Reminder! Our NYC HQ Has Moved
The Way Forward
COVID-19 vaccine rollout puts pandemic end in sight
Brooklyn 1199ers Are Changing Health Care
Building Back Better Means Addressing Disparities A Journal of 1199SEIU January-February 2021
CONTENTS 6 18
12 4 The President’s Column President Biden is Undoing Trump’s Damage.
11 The More You Know Here Are Some COVID-19 Vaccine Facts.
6 Around the Regions Credit Union Notice; PPGNY Info Picket; Vaccine Newsletter; Rochester MLK Event.
12 1199ers Are Transforming Health Care in Brooklyn One Brooklyn’s vision addresses the disparities that have long plagued underserved communities.
8 Vaccine Message from George Gresham COVID-19 Vaccines are The Way Forward. 9 Frontline Vaccinations Commence Healthcare workers are rolling up their sleeves to defeat COVID-19.
@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2
14 The Work We Do Lab workers at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital.
18 Pandemic Changes New York’s Hudson Valley But workers at two area healthcare facilities are waging age-old fights for pay and benefits. 20 Fifty Years of Discovery, Creation and Caring Retiree devotes himself to art. 22 Caregivers Are Healing Our Nation 1199ers will help build back better.
16 Saying Goodbye with Dignity & Love At St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in NYC, morgue workers ensure a respectful transition for COVID-19 victims.
Cover: Brookdale Medical Center Psychiatric RN Decidel Maxume after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccination in mid-January. See story on pp. 8-11.
1199 Magazine January-February 2021 Vol. 39 No.1 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org
Editorial: Black History is American History COVID-19’s sacrifices remind us of depth and texture of our shared history.
February is Black History Month. For generations of American pupils, this time of year meant an annual, cursory lecture on George Washington Carver and the peanut. But more recent scholarship shows Carver to have been not only an innovative agronomist, but even a farseeing environmentalist. More typically, if we were lucky, we learned about Rosa Parks and her 1955 refusal in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up her bus seat to a white rider. Until recently, America’s Black History has been not only ignored, but also too often caricatured. Not so inside 1199. Since the Union’s founding, 1199ers of all races, creeds, and colors have played significant roles in the vanguard of Black history and the struggle for Black freedom and equality. 1199ers have long spearheaded efforts to educate the broader public in the fight for racial justice and the need to eliminate white supremacy. 1199’s early leaders and activists were very clear about the relationship between race, class and economic divisions. Underpinning all of 1199’s work since 1932 is the understanding that none of us can be truly free until we are all truly free. 1199ers know that Black history—like workingclass history—is no footnote to U.S. history. It is not to be confined to the margins and only occasionally trotted out as a balm for the national guilty conscience. And what could demonstrate this more profoundly than the current moment? So many of the faces of our celebrated ‘healthcare heroes’ who work daily to rescue our country from the ravages of the coronavirus and, often giving their own lives to save others, are darker than before. It is often darker-hued hands that tend the desperately ill, comfort the isolated, and too often, close the zipper on the bags of those who do not survive COVID illness. Once again, Black and Brown people are being asked to care for others, putting aside their own physical, emotional, and economic traumas built up over four centuries of malevolence and neglect. The truth is, Black history is part of the gorgeous mosaic that is American history. Black culture extends throughout America’s civilization, culture, and song. No story of America can be complete without the full inclusion of the Black experience. No progress can be made without rainbow solidarity and an understanding how all our fates are inextricably linked, whether that is at the negotiating table, sideby-side in the workplace, demonstrating in the street,
George Gresham secretary treasurer
Maria Castaneda executive vice presidents
Jacqueline Alleyne Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Tim Foley Patrick Forde Ruth Heller Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Steve Kramer Joyce Neil Monica Russo Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Veronica TurnerBiggs Nadine Williamson editor
Patricia Kenney director of photography
Jim Tynan art direction and design
Maiarelli Studio cover photo
Jim Tynan Andrea D’Aquino
“No story of America can be complete without the full inclusion of the Black experience. No progress can be made without rainbow solidarity and an understanding how all our fates are inextricably linked, whether that is at the negotiating table, side-by-side in the workplace, demonstrating in the street, or in line for a COVID-19 vaccination.” or in line for a COVID-19 vaccination. As we mark Black History Month in 2021, we look ahead to a world changed by this pandemic and the reality of our very fragile democracy. The COVID-19 vaccines give us a way forward. The path ahead is surely no less rocky and challenging, but we move forward, nonetheless. In honor of Black history—an integral part of America’s gorgeous, multicultural social fabric —and all those who came before us, and including so many lost, we must all step firmly on this road and be prepared to work together in the struggles that still lie ahead.
