution. “Just the way I am they picked me out and asked me if I wanted to help organize. I just like seeing people treated fairly.”
anting to see people treated fairly. No matter who they are. No matter what. That’s the driving force for the 1199SEIU members on these pages, their sisters and brothers in our shops and those who turn out to march in the streets, walk on the picket lines and stand vigilantly behind the police barriers. And it’s the reason we’ll keep lacing up our marching shoes.
MA region members rallied for immigration reform at Boston’s Faneuil Hall on April 6.
It’s practically in the DNA of 1199SEIU members to stand up for the poor, disenfranchised and voiceless and refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice.
THE PRESIDENT’S COLUMN George Gresham
We Are The Union Building our strength means fortifying our chapters and their members. When folks talk about the union, what do they mean? I know that most outsiders—politicians, the news media, many of our partner organizations—and even some of our members think of the union as our officers, our organizers and staff, and our headquarters buildings. But they are mistaken to think so. At least for 1199SEIU, our Union is our members. It’s as simple as that. There could be no Union staff, officers or headquarters without our members. To the rest of the world, especially the political world, our union may sometimes be thought of as a powerhouse. But we are strong only to the extent that our members are strong. When thousands of 1199ers volunteer to work in election campaigns or get on buses to lobby in Washington or our state capitals, we demonstrate the strength of our Union. The central core of our Union’s work, of course, is in our institutions. We negotiate collective bargaining agreements with over 1,000 hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and other employers. Then it is up to our members and our Delegates, helped by our Organizers, to enforce the contracts—to make sure that our employers are living up to the agreements on everything from hours and pay to safe staffing to overtime to use of temp workers. Many members are under the mistaken impression that the union is a kind of insurance company—you pay your dues and in return you get healthcare and pension benefits. In fact, the benefits members enjoy are part of what we’ve achieved in our collective bargaining agreements. But nothing is given to us and there are no guarantees of forever. Whatever we’ve gotten is because we fought for it. If we’re not strong enough to fight, we can lose what we’ve gained. As in the political arena, our Union is only as strong as our members. In our institutions, this means that we are only as strong as our chapters. And, speaking frankly, our chapter strength is uneven. Some of our chapters are solid and tough—and the employers know it. Others are more fragile—and the employers know that also. We are now launching a Union-wide campaign to strengthen our chapters. We call it chapter-building but it is really chapter-strengthening. We officers whom you have elected have, to be perfectly honest with you, been somewhat lax in this regard. The many issues and problems and challenges we face every day are time consuming, and we haven’t always paid the attention to our chapters that they deserve. But that inattention ends now. Happily, we have recruited a brilliant new 1199SEIU Director of Leadership Development, who is already beginning to build a strong education department to give our Delegates and Organizers the tools they need to best represent and fight for our members. But the willingness to fight has to start with you, our members. This begins with active member participation—attending department and chapter meetings, educating ourselves about the issues confronting us. You have just elected your Delegates, who will represent you before your employer. But we still have many other Delegate slots that need filling. If you know of someone in your department who would make a good Delegate—it might even be you—please let the other Delegates and your Organizer know. There will always be room for members who want to be active—if not as Delegates, then as political activists or members of our various committees (e.g., Jobs, Safety and Health, Child Care, etc.). We know how hard you work—some of you at more than one job—in addition to your family and community responsibilities. And many of you take classes to upgrade your job skills or improve your economic prospects. So not everyone is in a position to be a Union activist. But every member has the ability to let their Delegates know that they support the Union and are ready to show it if it becomes necessary. This is what has built the strength that our Union has had for so many years. And this is what we’ll need to meet the difficult challenges ahead. Join me to make our Union stronger!
