A JOURNAL OF 1199SEIU August/September 2011
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ABOVE AND BEYOND Our members build bridges to heal our nation and the world. PRESIDENT’S COLUMN Fighting mad, but hopeful. MARRIAGE EQUALITY 1199ers help win marriage equality in New York State. THEY, TOO, ARE AMERICA Immigration is a Union issue. HEALING HAITI Members give of themselves to restore the wounded nation. THE WORK WE DO New York Downtown Hospital members recall 9/11. MISSION TO GHANA Buffalo members volunteer at rural African hospital. OUR DELEGATE LEADERS Buffalo’s Rose Speranza and Maryland’s Imogene Hall. PEOPLE New Bedford PCA Ariane Martin is a photographer. AROUND THE UNION Brookdale members fight for benefits, Kaleida workers hang tough.
p.7 Our Life And Times, August/September 2011, Vol 29, No 4 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 Telephone (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org
New York Downtown Hospital paramedic Juana Lomi.
PRES I DE NT : George Gresham
p.12 E DITOR : J.J. Johnson STAFF WRITE R : Patricia Kenney DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY:
Jim Tynan PHOTOG RAPH E R : Belinda Gallegos ART DI RECTION & DES IG N :
Maiarelli Studio COVE R PHOTO : Belinda Gallegos
S EC RETARY TREASURE R :
Maria Castaneda EXEC UTIVE VIC E PRES I DE NTS :
Norma Amsterdam Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Angela Doyle Aida Garcia George Kennedy Steve Kramer Patrick Lindsay Joyce Neil John Reid Bruce Richard Mike Rifkin Monica Russo Neva Shillingford Milly Silva Veronica Turner Laurie Vallone Estela Vazquez
Our Life And Times is published 6 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 1080-3089. USPS 000-392. Postmaster: Send address changes to Our Life And Times, 310 West 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.
Jim Crampton Photo
CALL OF DUTY Our members build bridges while others sow hate.
The Union’s historic mission has been to organize and unite all workers to fight for a better life for members and all working people. Guided by these principles, members throughout our Union provide the best possible care to their patients and work equally hard to heal our nation. From contributing to our Martin Luther King Jr. Political Action Fund to volunteering within their communities, these members find many ways to answer the call. And they are doing so in an especially difficult environment, one in which those who represent the moneyed interests are going to extreme lengths to cripple government. Most of these right-wing Republican extremists argue that government retards progress and economic development, and that corporations and the business community are the engines of economic progress. Corporations and the rich, they argue, would get our economy and nation back on their feet if the government would just get out of their way. Progressives and Democrats counter that government, indeed, has a role. And that role is to protect the interests of the great majority — working people, the poor and small-business people — and curb the greed and rapaciousness of the corporations and moneyed interests. They say also that in addition to keeping our country safe, government has a responsibility to protect our environment, build and maintain our infrastructure and help the most vulnerable — including children and seniors — among us. Earlier this summer, the debate over the role of government took the form of the fight over raising our nation’s debt ceiling. What used to be a routine occurrence (the ceiling has been raised 90 times since 1940) was elevated to an epic battle by extreme Republicans bent on weakening programs such as Social Security and
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Medicare and prolonging the recession through the 2012 national elections. These extremists care far more about crippling government so that corporations and the very rich can have free rein than they care about the nation’s debt. That is the meaning of the attacks on public workers and unions across the nation. That is the reason for the assault on the Environmental Protection Agency and other government bodies that attempt to block corporate crimes. Although in the main we are not public workers, 1199SEIU members are victims of this assault. Powerful interests are working hard to erase the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. And we’re organizing and fighting back to stop them. Scores of members are leaders in these battles. And then there are those who go beyond the call of duty. Some travel thousands of miles to care for others. For example, for the last four years, 1199SEIU members from Kaleida Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo have traveled to a small village in the African nation of Ghana to provide much needed advanced medical services. 1199ers from several states have traveled to Haiti to care for victims of last year’s earthquake. Members in all of the Union’s regions have participated in actions for immigration reform, among them immigrants who are in the various stages of the path to citizenship. Retired New York City members leave the comfort of their homes to take part in actions against the powerful banks to dramatize the need to redirect our failed economy. Finally, Our Life And Times visited New York Downtown Hospital members who were first responders on Sept. 11, 2001. They, too, went beyond the call of duty.
Tibrum Tanao, a resident of Saboba, Ghana, holds health insurance card. A group of 1199ers traveled to Saboba this year to provide much-needed medical care.
The Union’s historic mission has been to organize and unite all workers to fight for a better life for members and for all working people.