Mindy Berman Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Jacob Webb 1199 Magazine is published six times a year—January/ February, March/ April, May/June, July/ August, September/ October, November/ December—for $15.00 per year by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to 1199 Magazine, 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018
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President Biden is Undoing Trump’s Damage The path to real unity is through acknowledgment of America’s racist history. The President’s Column by George Gresham
After four years of the most corrupt, dishonest, cruel, racist, misogynistic, incompetent, science- and factadverse administration in history–– and one ending with a murderous assault on the U.S. Capitol––the Biden-Harris White House has its work cut out for it. And so do we. In his first days in office, President Biden hit the ground running and set into motion a rational, organized plan to tackle COVID-19. The Biden pandemic plan includes significantly increasing vaccine production and eliminating Trump directives that protected employers, not workers. President Biden’s first actions also shore up the poor and the unemployed, lay out a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, promise a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, return the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, and expand federal food assistance to millions of hungry families. In his inaugural address, President Biden said, “A raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once…. Now we’re going to be tested.” I want to address one of those challenges before us. Last summer, following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, an estimated 20 million of us marched in what were the largest protests in our history. Marches, silent vigils, and candlelight parades were held regularly in nearly half of the counties in our country. For the first time, leading members of Congress, editorial writers, commentators, and religious leaders were speaking openly about the need to eradicate the
systemic racism that has poisoned American life for 400 years. Just six months later, Donald Trump directed a mob of thousands of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and assorted fascists to attack the U.S. Congress and overturn the November elections. In the aftermath, many of the same politicians and opinion shapers who had so vehemently spoken out against racism over the summer told us that the riot is not who we are. There is a bit of a disconnect here. Systemic racism infects America. But when a mob of white terrorists attacks our democratic elections at the bidding of the defeated President of the United States and is supported by more than two-thirds of the Republicans in Congress, that is not who we are? I suggest that we will never be able to truly dismantle systemic racism until we fully recognize that it is very much part of who we are. After all, ours is a country that was built on 250 years of slavery and another 100 of Jim Crow apartheid; on the genocide of 90 percent of the indigenous peoples who were here before Europeans; and on the forced annexation of half of Mexico—from Texas to California. Of course, that is not all that we are. The attempted coup at the Capitol came just one day after Georgia—a perennial red state––elected its first Black U.S. Senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock, the preacher of Atlanta’s Ebeneezer Baptist Church whose pulpit was once Dr. King’s. Georgia also elected its first Jewish Senator, Jon Ossoff. Who we are includes the millions of Georgians who voted for Senators Warnock and Ossoff and the millions of us who marched for Black Lives and racial justice last summer. At the same time, who we are includes those in law enforcement
who beat, gassed, and arrested tens of thousands of peaceful March for Black Lives protesters compared with how Trump’s white supremacist mob was treated at the Capitol, where white police removed barricades and posed for selfies. President Biden has consistently promoted the theme of national unity, but it is unclear how there can be unity when most of the Republican party refuses to recognize that Joe Biden won the Presidential election. When I think of unity, I think of what we 1199ers have built. We include among our members Democrats, Republicans and Independents. We represent every color and hue, every religious faith, and non-believers as well. But whatever our differences, we all believe in affordable quality health care, decent wages and benefits, and a voice on the job. However much we might disagree on this or that, 1199 is a snapshot of the unity the country needs. That is because we reject any form of racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, hatred of those whose color or national origin is different from one’s own. It is only together that we can realize our strength and win new victories. Unity is the very definition of our union. We in 1199 are proof that we can build unity among people with great differences if we have a unity of purpose. Can there be unity with those who oppose democracy and refuse to recognize the election results? Obviously, there can be no compromise with white supremacy. Trump and his GOP supporters’ attacks on the election results came down to Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia—cities where large numbers of Black people live and vote. The fantasy of fraud implies a crime by Black people against white people—which of course is
Letters & Social Media
I suggest that we will never be able to truly dismantle systemic racism until we fully recognize that it is very much part of who we are. After all, ours is a country that was built on 250 years of slavery and another 100 of Jim Crow apartheid; on the genocide of 90 percent of the indigenous peoples who were here before Europeans; and on the forced annexation of half of Mexico—from Texas to California. the very opposite of what happened. In 2020—and in every election for decades—Black people waited longer in line to vote longer and were more likely to have their votes challenged. They also were more likely to be suffering or dying from COVID and less likely to be able to take time off work to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965—the signal accomplishment of the civil rights revolution—was gutted by a Republican-dominated Supreme Court in 2013. And even today, there are GOP-controlled state legislatures are drafting bills to make voting more difficult for years to come. Simply put, the refusal of most Republicans to accept the election results and the peaceful transfer of power represents the refusal to accept a move from systemic racism to a multiracial democracy. So, my sisters and brothers, we are all indeed going to be tested, but I know we are up to the challenge. Time once again to roll up our sleeves, pull our marching boots out of the closet and get ready to fight.