Letters LEADERS IN TRAINING have been an LIT (Leaders In Training) Program graduate for three years and during this time I have used the skills learned in LIT in my workplace, community group, and even speaking to managers in our labormanagement meetings. There are many parts of the LIT experience. The first was the history of the labor movement. This was something I could deeply relate to being a Black American. The history of labor and the struggles of Black Americans have made us allies in the same war for equality, respect and the right to be a part of the great American experience We help build. Another important class in LIT is the popular education skills course; it helped me focus on the skills of critical thinking. As a delegate, you’re called upon to help negotiate contracts, job descriptions and represent members in disputes in their workplace. The skills that you learn of listening and questioning the question are invaluable during these events. The design course was where we put all the skills we learned together by having us put together a 30-minute education section to other LIT classes or to our workplaces. Three other LIT grads and I put together a half-day class for personal care assistants with our educator Tim Dean during this past election. We also created one about where we go from here as a union. It was a beginning of what I hope will be many workshops I will participate in with other members as we grow as a union during these challenging times. Ultimately, the LIT course will bring out the best in what you want to do, if you want to be an organizer you will find the tools, if political action is your passion, you will find likeminded people to join with, if it’s education the resources are endless.
KARL ODOM Carney Hospital Dorchester, MA
IMMIGRATION REFORM NOW! found your story about our Citizenship Program celebration very touching. I went through the 1199SEIU Citizenship Program and became a citizen in March 2012 after coming to the U.S. from Ghana in 1980. I came here alone and undocumented. I was seeking opportunities for a better life. I have been through all of the things undocumented immigrants go through and I pity people who are going through them now. When you are undocumented you are always hiding and worrying about going to public places. I know what it’s like to be hiding. Now that I am a citizen I am free to enjoy all the benefits and privileges that citizenship brings, like voting and travel. I want to see others treated fairly. People just want to earn a living. They want a better life. They pay their taxes. I hope this happens soon. I feel very, very lucky to be out in the sunlight. Others should be able to come out too.
CECELIA ADU Retiree, Bronx, NY KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK am writing to express my gratitude for the Union’s publication. I loved the one featuring my fellow delegates. It was inspiring to hear what they had to say about participating in our union. We live and work in rural upstate New York, and don’t often feel like a part of the bigger union. This magazine helps us see the whole picture of what our union is accomplishing. Keep up the good work.
MARY HINCKLEY Absolut of Houghton, Houghton, NY Let’s Hear From You Our Life And Times welcomes your letters. Please email them to PatriciaK@1199.org or snail mail them to Patricia Kenney, 1199SEIU OLAT, 330 West 42nd St., 7th floor, New York, NY 10036. Please include your telephone number and place of work. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.
New delegates sworn in at a NYC assembly in Oct. 2011.
Spring • Our Life And Times
Florida Delegates Sound the Alarm Hundreds travel to Tallahassee and urge lawmakers to support Medicaid expansion.
undreds of members of 1199SEIU flooded Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee March 6 for a massive day of action to demand legislators support the expansion of Medicaid to more than a million uninsured Floridians. Throughout a day of almost 100 lobby visits, members also held a press conference and flash mob-style sing-along, during which hundreds of caregivers’ voices echoed through the halls of the Capitol in the refrain “Come on and save some lives, save some lives tomorrow, Come on and save some lives, save some lives tomorrow, Won’t you take the money, it will make us strong, Come on and save some lives, save some lives tomorrow.” Workers were joined by the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow, who all demanded lawmakers use their brains, courage and hearts to expand Medicaid to 1.2 million hardworking Floridians. Delegates repeatedly told their legislators
Spring • Our Life And Times
that accepting the $27 billion in federal funding is the right thing to do and a decision against expansion would place political ideology over saving lives and creating jobs. Pearl Gooden, a CNA at Accentia Health and Rehabilitation Center in Tampa, came to the Lobby Day ready to challenge lawmakers. “It’s a crime if they don’t accept that money from the federal government when our tax dollars pay for them to have healthcare,” said Gooden. “I’m calling the question: ‘We take care of you, but will you take care of us?’”
any Florida legislators oppose accepting the Medicaid expansion plan - a key part of the Affordable Care Act - that would pay all costs for Florida to expand their Medicaid rolls by up to a million people for three years. After that Florida will receive federal matching funds of 90 cents for every dollar the state contributes.