THE PRESIDENT’S COLUMN George Gresham
Fighting Mad “We are many. They are few.” I don’t know about you but I am angry. I read the morning papers and watch the evening news and it makes me mad how badly our country— or at least our government— has lost its way. More than 23 million Americans cannot find full-time work. More than 15 million American families (one-third of home-owners) owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Some 50 million Americans can’t see a doctor when they are sick. But in Washington, they apparently don’t get any of this. At least, they aren’t talking about it. What they are talking about is “the deficit”— which opinion polls say only one in 10 Americans thinks is important—and getting “spending under control.” Nobody seems to remember that we had a surplus during the Clinton Administration and that when George W. Bush started his wars and cut taxes for billionaires, thereby creating the deficit, the Republican Party didn’t seem to care. That was then. This is now: Unemployment doesn’t matter; the infrastructure doesn’t matter; Social Security and Medicare don’t matter. The environment, our children and their schools, accelerating poverty—none of that matters. What matters is the deficit. What this means, in reality, is demanding that working- and middleclass families pay off the debts that we did not create. The most massive transfer of wealth from the American people to the very wealthy is taking place in front of our eyes. We are told that the government is broke, that we cannot afford to pay for public services, or to put people to work. Yet the country is swimming in money. The financial assets of the billionaires and the biggest corporations are at historic highs. For 30 years, virtually all benefits of economic growth have gone to the richest one percent of Americans. Taxpayers gave away trillions of dollars in bailouts to the giant banks and insurance corporations that, in turn, pay few or no taxes while giving their executives multimillion dollar bonuses. Bank of America paid no federal taxes for 2010. GE, which made $14 billion in profits last year, not only paid no taxes; it got a $3.2 billion tax credit from Washington. Despite all the fine talk about “shared sacrifice,” our politicians in Washington and our state houses— even those who should know better— refuse to make the bankers and the corporations pay their fair share. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, “If you took the greed out of Wall Street, all you’d have is pavement.” When you’re in debt, you have a choice of raising revenue or cutting back. Since Washington and our state capitals refuse to make the rich pay their share, they make us cut back. Meantime, our states and localities are operating in the hole, forced to cut hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and other essential public servants from the payrolls, while freezing wages and cutting health and pension benefits for those who remain. Schools, health care, public and workplace safety have been cut to the bone. Nothing remains to be cut except Social Security and Medicare. And now they’re coming after that. What apparently is off the table for the national leadership, in addition to a fair tax system, are cuts in military spending. We spend some $1.2 trillion every year to pay for our current and past wars and to prepare for future wars. Our military budget is more than the combined military budgets of the rest of the world. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone will cost us $4 trillion. And now we’re fighting in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and who knows where else. Washington tells us we “can’t afford” a raise in the minimum wage, programs to improve literacy, anything approaching jobs creation, or funds for rebuilding our decayed bridges, tunnels, levees and roads. But we can afford $4 trillion for Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater and the other military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I’m angry. But I’m also hopeful. I see what working people like us are doing to fight back in Greece and Egypt and Spain and Wisconsin. We are in a world of trouble but the only way out is to fight our way out. It has always been that way for working folk. We have to remember that “we are many, they are few.”
Letters TAX THE RICH n his column in the March/April issue of Our Life And Times, President George Gresham makes a strong case for a militant struggle against the current attack on unions and the public sector. He states that it’s a “lie of monstrous proportions” that our country is broke. “Our country is extremely wealthy,” he states, “but the wealth is not in our hands.” He points to the solidarity and militancy of the struggles in Wisconsin last February as leading the way forward. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, this is not the same tune our Union was singing when encouraging us to rally for Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Plan (MRP), which slashed $2 billion in State Medicaid funding (which will lead to an additional $2 billion loss in federal matching funds). At that time, George told us that, with New York facing massive budget deficits, there would have to be pain, but at least it was shared pain. But who is sharing this pain with us? Certainly not Wall St. nor the wealthy of New York, who Gov. Cuomo has vowed to defend against any tax increases. While the MRP included dearly needed living wage language for our home health workers, it also meant painful cuts throughout the medical system, in particular for nursing homes. Even after four decades of declining living standards, it appears yet again that only working people and the poor are being asked to pay for this crisis. To paraphrase our president, the idea that the country is broke is a big fat lie. Wall St. fat cats continue to line their pockets, thanks to hundreds of billions of dollars in government bailouts. We as a labor movement need to be drawing a line in the sand and saying “No Concessions!” We need to take back what decades of tax breaks for the rich and corporations have stolen from us. It’s time for our actions to match our rhetoric. The future for all working people depends on it.
LUCY HERSCHEL The Legal Aid Society, Queens, NY Editor’s Note: Throughout the NYS budget debate, 1199SEIU lobbied and demonstrated—unfortunately unsuccessfully—in Albany and within the legislative districts in support of increased taxes on the wealthy.