TRUMP REPRESENTS NEITHER WORKING PEOPLE NOR CHRISTIANS was so relieved about the Biden/Harris victory you covered in the last issue of 1199 Magazine. But my relief was short-lived with the Jan. 6 attack on our U.S. Capitol. I find it amazing that so many people supporting Donald Trump caused such havoc and great damage to our democracy. It’s even more amazing how the Capitol break-in was handled by the authorities, compared to previous protests that involved Black and Brown Americans. Even though there have been many arrests since then, on the day of the attack most Capitol rioters got a mere slap on the wrist. I find it unconscionable that people who call themselves patriots and Christians could support Donald Trump. Many religious leaders and clergy have preached that Donald Trump was their choice for President because he claimed to be pro-life. How could this one single issue make such an immoral man moral? Speaking as a Roman Catholic, I believe Donald Trump is evil. He is in no way Christlike. For me, being a Christian means caring for those who have less than me, loving and supporting those who are strangers to me, and making space in my heart and in my community for justice. In many ways, my spiritual values are reflected in my union values. As a working person of faith, I will always believe in a God who sees us all as his children, and I reject the spread of racism and hatred.
Maurice DePalo Montefiore Westchester Square Bronx, NY
1199SEIU UNITED HEALTHCARE WORKERS EAST: As we commemorate the life of Dr King today, at a time of renewed public discord and political tension, the words of the great civil rights leader resonate more than ever.
@MSNBC: Kamala Harris gets vaccinated at United Medical Center in Washington, DC, a hospital that 1199ers have been fighting to keep open until a new hospital is built in Southeast DC.
@1199mass: ”We got vaccinated to protect each other, our families, and to get back to a normal life.” Elizabeth Vickers and Jaqualyn Showstead, 1199ers who work in the lab @BIDPlymouth, recently shared what the COVID-19 vaccine meant for them. #weareinthistogether
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Around the Regions
As Contract Fight Drags On, Planned Parenthood Workers Say Enough Is Enough
“We have always been proud to work for an organization like Planned Parenthood— whose mission we strongly believe in. To better care for patients and the communities we serve, our workers deserve a fair contract. We should not have to make a public demand to make our voices heard.” 6
Frustrated 1199ers at four New York City clinics run by Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) held informational pickets Jan. 7 to demand that management stop dragging their feet and settle a fair contract now. Workers voted unanimously in August 2019 to join 1199SEIU. And PPGNY’s stalling around a contract settlement commenced almost immediately. More recently, PPGNY telegraphed its intransigence by hiring an HR director straight from a union-busting law firm. And as New York City’s second wave of COVID-19 hit its peak, PPGNY proposed givebacks on workers’ healthcare coverage. Members, who provide a broad array of health services to some of New York City’s most vulnerable patient groups, were outraged. “We have always been proud to work for an organization like Planned Parenthood—whose mission On Jan. 7, workers we strongly believe in,” said held informational pickets at Planned Maya Noonan, a Programs Parenthood clinics Manager at PPGNY. “To throughout the New better care for patients and the York City to demand communities we serve, our a fair contract now. workers deserve a fair contract. 1199 members say We should not have to make the community a public demand to make our health giant is more set on union busting voices heard.” than negotiating a Several elected officials, collective bargaining including Bronx Congressman agreement. Ritchie Torres (D-15CD), New York State Senators Brad
Hoylman (D-27) and Julia Salazar (D-18), and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards expressed, public support for PPGNY workers by joining the demonstrations or sending video and written messages. BP Richards walked a blustery picket line with PPGNY workers in Long Island City. “During this deadly pandemic, the members of 1199SEIU who work at PPGNY have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to provide comprehensive reproductive health services,” Richards said. “These members should not be rewarded for their efforts with the unfair and inadequate contract proposals that have been made by PPGNY.” Mariko Yamasaki, an RN Coordinator at Planned Parenthood Borough Hall Health Center in Brooklyn, called on management to come to the bargaining table in good faith—instead of creating roadblocks. “Senior leadership says they want to work in partnership with us,” noted Yamasaki. “But instead they are creating difficulties and causing a lot of anger. We need to see a very different approach [from them] if we are going to move forward constructively.” At press time, more bargaining sessions were scheduled with workers determined to hold fast to their demands.