The day of action took place just two weeks after Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, a vehement opponent of the Affordable Care Act, reversed himself and made a surprising declaration that he would accept federal funding to expand Medicaid if a bill were passed. However, in House Speaker Will Weatherford’s opening speech, Weatherford expressed outright opposition to expanding Medicaid, despite having his brother’s medical care paid for by the Medically Needy Program, which was funded with Medicaid dollars.
or Tiffany Turpin, a restorative aide at South Tampa Health and Rehabilitation Center, the Lobby Day was personal. Turpin was recently diagnosed with lupus and cannot afford her employer’s medical plan. She gets by with prednisone and the occasional visit to a local clinic. “If I could get health insurance and see a rheumatologist I wouldn’t have to be on prednisone. There is actual medicine to treat lupus, but I don’t have the means. Rheumatologists are very expensive if you don’t have health insurance,” she explained. “My son and the hope that one day legislators will do what’s right and expand Medicaid are what keep me going. I have to keep getting up. I have to keep going.” You can watch a video and listen to the song on the 1199SEIU Florida Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/1199SEIUFlorida.
Hundreds of Florida region 1199ers flooded Tallahassee March 6 urging lawmakers to accept critical Medicaid expansion funding that would create jobs and save lives.
“MY SON AND THE HOPE THAT ONE DAY LEGISLATORS WILL DO WHAT’S RIGHT AND EXPAND MEDICAID ARE WHAT KEEP ME GOING.” — TIFFANY TURPIN, restorative aide, South Tampa Health and Rehabilitation Center
THE TIME IS
New Jersey region members (from left) Jeffrey Jimenez, a CNA at Woodcrest Care One and Ezekiel Glemaud, a CNA at Wayne Atrium and Preakness Health. They were joined by Iesha Jones, who came with her mother Alice Nicholson, a worker from Concord NH in Lakewood, NJ.
No more waiting to fix our broken immigration system, say members.
A group of 400 members of 1199SEIU traveled to Washington, DC April 10 and joined thousands of people who came from across the country to rally in support of reforming the nation’s broken immigration system. In vast numbers and in a unified voice that could be heard throughout downtown DC, they told lawmakers to pass bi-partisan legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million new Americans and put in place new processes for some of the current system's draconian practices. “Si se puede,” the crowd chanted and “Obama, escucha estamos en la lucha.” (Obama, listen we are in struggle). They carried signs demanding an end to deportations and calling on elected officials to stop playing politics with people’s lives. Artists marched with giant puppets of Uncle Sam and entire contingents came in traditional dress from their home countries. “It’s very exciting to be here. I’m originally from Sierra Leone and I came here as a student. I decided to stay and became a citizen, but so many people are hiding. They get paid low wages. It’s good for us to be here so everyone can have equal rights,” said Alima Cole, an LPN at Regency Heritage Care Center in Somerset, NJ. Members from the Union’s New York City,
Capital Region, Maryland/DC and New Jersey regions made the trip and joined an ebullient crowd that cascaded like a rainbow down the Capitol steps. In what seemed a perfect metaphor for the day, many sought shelter from the unseasonably strong sun beneath their American flags. The rally turned the National Mall into a virtual United Nations; there were flags from every corner of the globe, with every kind of family, person and worker represented in some way. Speakers included celebrities, artists, elected officials and representatives from the labor movement including Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry, and Hector Figueroa, president of 1199SEIU's sister union, Local 32-BJ. Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, was the day's keynote speaker. 1199SEIU and its members have been active leaders in the struggle for immigration reform. Around the regions, members, their supporters and numerous coalition partners participated in several events leading up to the April 10 rally in Washington, DC: Massachusetts region members rallied at Boston’s Faneuil Hall on April 8 in support of immigration reform. In New York City on March 21 1199SEIU members joined others from New Yorkers
for Real Immigration Reform in an all-day vigil at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village to call on elected officials to pass immigration reform legislation that keeps families together and provides a real path to citizenship. The event also highlighted how the current system tears families apart; changing that injustice was a primary motivator for many who attended the April 10 rally. “I wasn't able to see my mother for 20 years. I was a baby when she came here from Haiti,” said Sanky Miracle, a CNA at Meridian Rehab in Shrewsbury, NJ. “She came here undocumented and then she brought me. My grandmother raised me, but I missed my mother's presence. When families are separated it isn't a good thing. They need to be together. When mothers and fathers aren't there, it's a piece missing from your life.” Cliff Barker, an LPN at the Ryan Health Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side, came away from the day feeling positive and motivated to do more. “I believe it's important for me to be here. People work hard and they should be offered the privilege of citizenship,” said Barker. “My father came here as an immigrant from Guyana and worked for his citizenship. And I got mine because of him. Others should have the chance too.”