Retiree Lesvia Mendez RETIREES STEP UP am among the retirees who have been calling other retired 1199ers to ask them to contribute to our Martin Luther King Jr. Political Action Fund. Our Retirees Local launched this campaign so that our Union can fight back against the attacks on unions, working people and seniors. I volunteer at least one hour every week. Whether I speak to members in English or Spanish, I tell them that our Union must be strong politically to survive during these critical times. I tell my retired sisters and brothers that our Social Security is under attack and that strengthening our Union also helps to protect our pensions. I also tell them that we need to be strong not only for seniors, but also for future generations. I would spend more time volunteering at the Union, but I also am working in my Queens community to help organize tenants against rent increases. I also work part-time to help make ends meet and spend time helping sick friends and relatives. But I will always find some time to come to our headquarters and help because I love my Union and I realize that these are desperate times. I hope more retirees will do the same. They should join the Retirees Local and contribute to our political action fund.
LESVIA MENDEZ Queens, NY Let’s Hear From You Our Life And Times welcomes your letters. Please email them to email@example.com or snail mail them to JJ Johnson, 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.
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“IT’S REALLY BEAUTIFUL TO SEE
Things Change” 1199ers were on the front lines of New York State’s struggle for Marriage Equality. here was celebration across New York State when on June 24, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the state’s Marriage Equality Act. A lot of 1199ers were on the front lines of the fight to get the legislation passed — staffing phone banks, canvassing communities and trekking to Albany regularly for demonstrations and lobby days. The struggle won equality for gay, lesbian and mixedgender couples under New York’s matrimonial laws and highlighted the reality in today’s society that family comes in many forms. Mark Black is a social worker retired from St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, NY. He’s been with his partner Glen Leiner for 15 years. Black and Leiner are long-time advocates for marriage equality. “We’d done phone banking and gone to all the rallies in Albany, but when the parents, children and siblings spoke, that was what really personalized it and confirmed the realities of our lives for people,” says Black. “Now you get to see the contrast of what marriage is and what it is becoming, and it’s really beautiful to see things change,” says Leiner. In fact, statistics from the last U.S. Census show that traditional, nuclear families are the minority of the nation’s households. “Glen and I are very committed to each other. His family loves and accepts me. We’ve been domestic partners for seven or eight years,” says Black. “It’s not that our relationship needs the state’s blessing, but we know that the larger landscape requires it.”
austen Wollerman, a field director with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, agrees with Black. For many in the LGBT community, says Wollerman, an 1199SEIU delegate, marriage is about insuring the partnerships people already have. “Marriage is being able to share in a long-term committed relationship and being able to participate in that relationship and all the perks that come with it,” says Wollerman. Wollerman, 26, is a transgender male and has been with his partner JB for two years. “If [my partner and I] decide to have kids I want to be sure that we don’t have to jump through hoops to visit them in the hospital or at school.”
nd in a failing economy we have to lean on our partners more than ever,” he adds. “So we need those protections of marriage more than ever. When we talk about gay marriage, we are talking about everything. It’s about raising the bar of acceptance in our whole society.” As far as things have come, says Black, there’s still work to be done. “There are still 28 states that don’t recognize gay marriage,” says Black’s partner, Glen Leiner. “So the status of your relationship depends on where your plane lands.” “And even with the Union, it wasn’t easy when we wanted to get our benefits,” says Black. “We had to bring in seven or eight pieces of documentation in addition to our domestic partnership agreement.” Wollerman understands that there are more struggles, but praises those who stood by the courage of their convictions. “I’m really proud of the legislators who took such a strong stand on this and I hope that people who changed their minds grappling with it really changed their values,” says Wollerman. “I have a lot of compassion for people who struggle with gay marriage. It’s hard to change your views. But the truth is, gay people have been around forever and there’s nothing wrong with us.”
Top: Retired social worker Mark Black (right) and his partner Glen Leiner. At left: Causten Wollerman (left), field director with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a transgender male, with his partner JB.
Marriage is being able to share a longterm, committed relationship and all the perks that come with it.
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They, Too, Are AMERICA Immigration reform is a union issue. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. But that doesn’t change the fact that the immigration issue is one of the most vexing and polarizing in our nation. 1199SEIU has long supported comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented. And it has consistently opposed anti-immigrant measures such as Arizona’s apartheid-like immigration law. “The problem with today’s economy is not immigrants,” says 1199SEIU Pres. George Gresham.” The problem is our broken immigration laws that allow big business and crooked bosses to exploit workers who lack legal status, driving down wages for all workers.” 1199ers from Florida to Massachusetts have participated in actions and lobbied elected officials for comprehensive immigration reform in their home states and in the nation’s capital. On June 17, young activists, members of the New York State Leadership Council (NYSLC) addressed the 1199SEIU’s Executive Council to ask for the Union’s support for the NYS Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and members of the military. Council members voted unanimously to support the bill and
“Becoming a citizen has made this the best year of my life,” says Francisco Robles, a cook at Manhattan’s Mt. Sinai Hospital.