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1199’s Credit Union Helps Caregivers’ Finances Stay Healthy Did you forget your 1199SEIU Federal Credit Union account? Make sure you keep your account information up to date. The 1199SEIU Federal Credit Union (1199SEIUFCU) offers 1199ers a wide array of financial services, including checking and savings accounts, a holiday club, car loans, personal loans, home mortgages, and more. The 1199SEIUFCU also offers online banking and free ATM services at more than 55,000 Allpoint locations. For more information, go to www.1199federalcu.org, call (212) 957-1055, or email email@example.com.
Rochester Members Hold 40th Annual MLK Celebration on Zoom 1199ers and community members from the Rochester, NY-area gathered on Zoom Jan. 18 for the 40th Annual Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York State Assemblyman Desmond Meeks was this year’s keynote speaker. Meeks was joined on the program by singer Zahiya and the Womba Africa dance troupe. 1199SEIU members and staff also participated, reading poetry and leading a discussion about the role of peaceful protest in making change.
Rochester MLK celebration, an annual calendar highlight for Central New York 1199ers, is usually held at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
WE’VE MOVED! 1199’s NYC headquarters has moved! 1199, the 1199 National Benefit Fund, the 1199 Federal Credit Union are now located at 498 Seventh Ave in Manhattan. That’s between 36th and 37th Streets. We look forward to answering your questions and providing the same quality service as always—just in a new space!
Check Out the Latest Edition of Frontline News Keep an eye on your inbox for Frontline News, a new weekly email newsletter containing Unionwide reports about COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the latest information about vaccine research and development. Also included are stories from 1199 members about their vaccination experiences and why they’re choosing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Scan the QR Code at right to read the latest issue. 1199 Magazine 7
A Special Message from President Gresham
COVID Vaccines Are The Way Forward Dear Sisters and Brothers,
1199SEIU President George Gresham received his COVID-19 vaccination at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on Jan. 20.
I received my first COVID-19 vaccination shot at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on Jan. 20. Except for a slightly sore arm, I feel great. What’s more, I feel overwhelmingly relieved. As many of you know—and as I have openly discussed on our Tele Town Halls, Conference Calls and Zoom meetings—for the nine months, I’ve been isolating from my family, including my children and grandchildren, in an effort to protect them and myself. It’s been a difficult sacrifice, but to be sure a small one compared to sacrifices you have made on the front lines of the pandemic. You have been warriors in this pandemic, saving lives, fighting for PPE, and implementing complex, new safety protocols that keep us all healthy. Now we have new tools in our arsenal: two vaccines that will protect our health and help put an end to this devastating pandemic that has ravaged the world and taken so much from so many of us. Vaccinations are under way across the regions of our Union and we are doing all we can to ensure that vaccines are available to every 1199 front-line healthcare worker. We also understand that there is apprehension around the vaccines based on the speed at which they were developed, potential side effects, and our country’s history of racism and discrimination in health care. I want to assure you that 1199 believes the development and testing of the vaccines has been thorough, and information about efficacy has been forthcoming. Over the last nine months, our workplaces and our communities have been devastated. These two vaccines are the way forward. While we would never support a mandate, we urge you to learn as much as you can about the vaccines, and when the time comes, to get vaccinated. In the meantime, we will continue to provide upto-date information about the vaccines, vaccination programs, and COVID-19. You can find the latest information and resources at: https://www.1199seiu.org/covid19vaccineresources. Thank you for all you have done to heal our nation. I know that together, we will move forward to build a stronger, more united America. Sincerely, President George Gresham
Frontline Vaccinations Commence Healthcare workers are rolling up their sleeves to defeat COVID-19.
Millions of Bandaided biceps signal a return to normalcy: the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is under way. As this magazine goes to press, healthcare workers across the United States are getting vaccinated, and among them are hundreds of thousands of 1199SEIU members. From South Florida to Northern New York State, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to workers in homecare agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, and retail drug outlets. “I was not at all nervous about getting vaccinated,” says Carlos Villalba, a clerk at a midtown Manhattan Rite Aid drugstore. “I was nervous about NOT getting vaccinated.” Villalba is the only member of his family currently working outside the home, and has been afraid of transmitting the virus to his parents and siblings. Carlos Rosa, a patient transporter at University of Rochester’s Strong Medical Center had similar fears. Rosa was the first healthcare worker vaccinated in Central New York’s Monroe County. Rosa was anxious to take the vaccine and thrilled when his chance to get the shot arrived. “I was surprised to be first,” says Rosa, who received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15. “I did it to show my co-workers that there was nothing wrong with the vaccine and this is how we are going to move forward as a country. Also, my father has bad asthma, and my mother is getting older. I had been staying away from them, and I missed them.”