“When families are separated it isn't a good thing. They need to be together.” – Sanky Miracle CNA at Meridian Rehab, Shrewsbury, NJ.
Spring • Our Life And Times
DAVE SANDERS PHOTO
April 10 National Day of Action for immigration reform included rallies in White Plains, NY (above) and massive Washington, DC mobilization (at left and below).
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks with 1199SEIU members at April 6 immigration reform action in Boston.
ROSE LINCOLN PHOTO
Spring â€˘ Our Life And Times
THE WORK WE DO: 6
Absolut Care of Houghton Absolut Care of Houghton is located in the village of Houghton, NY, about a 90-minute drive south of Rochester. It’s a small facility in a small community, but the 1199SEIU members at the institution care for patients with a broad spectrum of needs – from shortterm stays for rehabilitation to long-term residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Houghton’s location makes possible a special familiarity between the workers and their patients. “I really like the residents and taking care of them,” says dietary aide Nicole Darling. “Some of them I know from my town or other towns around here. They know my parents or my grandparents.”
Spring • Our Life And Times
THE WORK WE DO
“When you work with residents regularly you can find out what they like and don’t like and you can help them.” — Absolut Care of Houghton CNA Crystal Mason
1. Laundry worker Carol Thompson takes care of the linens for 100 Absolut Houghton residents daily. 2. Ana Mejia, a CNA at Absolut Care of Houghton, moves on to her next patient. Mejia and her co-workers care for patients with a variety of conditions — from short-term rehab cases to longterm residents with dementia. 3. CNA Christina Washburn 4. CNA Crystal Mason works with patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “When you work with residents regularly you find out what they like and don’t like and you can help them, whether it’s music or a particular TV show,” says Mason at Absolut Houghton for seven years. “If you’re moving between floors you can’t make sure they get those things.” 5. Matthew Williams, dietary aide at Absolut Houghton since Feb. 6. “I was out of work for quite a while when I started here,” says Williams, who’s engaged to the mother of his oneyear-old daughter. “I loved the feeling of finally having a paycheck coming in.” 6. CNA Wanda Bucholz 7. CNA Brezi Brown
Spring • Our Life And Times
OUR BOSTON HEROES 1199ers were on the front lines of caring for victims of the Marathon Day tragedy. On Monday, April 15, in the wake of the tragic events that unfolded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, 1199SEIU members, fellow frontline responders, and others jumped into action to provide care and comfort to victims of the tragedy. Boston Medical Center (BMC), minutes away from the site of the explosions, received several of the casualties that day. Frontline healthcare workers at the hospital, including many 1199SEIU members, answered the call of duty to save lives and provide exceptional care. “It was crazy there for a good while. It was a
traumatic atmosphere. We saw double amputees, people with shrapnel. It was horrific,” said Brian Johnson, an anesthesia technician at BMC. Johnson said that what he saw was very traumatic, even in the context of a hospital that sees a major percentage of Boston’s most severe trauma cases. Brian said that in the face of tragedy, BMC staff have risen to the occasion — and have depended on each other to persevere and continue delivering exceptional care in the aftermath of the terrible events of April 15. “It was good to see everyone working together ROSE LINCOLN PHOTO
in harmony. That really mattered a lot to me,” Johnson said. Brenda Voight, an Emergency Room RN at BMC, echoed Johnson sentiment about April 15. “Everybody pitched in, from transport to registration to interpreters, dietary, secretaries. It was an incredible, incredible group effort,” said Voight. “Other nurses and doctors from other parts of the hospital came. Radiology came. I’ve never felt more proud of our hospital.” “You were seeing amputations everywhere,” she continued. “We had 16 critical patients within 30 minutes. Everybody did an incredible job. What a horrific, horrific thing happened. Everyone wanted to help. I mean everyone. It was so good to see. We would not have done that good without a team effort.” Trudy Joseph, a pre-surgical services representative, didn’t have direct access to patients, but commented on the overall atmosphere of the hospital and her fellow 1199SEIU members and other staff rushing to help people in need. “It was crazy. Everybody was sad, trying to figure out what was going on. It was unbelievable. My department books surgical rooms. We stayed into the evening. The emergency room was very crowded,” she said. Joseph’s shift was supposed to end earlier that afternoon, but like many medical staff across the City of Boston, she stayed into the evening assisting her co-workers in coordinating and providing care. Although there was a lot of chaos with people in pain and suffering, Trudy said the staff rallied together to provide comfort to the victims and their families. “When I passed by the ER, I saw everyone talking to each other. People were trying to support one another. You saw people who were trying to be there for the next person,” she said. From nurses to maintenance workers to unit secretaries to patient access representatives, 1199SEIU members delivered — and continue to bring — compassion and comfort to the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy. 1199SEIU’s President George Gresham, Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda and Executive Vice President Veronica Turner expressed their sympathies and support in a joint email: “As a united family of 375,000 caregivers across the East Coast, including nearly 50,000 caregivers in Massachusetts, we send our deepest condolences, unity, and love to the families and friends of the departed. We extend our unity, love, and prayers also to those still battling for life or against injury — whether they are in our direct care or in the capable caring hands of our medical colleagues across the great City of Boston.” You can contribute to the One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, at OneFundBoston.org.