urged support for similar legislative initiatives in all of the Union’s regions. The 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund also helps put immigrant members on a path to citizenship. Close to 8,000 1199ers from scores of nations have taken that path through the 1199SEIU Citizenship Program. The program offers counseling, workshops and application preparation. It also offers classes in English as a Second Language, U.S. History, Government and Civics, which prepare members for the citizenship interview and exam. “July 14, the anniversary of the French revolution, was one of the happiest days of my life,” says Meleca Canovic, a home attendant at HANAC agency in New York City. “On that day I became a U.S. citizen.” Canovic was born in Montenegro, then part of the former Yugoslavia. After earning her nursing degree in Montenegro, Canovic worked for two years in Lybia. She came to the U.S. in 1995 during the end of the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. “Montenegro is a beautiful country with beautiful beaches and is a popular tourist area,” Canovic says. “But there was war and my family and I wanted to live in peace, so I started a new life at age 46.” She now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Nijaceim, and the older of her two sons and is able to spend time with her grandson. “Through my Union’s Citizenship Program, I was able to pass the test and become a U.S. citizen,” she says proudly. “What I like to think about is that the U.S. is now my home, and I will be able to vote in the next presidential election.”
Meleca Canovic, a home attendant with New York City’s HANAC agency, shown with her husband, Nijaceim, became a U.S. citizen on July 14. The path to citizenship for Francisco Robles, a cook at Manhattan’s Mt. Sinai hospital, was long and sometimes difficult. He came to the U.S. at age 18 from the Dominican Republic at the urging of his mother who then had U.S. residency. “Shortly after I got here, my mother married and moved to Puerto Rico and I was on my own,” Robles recalls. “I had a green card, but I had no skills and no job. Without a family, soon I was homeless. It was the lowest point in my life.” A friend eventually helped Robles find a job in a Chinese restaurant. He became a member of 1199SEIU when he landed a cooking job at Florence Nightingale nursing home. When it closed, Robles went to Mt. Sinai. “I didn’t give a lot of thought to becoming a citizen, but I found out about the Citizenship Program,” he says. “I went to classes and they were great. I learned so much about the country’s history. My kids helped me study for the exams.” Robles has four children between the ages of 22 and 9, and lives with his wife and the two youngest. He says that he is proudest of the fact that when things were darkest, he never lost hope or succumbed to crime. “I’m proud of myself and my kids are proud of me,” he says. “Becoming a citizen has made this the best year of my life. And I still have a lot of living to do.” A path to citizenship for the undocumented would mean many, many more Franciscos and Melecas can come out of the shadows.
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For the Love of Haiti Members give of themselves to help heal the wounded nation. lot of people have forgotten the earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital Port Au Prince on Jan. 12, 2010. Scenes of devastation no longer fill the nightly news, but mental health tech Angel Ruiz and home attendant Yolande LeBlanc Charles haven’t forgotten. And they’re dedicated to helping Haiti’s hundreds of thousands sick and homeless as the poverty-stricken country rebuilds itself. On Jan. 21, Ruiz was among a team of 100 healthcare workers who traveled to Haiti to work for several days at St. Damien’s Hospital, which is located on the outskirts of Port Au Prince. He still raises funds for relief efforts. Charles, who was born in Port Au Prince and came to the U.S in 1981, does her part by sending a steady stream of donated health aids and basic necessities for Haiti’s poor and homeless through 1199SEIU’s We Care For Haiti program. Ruiz works for the University of Miami Medical Center and has done missionary work in one of Haiti’s poorest cities, Jacmel. The country has a special place in his heart.
Tom Sayler Photo
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“I knew right away that Haiti was going to need a lot of help because they were living in such miserable conditions,” he says. So he got to work finding out about volunteer delegations through the Union. uiz’s team at St. Damien’s in Haiti included seven other SEIU volunteers. They worked 12- and 16-hour days often with little food and even less sleep. Some 800 patients flooded the 200-bed hospital. The situation was worsened by soaring temperatures, lack of sanitation and eruptions of violence close to the hospital. “Every day, as the people’s pain grew, so did the absence of hope. Working side by side with nuns and priests, we tried to alleviate their suffering by delivering medical care and love to each patient,” Ruiz recalled. “We tried to fortify their spirits with smiles, jokes and laughs. Amidst the terror and death, we watched peoples’ faces change as we delivered their care with a smile.” Charles, who works for New York City’s FEGS agency, wanted to do something to help Haitians
that was more than just writing a check. Family responsibilities keep her from traveling. “I felt like I wanted to give everything I have for the people there. And when I saw that 1199 wouldn’t ignore it and we were some of the first people on the ground there, I just knew I had to get in touch with them,” she says. very few weeks she brings bags of soap, toothpaste, women’s hygiene products, lotions, creams and other basic things that many of us take for granted to 1199SEIU’s We Care For Haiti office on West 42nd St. in New York City. She buys a lot with her own money. She also collects a lot of donations in her community and from friends. “When I was young, the priests told me that I needed to stand up for people who were poor,” says Charles. “If people need bread, you just give it to them. You don’t judge them or ask them why.” You can learn more or contribute to relief efforts in Haiti by logging on to www.wecareforhaiti.org or www.konbitforhaiti.org.