“I am doing anything I can to encourage people to go out and get vaccinated. Unless 80% of us get vaccinated we are never going to get past this.” – Patricia O’Hara, Partners In Care Home Health Aide
Home Health Aide Patricia O’Hara is being treated for ovarian cancer, and jumped at the opportunity to get vaccinated.
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“I try to explain to people that this is our chance get our freedom back. No one wants to be sheep, but they don’t call it ‘herd’ immunity for nothing.” – Derick Rias, Physician Assistant, Richmond University Medical Center, Staten Island, NY
Physician Assistant Derick Rias trusts science and uses it to help allay vaccine fears in his community. Members at January vaccination event at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
1199SEIU has undertaken a massive campaign to educate members about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and how they work. (For more information, see “The More You Know” on page 11.) The Union is also working with allies and institutions to help members get vaccinated and ensure adequate supplies of the vaccine for front-line healthcare workers. Lolleita Nelson, an RN at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, NY, took her first vaccine shot on Dec. 15 and says it was never a question of “if” but “when” she would get vaccinated. “I have seen what happened to people who had COVID-19, and I remember how I cried seeing people on ventilators and sometimes pass away,” she says. 10
Nelson also thinks 1199’s education campaign is vital to combat the misinformation swirling around vaccines. “I tell everyone to treat that as [anti-vaccine] propaganda and not to listen,” she says. “These vaccines will save your life and protect your family and friends. My advice is to educate yourself. Instead of listening to rumors, listen to scientists, doctors, and the experts at Centers for Disease Control.” In this vein, 1199’s education efforts include tele-town halls and conference calls with experts, institutional outreach, a weekly email newsletter, Frontline News, literature to help answer questions, and a host of other resources available at www.1199seiu. org/covid19vaccineresources.
Dr. Van Dunn, Chief Medical Officer of the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, has been an unflagging source of reassurance and up-to-date information since the pandemic’s outbreak and through the vaccine rollout. “At first, I thought the vaccine was developed too fast, and then I listened to Dr. Dunn and spoke to a couple of doctors. I also read up on materials from the Union,” says Angela Thomas, a unit clerk at Schaffer Extended Care at Montefiore New Rochelle in New York’s Westchester County. “Now I am supportive, and from the time I got vaccinated, I was telling other members they should too.” A central goal of the Union’s education and outreach is addressing historic disparities and longstanding systemic racism in health care that contributes to fear and suspicion of the vaccine in communities of color. Derick Rias, a Physician Assistant at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, acknowledges that history, but he also trusts science. As evidence, Rias points to progress around HIV/AIDS, polio, smallpox, and other diseases. He has been talking with his neighbors about vaccination and vaccine safety. “In a lot of African American neighborhoods, people are afraid to get vaccinated, and it is understandable because of what has happened [to us] over the years,” he says. “But I try to explain to people that this is our chance get our freedom back. No one wants to be sheep, but they don’t call it ‘herd’ immunity, for nothing.” Partners In Care Home Health Aide Patricia O’Hara was vaccinated at a recent event at the agency’s Manhattan headquarters. An immune compromised breast cancer survivor who is currently under treatment for ovarian cancer, O’Hara jumped at the chance. “I am doing anything I can to encourage people to go out and get vaccinated,” she says. “Unless 80% of us get vaccinated we are never going to get past this.”
O U R H E A LT H
The More You Know:
Here Are Some COVID-19 Vaccine Facts Healthcare workers are among the first in the nation to be eligible to take the new COVID19 vaccine—which evidence shows will provide significant protection against the deadly disease. There are two vaccines currently available from Pfizer and from Moderna, and both use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Unlike other vaccines, mRNA technology does not use any live virus particles. You will not be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
SAFETY AND EFFECTIVENESS Is the vaccine safe and effective? Both vaccines have a very high level of effectiveness: Pfizer has a 95 percent rate, and Moderna has a 94 percent rate. To be effective, both vaccines require two shots, given a few weeks apart. Vaccines cannot be mixed and matched between doses. The length of vaccine-induced immunity is not known at this time and booster shots may be required. Some people who get a COVID-19 vaccine will experience side effects, particularly after a second dose. The side effects of the vaccine appear to be minor and temporary, including injection site pain, fatigue, and occasional fever, headache, or aching muscles and joints. These side effects fade within 1-2 days; no long-term effects have been detected thus far. While the vaccine provides significant protection, it is not 100% effective. There is a slight chance that vaccinated individuals can still get infected with a mild case of the virus. Those who have taken the vaccine can also still spread the virus to others at home and at work and thus it is critical that everyone continue to wear PPE and follow public health protocols for the foreseeable future. Evidence shows the new COVID-19 vaccine will provide significant protection against the deadly disease.