“People were trying to support one another. You saw people who were trying to be there for the next person.” — Trudy Joseph, pre-surgical services representative, Boston Medical Center
Spring • Our Life And Times
e r o MWISDOM &
EXPERIENCE This is the second of a two-part feature dedicated to our long-time delegates. The last Our Life And Times was about the importance of our delegates; this issue is about the things that mobilize, radicalize and ultimately keep our delegates and the rest of our Union on the move. With the question of what it takes to be a good leader in mind, we once again asked some of our long-serving delegates what insights theyâ€™ve gained over their years as trade unionists.
Millicent Peterkin, Grace Plaza Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, Great Neck, NY, receptionist, delegate for 23 years. 11
Spring â€˘ Our Life And Times
Jo-Ann Holmes, Home Health Management, New York, NY, home health aide, delegate for 15 years.
. y a w t h g i r e h t e l p o e p d a e l o t e v a h u Yo . s e m i t t a m r i f e b o t e v a You h . t a h t t c e j o r p o t e v a h u o y And . r e h t o m a I’m . e m o t y l l a r u t a n s e m o It c Darrie Neely, Genesis Perring Parkway, Baltimore, MD, housekeeper, delegate for 20 years. JAY MALLIN PHOTO
Spring • Our Life And Times
Richard Colon, Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA, patient access representative II, delegate for 16 years.
Evelyn Harris, Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital, Niagara Falls, NY, patient care assistant, delegate for 30 years.
Spring â€˘ Our Life And Times
Who Paved The Way From drugstore delivery boy to delegate to Bronx Zoo guide.
he life of 1199SEIU retiree Lawrence Silber spans the history of the Union. Silber was born in Queens, New York, in 1931, just months before the founding of Local 1199, Retail Drug Employees Union, 1199SEIU’s predecessor. Silber joined the Union in 1954 and has carried his Union card proudly since then. “My life would have been far different without 1199,” he readily admits. “I worked in a pharmacy as a teenager, but I had no plans to become a pharmacists until two of my close friends decided to go to pharmacy school and I decided to do the same,” Silber recalls. After graduating in 1953, Silber landed a job at Manhattan midtown drugstore where he earned about $84 a week — or a little more than $2 an hour. He says that he fondly recalls serving celebrities such as the Radio City dancers, the Rockettes, but the job didn’t have a lot else to offer. “Although I had my pharmacy degree, I mainly did the work of a clerk, and we never had union meetings,” he says. We paid dues to some union whose name I can’t
ever remember, but we didn’t get much for it,” he adds. A friend told Silber about an opening at Forest Heights Pharmacy in Queens. “I applied for the job and was hired,” Silber says. “I became a member of 1199, and for the first time, I got to do the work of a pharmacist.” Silber remembers the owners of the pharmacy as a fabulous couple, both of whom were deeply rooted in the community. “They treated the workers fairly, and we were like family,” Silber says. When the owners of the pharmacy decided to retire, Silber and his pharmacist friend were able to scrape together the money to buy the business. “That didn’t end my Union membership,” Silber stresses. “I didn’t want to lose my benefits, so I stayed in the Union and continued to pay dues.”
fter about seven years at Forest Heights Pharmacy, Silber’s co-owner bought him out. And about seven months later, Silber was hired as a lead pharmacist at a Pathmark store on Long Island. For virtually all of those of years he also was a Union delegate.