“We tried to fortify their spirits with smiles, jokes and laughs. Amidst the terror and death, we watched peoples’ faces change as we delivered their care with a smile.” Bottom left: Angel Ruiz. Bottom right: Yolande LeBlanc Charles. New Haiti Support Campaign As it did last year, 1199SEIU through its We Care For Haiti Program will participate in October in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign. Members should see their organizers for information about how to participate in the effort.
THE WORK WE DO
THE WORK WE DO:
New York Downtown Hospital Members Recall 9/11 Sept. 11 marks the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center. Scores of 1199SEIU members were among the first responders. One, Marc Sullins, an EMT from the now-closed Cabrini Hospital, lost his life. New York Downtown Hospital sits in what was once the shadow of the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11 at New York Downtown, workers — many of whom stayed for days at a time — cared for hundreds injured in the disaster, while virtually cut off from the rest of the city. For this edition of The Work We Do, some of our members at New York Downtown share their memories of 9/11 and how the day changed them.
1. “That sadness will never go away. It’s something that will never leave us,” says paramedic Juana Lomi, who has been at NY Downtown for 20 years. “I’ve learned to embrace it. I can’t run from it. I can’t deny it. It’s been a test for us over these 10 years, because your mind always goes back to what used to be here.”
2. John Buscemi has worked in NY Downtown’s engineering department for 22 years. He lives in New Jersey. “By showing my hospital ID I was able to get into Manhattan. It was just chaos. We never knew what the next thing was going to be. When Building 7 collapsed we lost power, but we had to make sure all of our vital equipment was running. I was here for four days. When I walked out there was eight inches of ash on my car.”
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3. “It’s still a little scary, but I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” says PCT Deshon Amaker, with patient Elsy Garcia. “It’s something I never thought I’d see — to see so many people hurt. You didn’t know if you were going to get out with your own life. I called my husband and kids and told them that I loved them.”
4. “I actually saw the first plane hit the building because I was on Fulton and Broadway. I couldn’t believe it,” says Kerry Brown, a file clerk. “Emotionally it just pulled everyone here together. Still, when people bring it up today, it really saddens me.” 5. Registrar Betty Nelson recalled the family members she spoke with, desperately searching for their loved ones after the disaster. “I still feel it around every Sept. 11. I get a little depressed and my heart gets heavy,” she says. “But you have to keep moving on and living.” 6. “It doesn’t feel like 10 years,” says Dolly Olivo, a lead cashier and credit counselor who’s worked at NY Downtown for 28 years. “Now I try and reflect on life more. I try to be more conscious of my fellow man and take time to thank the Lord that I was here to help others on that day. And I always take time to tell people that I love them now.”
Members Make Medical Mission to Ghana.
A JOURNEY TO SAVE 1
Photo credits: 1, 2 and 4 Jim Crampton. 3 and 5 Barb Willio
“They have given me more than I have given them.”
While most working people look forward to their vacation as a time for rest and relaxation, five1199ers from Women’s and Children’s (Kaleida) Hospital in Buffalo, NY, used their vacation time last spring to provide health care to poor villagers in Saboba in the West African nation of Ghana. RN Elin Raimondi, surgical technologists Connie Crampton and Corey Parker, LPN Rose Wray and organizer Jim Crampton were among the team of 13 from Medical Outreach and Community Assistance of Western New York (MOCA) who took part in the 10-day mission. Women’s and Children’s Hospital Dr. Emmekumia Nylander led the group. MOCA is a team of medical and dental professionals, students and activists that provides healthcare services, including surgeries, in the remote community of Saboba. The team works primarily in the village’s small hospital staffed by a single doctor, the only medical facility within a 500-mile radius. Since $11 provides health insurance to a Saboba family of four for an entire year, 1199ers on the team asked for an $11 contribution
from 99 members. Some contributed more, enough to provide insurance for 300 residents. The team also brought more than 600 pounds of medical supplies. “This was one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” says Wray, who has been an LPN for 23 years. “The whole experience was an eye opener for me. It’s difficult to believe that there are people in the 21st century with so little. We didn’t feel that we did very much, yet the people of Saboba were so appreciative of what we were able to do.” Wray notes that work of the volunteers extends beyond health care. For example, one year the team helped build a school and clean a hospital. “It has been a life-changing experience,” says Raimondi, an RN for 33 years. “This was my third trip, and I take something different from each.” She stresses that leaving Buffalo and traveling thousands of miles helps to remind her why she became a nurse. “We don’t become healthcare workers just to push
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papers. I didn’t become a nurse to work at a desk, but that’s what health care has become in our country. “It’s hard to describe the pride and joy that I felt when villagers asked me if I’m from 1199 and then thanked me for making it possible for them to have health insurance. Another villager said to me, ‘God sent you here to help us.’ “Little do they realize that they have given us far more than we have given them,” Raimondi says. “But it’s not for the faint of heart,” she warns. She describes a life with no running water or flushing toilets and late evenings when the temperature reaches 110 degrees. Because medical supplies and equipment are in short supply, surgery was performed without general anesthesia and with limited lighting. Those inconveniences did not dampen her spirit or resolve, Raimondi says. She summarizes why she and the others took part in the mission: “I can’t change the world, but I can touch the life of one person in it.”