DEVELOPMENT AND APPROVAL What’s in the vaccine? The two vaccines both use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. They do not use any live virus particles, meaning individuals will not be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, the messenger RNA—a piece of genetic code—directs cells to make the COVID-19 spike protein themselves, after which point the immune system creates the antibodies that fight COVID-19, providing a significant level of immunity. How was it developed? Because mRNA is easy to make in the laboratory, manufacturers saved years in development, accelerating the creation of the vaccine. In clinical trials for both vaccines, more than 73,000 people from the U.S. and around the world received injections, including more than 25,000 people from the communities most impacted by COVID-19, including Black, Latinx, and older people. How does a vaccine get approved? Vaccines must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before distribution. The FDA bases its decision to approve or not approve a vaccine on data from clinical trials. Independent experts and career scientists determine the vaccine’s safety based on the extent of side effects. If the clinical trial data shows enough evidence of efficacy and safety, the FDA will approve the vaccine.
VACCINE DISTRIBUTION When will I be able to take it? Healthcare workers will be eligible to take the first dose of the vaccine as soon as late-December. Vaccines are free for healthcare workers, and administration costs will be covered by the 1199SEIU Benefit Funds. Employers will notify staff when they are eligible to be vaccinated. Vaccination is not mandatory but highly encouraged for healthcare workers and patients. The immunization status of a healthcare worker will not affect his/her work assignment.
For more information, visit 1199.seiu.org/ covid19vaccine resources
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1199ers Are Transforming Health Care In Brooklyn One Brooklyn’s vision is addressing the disparities that have long plagued underserved communities. What started as a hospital beautification project has become a historic initiative that’s transforming healthcare and addressing longexisting disparities in Central and Eastern Brooklyn. United under the banner of the One Brooklyn Health System (OBHS), Kingsbrook Jewish, Interfaith, and Brookdale Medical Centers are ensuring and improving healthcare for Brooklynites in some of the borough’s highest-need areas. (Wyckoff Hospital was included in the original plan but has since left the project.) 1199SEIU members are playing a central role in the OBHS initiative by partnering with management, elected officials, and the community to win investment in primary and preventative healthcare and the preserve good paying jobs. “I have lived in Brooklyn for 47 years and this could not have come at a better time,” says Brookdale Radiological Technologist Paulette Forbes, a long-time delegate and member of Brookdale’s Transformation Committee. “This system is our home when it comes to any kind of healthcare and with all the struggles we have been though, it’s incredible to reflect and see where we are today. Our hospitals are going to stay open and provide services that are much needed in our communities.” (In addition to Forbes, the OBHS Overview Committee includes members Clandra St. Kitts, Genelle 12
Jones, Delta Williams, Sybilla Daniel Douglas, Pauline James, Roxanne Cook- Cornelius, Jeanette Harper, Cherly Thorne-Bumpus, Denise St. Bernard, Ian Dawkin, and Lisa Forde Mentore.) Long-term, the initiative will improve primary and preventative care, centralize and maximize longterm care, reduce duplication of services, and increase availability of services like drug treatment and mental health care. Plans include the construction of a new healthcare village and a significant number of affordable housing units. Central to this undertaking were labor committees, who made sure workers were heard, they were not displaced, and no wages, benefits or seniority were lost. To help with this, the institution-based committees established a resource center, where members could bring questions and concerns. “I felt an obligation and responsibility to make sure the transformation takes place in a timely manner and in the best interests of 1199 members,” says Patient Care Tech Ian Dawkins, a Kingsbrook Jewish Transformation Committee member. OBHS is rooted in the 2005 fight to save Crown Heights’ St. Mary’s Medical Center. The loss of that safety net hospital was emblematic of the longstanding, fatal neglect of
“It all goes back to our awesome Union leadership and our strength. Because of that, we were able to win language that protects our members and determines what the One Brooklyn Health System will be to best serve our neighbors and our patients.” – Paulette Forbes Brookdale Mammography Tech
institutions serving poor and minority communities. It also highlighted the constellation of systemic disparities that have historically plagued the same neighborhoods. “The need for a new approach became obvious after an epidemic of hospital closures,” says, 1199SEIU VP Bruce Richard, who was among the leaders of the St. Mary’s fight. “After about 10 hospitals closed [throughout New York State], we did a study with our partners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology CoLab around the social determinants of health and civic infrastructure.” Not surprisingly, the research reported chasms in Central and Eastern Brooklyn’s quality of healthcare, housing, and nutrition. Fast forward a decade and a half, countless hours of tireless work by 1199SEIU committee members and their partners, and $700 million plus capital investment for new projects and investment operating cost subsidies. One Brooklyn is the fruition of years of dedicated activism, says Forbes. “I was very privileged to be part of this work,” she says. “It all goes back to our awesome Union leadership and our strength. Because of that we were able to win language that protects our members and determine what the One Brooklyn Health System will be to best serve our neighbors and our patients.”