“I wanted to be a delegate because I knew it was a way to fight for my rights. And I wanted to help continue everything we had won,” Silber says. “Remember when I joined 1199, we were a small Union but members were committed. For example we didn’t have the building on 43rd Street. “I remember being on a number of contract negotiating teams where we sometimes had to bargain all night to reach agreements. It was all worth it.”
ilber also recalls marching on picket lines in the late 1950s and early 1960s during the historic hospital organizing campaign. “We pharmacists discussed whether we should take on the responsibility and I said that we should because for unions, there is strength in numbers. And look at us now. We are one of the biggest and strongest. “I also thought that it was the right thing to do.” And that was Silber’s philosophy as a delegate. “If I thought a member was in the wrong, I would let them know,” he says. “And I was willing to stick my neck out for the members because I knew that as a delegate, the Union leadership would always
back me up.” Silber can be found at the 1199SEIU Retirees Manhattan office on Monday’s when he attends opera and art appreciation classes. Both are provided for any interested 1199SEIU retirees in the region. “It’s another benefit of being an 1199 retiree,” he says. “And I’ve been receiving benefits throughout my Union life. I’ve had medical benefits for my wife and children,” he says. “And the monthly pension check is a blessing.” Silber is proud that one of his two grown children is a pharmacist and a granddaughter is in pharmacy school. “Since my father-in-law also was a pharmacist, that makes four generations of pharmacists in the family,” he says. Silber also embarked on another career in retirement. Once a week for the last 16 years, he has worked as volunteer guide at the Bronx Zoo. “I’ve always liked animals and one of the things I enjoyed most as a pharmacist was talking to people. I get to do that now as a zoo docent. “I have a lot to be thankful for, including my membership in 1199.”
“As a delegate, I knew the Union leadership would always back me up.” — Retiree Lawrence Silber
Retiree Lawrence Silber with a photo from his early days as a member of 1199.
Spring • Our Life And Times
Around the Union
Gun Violence ˝New Jersey Governor Race ˝Paid Sick Leave
NJ 1199ers endorse Sen. Barbra Buono for Governor at Women’s Day event
Hundreds of 1199ers were among 5,000 at Harlem rally against gun violence March 21.
MEMBERS RALLY AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE Hundreds of 1199SEIU members were among the 5,000 New Yorkers who gathered in Harlem March 21 for a rally in support of the NY SAFE Act and against the epidemic of gun violence sweeping the nation. The rally was sponsored by New York Voices Against Gun Violence, a wideranging coalition that includes community leaders, elected officials, clergy, labor unions, victims of gun violence, and many other concerned citizens. “Too many of our young kids are dying. We have to step up and do something as parents and union members. We can’t just sit at home and watch this on television,” said Sherril Christian, a linen department worker at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, as she gestured to the crowd around her. “I’m a mother and I worry if my kids are going to come home. I have a son, 20, and a daughter, 14, and I can’t always wait for them to get home because I have to work.” A host of elected officials spoke at the rally, as did Rev. Al Sharpton and 1199SEIU Pres. George Gresham, who challenged the crowd to take up the responsibility of building a safer and more civilized society by supporting common sense legislation like NY SAFE Act. The Act includes mental health background checks and limits on high-capacity ammunition rounds. “History should not reflect that Sandy Hook happened and we did nothing about it,” said Gresham. The event’s special guest was singer Tony Bennett, a civil rights activist and tireless supporter of progressive causes. Corey Bell, a patient care associate at Beth Israel Medical Center, agreed with Bennett and said healthcare workers have a special perspective on the costs of gun violence; they see the victims in our hospitals every day. “Protecting one’s self is one thing, but we are living in a war zone,” said Bell. “These weapons that fire off 15 or 20 rounds in a few seconds – that’s how innocent people die. We want laws that are going to prevent that kind of violence.”