1. Residents of a suburb of Saboba, Ghana. 1199ers from Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo helped provide much-needed medical care in Saboba. 2. Saboba medical team. 3. Volunteers in the Saboba operating room. 4. Residents of Saboba, Ghana. 5. A surgical tech from Saboba’s hospital, left, with group leader Dr. Emmekumia Nylander.
OUR DELEGATE LEADERS
“I Want To Make Sure Everyone Is Treated With Respect”
“We have to make sure we have the money and proper funding to run this place.” Rose Speranza (below), RN delegate on the neonatal intensive care unit at the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in upstate New York. Imogene Hall (at right), an environmental services worker at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland.
“We were doing PAC cards and there was a little contest. I just went to everyone I knew and collected cards. I got my watch and a duffel bag. That was back in December. I kind of forgot about it,” says Rose Speranza, an RN delegate on the neonatal intensive care unit at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in Upstate New York. In April, Speranza got calls from VP’s Bruce Popper and Jim Scordato telling her that she’d won a trip to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Her name was entered in a drawing for delegates who collected the most PAC cards. “I couldn’t believe it. I asked Jim if he was pulling my leg,” says Speranza. He wasn’t. And when Speranza’s husband didn’t want to go on the trip, he suggested that she take her younger sister, Maureen Rasch, who was at the time being treated for breast cancer. “She’d had a really tough year,” says Speranza. “And then my other two sisters decided to join us. We had a ball. It was the best thing the four of us have done since we were young. We were like little kids again.” Speranza’s been at Women and Children’s since 1982 and has been a delegate pretty much the whole time. “I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and that the contract is followed,” she says. “It’s a lot of work sometimes, but I just want to make sure that everyone is treated with respect.” She laughs when she tells the story about her surprise trip, but when she talks to members about the importance of their political action contributions, she tries to get them to understand that there’s a lot more at stake than the price of an airline ticket. “We have so many issues. I talk to them about the importance of having lobbyists on our side and about legislation,” she says. “If we don’t have those things we’re dead in the water, because the other side has them. We have to make sure we have the money and proper funding to run this place.”
A Maryland Union Pioneer When Imogene Hall went to work at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, MD, in 1968 she wasn’t an activist. “I used to speak at church sometimes, but not much other than that,” she says But a few years of poor working conditions and low wages would change things “I helped them organize the Union here. We had people who were really scared,” says Hall, an environmental service worker at Prince George’s. “We’d go to different places where we could bring a crowd — the VFW or a restaurant. And one person would bring another one along. When people learned how the Union could protect them and help them on the job, we organized the election.” Hall says she surprised herself a little back then, but the drive was the bedrock of a decades-long dedication to justice and solidarity that’s marked her career at Prince George’s. “My father had been in the Teamsters, but that wasn’t what influenced me. What moved me was what we were up against at Prince George’s — the working conditions and the low pay. And I wanted to be part of something that would help people.” After that organizing drive, Hall was almost immediately elected to the position of delegate, or as they were called then, shop steward. And she’s continued to serve in the position for the last 32 years. She’s earned a reputation for being tough, strong and most important, fair. “It doesn’t have to be hostile,” she says of her work handling grievances and navigating labor-management relations. “We’ll always have people with problems. Sometimes people don’t know what to do. Or they just need support so they don’t make a mistake. It makes me feel good when I can help someone with a problem that they don’t know how to deal with.”
Robert Kirkham Photo
August/September • Our Life And Times
She’s Just Waiting for the Right Shot. New Bedford PCA Ariane Martin is a photographer. Ariane Martin, a personal care attendant in New Bedford, MA, always thought a camera was little more than a snapshot box. “I’d do the usual things, you know, take pictures at birthdays and stuff,” she says. And then last year Martin was among the group of workers chosen to participate in a photo documentary project conducted through a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Labor Education Center. Under the guidance of professional photojournalist Peter Pereira, workers from different sectors and unions were given cameras to photograph their everyday lives — the places they live, where they work, their families and their neighborhoods. “It was really cool learning how to shoot pictures at different angles and from different places and to train your eye differently,” says Martin. “When you take a picture you usually shoot a person’s face. Peter taught us not to do that. He taught us to think outside the box.” The pictures were shown in June at New Bedford’s Zeiterion Theater in an exhibit called “Work in Progress: Workers See Themselves Through a New Lens.” Martin says she doesn’t take snapshots any longer. “I’ve always seen the world differently, but this really honed my photography skills,” she says. “I never say ‘Okay, stand there’ any more. It’s not a posed picture. I have a 10-year-old daughter and a three-year-old niece and I’m always in the background just waiting for the right shot.”