Paulette Forbes is a long-time delegate and Brooklyn resident who sees the transformation at OneBrooklyn as a major step in addressing healthcare and civic disparities in Central and Eastern Brooklyn. OneBrooklyn Transformation Committee members ensured that no workers were displaced in major changes at Kingsbrook Jewish, Interfaith, or Brookdale Medical Centers. Ian Dawkins, a Kingsbrook Jewish Patient Care Tech, is a Transformation Committee member.
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The Work We Do Lab Workers at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital COVID-19 shines a light on the critical, behind-the-scenes role of laboratory workers in patient care. 1199SEIU represents laboratory workers at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital on Long Island’s North Shore. The 219-bed community hospital serves residents of Nassau County, which, by early
February had a total of 130,933 COVID-19 cases. At Plainview, as at all hospitals, lab workers are integral in diagnosing and treating COVID19. The virus continues illuminate the role of so many unseen healthcare heroes and the critical role in healing the sick and moving the nation past the pandemic. 2
1. Michelle Rhem has been a Lab Processor at Plainview for 24 years. Her work helps keep the lab organized and running smoothly. She gets to work at 4:30 a.m. every day to manage orders, designate where specimens go, separate blood and urine samples, and ensure that staff, such as phlebotomists, are scheduled where they are needed to perform tests. “I know both sides of the lab coin,” Rhem says. 2. Laboratory Phlebotimist Fadil Pejcinovic has worked at Plainvew for 15 years. Before Plainview, he was a medical professional in his home country of Montenegro in the former Yugoslavia 3. Blood Bank Technologist Mary Jay has been at Plainview for over 20 years. She is a leading delegate and dedicated voice for lab members at the hospital.
4. Feri Mehryari has been a Clinical Laboratory Scientist at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital since 1986. Since childhood, Mehryari has had a love of science that led her to the lab. In addition to the intellectual work of lab science, emotional sensitivity is necessary, says Mehryari. “My character [since a young age] has always been to help others and care for others,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, and in high school, I just loved the discovery part of lab science as well as the caring part.” She also emphasizes that the field’s educational rigor is often unappreciated. “We are required to have earned a BS degree, pass board exams, and maintain our licensure. There is a lot that goes into what we do.”
5. Laboratory Technologist Elaina Acero is a “new kid on the block” at Plainview, but she has over three decades of hospital lab experience. Her journey began in a college nursing program, where she decided that nursing wasn’t necessarily her calling. Acero says the analytical work of the laboratory was a better fit, and it still allows her to care for patients in her own way. “I love helping people. It is my number one priority. Even though I don’t see patients, I know I am able to make a difference in their lives,” she says. “Doctors rely on us for results, and without us, doctors and nurses would not be able to take proper care of their patients.”
“I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, and in high school, I just loved the discovery part of lab science as well as the caring part.” – Feri Mehryari, Clinical Laboratory Scientist
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With Dignity & Love At St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in NYC, morgue workers ensure a respectful transition for COVID-19 victims.