Spring • Our Life And Times
A late-winter blizzard didn’t faze 1199SEIU members as they headed to the Rutgers Labor Education Center in New Brunswick, NJ March 8 to host an International Women’s Day celebration. The event, which highlighted the leading role of women in fighting for social and economic justice, drew feminist activists from as far away as Zambia and the Philippines. It was also attended by some of New Jersey’s most influential political leaders, including State Senator Barbara Buono, who is running for governor. The importance of International Women’s Day wasn’t lost on Regina Santos, a dietary aide at Forest Hill Healthcare Center in Newark, NJ. Santos has worked at Forest Hill for four years and provides meals for dozens of elderly people each day. She feeds her residents with love and compassion because, like many others in New Jersey, she has known what it’s like to go hungry. At the event, Santos shared with the audience a story of her past: getting into trouble as a teenager, being sent to youth home, becoming a mother at 17, and eventually living on the streets.
and much more attention needs to be paid to serving the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities. These are among the many reasons why 1199SEIU members are ramping up their political activities and hosting events like International Women’s Day – to ensure that our elected officials will be advocates for working families. “Electing Sen. Barbara Buono as our next governor is at the top of our to-do list,” said Santos. “She thinks like we think. She supports everything that helps poor and middle class communities grow.” 1199SEIU endorsed Buono in March citing her support for raising the minimum wage, efforts to get dangerous weapons off the streets, and commitment to stand
alongside health care workers on the picket line. At the event Buono acknowledged the inspiration she gets from women like Santos and other 1199ers. “It is so good to be around 1199SEIU women and men because you remind me of what we are fighting for. You are the caretakers of the most vulnerable, the sickest in our nursing homes and hospitals,” Buono said. “The work you do—just so you know this—keeps me going. You are the voices of working families who are united in a simple message that it’s time for a change in New Jersey.”
NJ 1199ers with Sen. Barbara Buono, who they endorsed for governor at an International Women’s Day event March 8.
“But one day,” she said, “something came over me and I became very tired of the way I was living. I joined support groups and became more involved in the community. I gave myself a chance to love myself and my family.” Santos received a standing ovation from the crowd and her story brought into sharp relief the realities facing New Jerseyans today: too many are going hungry, victimized by violence,
PAID SICK LEAVE TO BECOME LAW IN NYC Spring in New York City heralded a major victory for the workers’ justice movement when the City Council and its president, Christine Quinn, reached agreement on a paid sick leave bill. 1199SEIU and its allies had fought for years for the legislation, Intro 97A. Introduced by Manhattan Council Member Gale Brewer, the bill would require businesses with 20 or more employees beginning on April 1, 2014 to provide five sick days a year to their employees. The paid leave would extend to businesses with 15 or more employees on Oct. 1, 2015. In addition, the bill would require all businesses regardless of size to provide unpaid sick leave to their employees beginning April 1, 2014. 1199SEIU is a member of the Paid Sick Days Coalition that led the long campaign. Pres. George Gresham issued a statement following the agreement. It said in part: “As nurses and caregivers, the members of our Union know how important this paid sick day legislation is for working people and the public health of our entire city. This law will allow hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to stay home and recover from illness or take care of a sick child without fear of losing a paycheck or their jobs. Paid sick days are also good for
employers in the long run and our overall economy. However, we are disappointed that some business lobbyists put pressure on the City Council to water down this vital legislation and weaken the original language. Together with our brothers and sisters in this coalition, we will continue to fight for the interests of working families, and advance a strong progressive agenda for our city.” Some 145 nations provide paid sick days for its workers. But one million New Yorkers and 44 million in the nation do not have paid sick days. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-CT) recently introduced the Healthy Families Act in Congress. It would provide seven paid sick days each year. Several states, including Massachusetts are considering sick-leave bills. Paid sick days generally are taken for granted by union members. “I think it’s crazy for any employer not to provide paid sick days,” says 1199SEIU Delegate Veretta Owens, the lead access care coordinator at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, Queens. “If employers want committed workers, they should show some concerns for their workers’ health.” At press time, the Council was scheduled to vote on the measure on May 8.
“If employers want committed workers, they should show some concerns for their workers’ health.” — Veretta Owens, lead access care coordinator, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, Far Rockaway, NY
THE BACK PAGE
THE TIME IS NOW! Hundreds of 1199ers were among the participants who came to Washington, DC on April 10 for a massive rally to demand immigration reform now. See pages 6-7.