August/September • Our Life And Times
Above: New Bedford PCA Ariane Martin photographs some playful subjects. At right: Martin’s photos of her parents Dyan and Glen and (below) New Bedford’s Fair Haven shipyard.
Around the Union Brookdale Members Fight to Save Hospital
Brookdale workers rallied June 10.
Brookdale, like many Brooklyn hospitals, has been suffering financially as it continues to serve some of the borough’s poorest patients. It was among several Brooklyn institutions discussed at mid-July hearings where workers and community activists passionately called on state officials to protect Brooklyn’s safety net hospitals. Demanding the restoration of their benefits, Brookdale workers have held protests, a Town Hall meeting and a candlelight vigil to call attention to management’s move — which is a direct violation of their 1199SEIU collective bargaining agreement. At the July 18 Town Hall meeting at Grace Baptist Church, scores of workers and their supporters met with elected officials who called on Brookdale bosses to honor their contract and do the right thing by their employees. “It’s no secret that this hospital is facing a dire crisis and the
population that is served by Brookdale is burdened by the problems that plague us most,” said State Sen. John Sampson, whose district includes portions of Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Brownsville and Canarsie — neighborhoods which rely heavily on Brookdale. “But you have never waivered in your commitment in providing the highest quality care to your patients and it’s inexcusable that workers who have negotiated a contract in good faith have lost their health coverage because of mismanagement,” Sampson said Mammographer Paulette Forbes urged her co-workers to be fearless in the fight. For information go to www.SaveBrookdale.com. “This is an attack on the whole community,” said Forbes, a delegate with 22 years at Brookdale. “We are being used to test the waters to see how far they can get. We need to let management and the whole world know how strong we are.”
Mobilization for Youth, was found in the lower Manhattan apartment of her boyfriend. And in April Brookdale Hospital RN Tatiana Prikhodko was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in a violent rampage that also took life of her adult daughter Larisa. (Larisa was an RN at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where nurses are represented by the New York State Nurses Association.) Just days before last year’s march,
Ana Ybe spoke at a press conference at 1199SEIU headquarters in Manhattan. Ybe’s daughter, Jessica, was a home attendant with the Bronx’s Alliance Agency. On Jan. 16, 2010, Jessica’s boyfriend killed her and two of her children. At the press conference Ybe tearfully praised the courage of the Brides’ March participants and expressed the hope that the walk would help other families.
Participants of all ages and backgrounds walked in last year’s Brides’ March against domestic violence.
Some 3,000 workers at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn are fighting for restoration of their 1199SEIU benefits. In late May the hospital’s managers unilaterally replaced workers’ 1199SEIU benefits with expensive and inferior Blue Cross insurance after falling six months behind on payments to the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund. “The people at this institution are being denied what we’ve earned,” says Jennifer Montague, a patient care technician at the institution for over 25 years. “We negotiated our benefits and management lied. They’re saying one thing and doing another. They can’t even fulfill the arrangement they’ve put in place.”
Brides’ March is September 26 1199SEIU is helping to raise awareness of domestic violence and its consequences through its participation in the 11th Annual Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk on Monday, Sept. 26 in New York City. The Union is a member of the organizing committee and members are encouraged to participate. The six-mile procession, organized by New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence seeks to raise consciousness about domestic violence within and outside the Latino community. The walk wends through Upper Manhattan and the Bronx and is also known as the Bride’s March because many participants wear wedding gowns to commemorate Gladys Ricart. Ricart was murdered in 1999 on her wedding day by a jealous ex-boyfriend. This year domestic violence claimed the lives of at least three New York City 1199SEIU members. In July, Trenance Williams, an RN at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, was stabbed to death by her boyfriend on the terrace of the apartment the two shared. Neighbors and witnesses couldn’t get to Williams in time to help her. In June, the murdered body of Felicia Cruz, a home health aide with
“Every day — morning, noon and night — I miss them,” she said of her lost family members. For more information call Brides’ March Coordinator Grace Perez at 914-213-0316, email BridesMarch@aol.com or log on to www.BridesMarch.com.
August/September • Our Life And Times
Brookdale ➽ Brides’ March ➽ Retirees’ Knit-In ➽ Kaleida ➽ Labor Chorus
Kaleida Workers Hang Tough
Retirees Knit-In To Save Medicare On Aug. 7 scores of New York Cityarea retirees said “enough is enough” to the attacks on Medicare and to banking giants who continue to fatten their coffers — and pay little or no tax. Organized by UnitedNY, a coalition of labor and community activists that includes 1199SEIU, retirees held lunchtime “Knit-Ins” at branches of Citibank, Wells Fargo and Chase banks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and on Long Island. They told the banking giants to pay their fair share in taxes so politicians who continually demand spending cuts will stop their assault on programs like Medicare, Social Security, education and health care. Knitters calmly walked into banks wearing “Save Medicare! Make The Banks Pay Their Share!” t-shirts and carrying hand-knit blankets embroidered with “Save Medicare.” They sat in waiting areas with their yarn and needles, quietly sending their message to bank management, employees and long lines of customers. Outside the branches other retirees and their supporters picketed, chanted and carried signs. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” says retiree Urizene Drysdale, who worked as a CNA at United Oddfellows and Rebekah Home in the Bronx and who was among the four knitters at the Bronx action. “If they would have taken me to jail I’d be out by now. I did this because I need my Medicare. I live on my Social Security and my pension,” Drysdale says. At the Bronx action, at a Citibank on Creston Ave. near Fordham Rd., managers and security asked knitters to leave after about 15 minutes. As the knitters emerged they were greeted with applause and cheers. For more information about UnitedNY and the Fight for a Fair Economy, log on to www.UnitedNY.org.
After nearly four months of negotiations, 3,800 1199SEIU members employed at six institutions that make up Western New York’s Kaleida network won a two-year contract that includes 3 percent in wage increases, maintains their health benefits and increases employer contributions to the Training Fund. Kaleida negotiations began in March and were conducted jointly with the Communications Workers of America and the International Union of Operating Engineers, which also represent workers at Kaleida institutions. Talks got off to a rough start, says Myra Holiday, a mail clerk at Buffalo General Hospital, who was on the 45-member negotiating committee. 1199SEIU members made up about half of the committee. Management initially came to the table looking for millions in givebacks and concessions, which included the elimination of the Training Fund, reducing starting wages for new hires by 20 percent, and major changes in the pension plan. “It was really important that we keep the Training Fund,” says Holiday. “That’s one of the greatest things that’s ever happened because it allows members to go to school
Troubadours for Peace 1199ers Jeff Vogel, a Manhattan Beth Israel Hospital respiratory therapist, and Gwendolyn Dennis, the executive vice president of the Retirees Local, were among the members of the New York Labor Chorus who in April spent a week in Cuba performing for groups as diverse as the National Chorus of Cuba, the Chorus of the National Trade Union Federation and children’s choral and theater groups. “We believe that our visit helped to bring people together and promote peace,” says Dennis, who was born in Sierra Leone and lived in Jeff Vogel Photo
August/September • Our Life And Times
and improve and support themselves. They build better lives for their families.” Negotiations all but stalled more than once. Kaleida continued to insist it was stretched too thin to finance contract improvements. But workers hung tough. On June 6 they held the Buffalo area’s largest picket ever, when 3,000 workers picketed Buffalo General Hospital. After that, both sides agreed to a contract extension. Finally, after some 14 straight days of talks, the agreement, which covers 1199SEIU-represented service, maintenance, technical and
Liberia and Nigeria before settling in New York and later retiring from New York Presbyterian hospital in upper Manhattan. “The experience was an eyeopener for me,” Dennis says. “I was impressed by the warmth and resilience of the Cuban people despite hardships due to scarcity and inconveniences like the need to wait in line for things we in the U.S. take for granted. “I also was surprised by the number of churches we sang in and by the fact that some of the Jewish members of our chorus attended seders in Havana.” “Cultural exchanges are excellent ways for people to learn from each other,” says Vogel. “I also
clerical workers and RNs, was settled on June 28 and ratified on July 19. “These were some of the toughest negotiations I’ve ever been a part of in terms of cuts and givebacks. And I’ve been on every committee since 1199 came upstate. They wanted everything on the table,” says Holiday. “But I think the majority of people are happy and morale is good.”
Kaleida workers held Buffalo’s largest picket on June 6.
appreciated that throughout our travels there, we weren’t bombarded by commercial ads. What we did find was music everywhere. It was not unusual for us to disembark from our buses and dance to live music at rest stops.” Vogel notes that when the rockand-roll group the Beatles were the rage in the 1960s, their music was banned in Cuba. Said Vogel, “An indication of the changes in Cuba is that we sang in in a park that was named in honor of Beatle John Lennon.”
1199ers in the NY Labor Chorus presented caps to Cuba’s Children’s Chorale members on an April tour of Cuba.
THE BACK PAGE
Brookdale Members Fight to Save Hospital Workers at Brookdale Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn held a demonstration June 15 to demand the restoration of their 1199SEIU benefits. Management fell behind on payments to the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund and put 3,800 1199ers in an expensive and inferior insurance plan. Workers and their supporters have vowed to keep on the pressure until management honors the contract. See page 14.
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