For Jesse Aguirre, a transport messenger at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, NY, COVID-19 work became personal in April, when the 29-year-old’s mother was admitted to the hospital with the virus. She died after a month-long struggle. As painful as it was to say goodbye, Aguirre also believes that God led him to the work at St. John’s, so he could be at his mother’s bedside. “One of the blessings is that I got this job in time for me to be with her at the end,” he says. “Every 15-minute break I got, or any extra five minutes I had, I was running up to see her.” Of all COVID-19’s cruelties,
isolation may be among the worst. And perhaps most devastating is the fact that many who die from the virus succumb alone, isolated by the pandemic and lifesaving precautions necessary to protect caregivers. While many victims get to say farewell via FaceTime or Skype, too many others do not, denied the loving embrace of family, the warmth of a reassuring hand, or even a familiar, guiding voice. At St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, on the Atlantic Ocean-facing edge of New York City, a group of morgue workers has been doing all they can to ensure a safe and loving passage for those
“We say that even though people are gone, we have to treat them like all of our other patients, because the fact is, they are still here with us.” – Jesse Aguirre, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital
who do not survive COVID-19. Gary Hilliard, Bryon Howard, and Aguirre are all Far Rockaway natives with a close connection to the hospital and the people it serves. Senior Morgue Attendant Hilliard has worked there for nearly three decades in a variety of jobs. Transporter Messengers Howard and Aguirre joined the staff in early 2020, just ahead of the outbreak. For Hilliard, an 1199 delegate, the morgue job was supposed to be a stopover while resolving a grievance. He sees it differently now. “I really believe that God put me in this position for a reason,” says Hilliard. “When my grievance was done, I stayed in the morgue. I understood what this community was going through, because I have been here for many events, including Hurricane Sandy. And I knew that I should not fight [staying here]. I have learned enough not to fight against what God would have me do.” At the onset of the pandemic St. John’s, like so many hospitals, was overwhelmed and underresourced. Far Rockaway, a now rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that has long been home to a diverse working class population, was hit hard by the virus. As caregivers struggled valiantly to save as many patients as possible, Hilliard, Howard, and Aguirre worked—with the help of numerous St. John’s staffers—to care for those who could not be saved. For St. John’s patients who
had transitioned and come into their care, the team implemented an organized system to ensure that those who passed on were treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Facing as many as 100 bodies a day at the pandemic’s height, the trio—along with many of the St. John’s co-workers—made sure that remains were handled gently, names were spelled properly, and bodies rested securely until families and professionals could claim their loved ones and make arrangements. For Aguirre, Howard, and Hilliard, the painful statistics in daily news are not just numbers; they are family members, friends, and relationships of varying degrees of intimacy. This is the experience of Far Rockaway and too many communities of color across the U.S. during the pandemic. Their work is a hard reminder of what is important in life and what remains important after we are gone, says Aguirre. “We say that even though people are gone, we have to treat them like all other patients,” says Aguirre. “Because the fact is, they are still here with us.” “Coming and going to work, I always say a prayer,” confides Howard, whose grandmother was hospitalized with COVID-19 and survived. “I spent a lot of time with my family—my mother and father and sister and grandmother. It made me appreciate them,” he adds. “One of the hardest things was seeing the families of patients who didn’t have closure and ended up passing alone.”
Gary Hilliard (top), Bryon Howard (bottom) and Jesse Aguirre (opposite page) work in the morgue at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, NY. The team handled
the bodies of many COVID-19 victims they knew at the community hospital. At the outset of the pandemic, the group was featured in a video by The New York Times.
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The Pandemic Hastened Change in New York’s Hudson Valley But workers at two area healthcare facilities are waging age-old fights for pay and benefits.
As COVID-19 raged throughout New York City’s metropolitan area, there was an unexpected pilgrimage north to New York’s Hudson Valley. Real estate brokers touted economic renewal and a revived sense of close-knit, small-town community. Healthcare facilities proudly displayed banners proclaiming that “Healthcare Heroes Work Here.” It was a tableau of Rockwellian Americana. The reality is quite different. Gentrification’s soft-focus excludes the area’s essential workers, most of whom are longtime residents. Far from the Hudson Valley’s social media “glow up,” workers at Columbia Memorial Hospital (CMH) and Livingston Hills Nursing Home in Hudson, NY, toil caring for the sick; short staffed, exhausted by unbearable overtime, and fearful for their lives and the lives of their families. At both Livingston Hills and CMH, 1199ers have been in protracted contract negotiations, without raises and denied crisis pay for over a year, despite very public campaigns and intense media scrutiny. Rather than heroes, they say, they are treated like zeros. “The signs?” Livingston Hills CNA Donna Decker inquired incredulously. “The owner doesn’t
value us. If he did, he would not be demanding that we give up our 1199 health insurance for insurance with high premiums and co-pays. Our wages don’t even keep up with the cost of living, so most of us can’t to afford that. And [he’s doing this] right in the middle of a devastating healthcare crisis?” In late fall negotiations, Livingston Hills management refused to discuss any health insurance proposal other than their own. They abruptly left the bargaining session. Furious Livingston Hills members began organizing. A December candlelight vigil at the nursing home drew strong community support, including long timers, newcomers, and elected officials. “You’re fighting for something that should be so simple, in front of a sign that’s calling you heroes,” said Kamal Johnson, mayor of Hudson, a town that has become emblematic of Hudson Valley’s schism between long-time residents and wealthy, downstate gentrifiers. “I’m here to make sure that you have the support of the community. I want you guys to know that I have your back.” Anne Marie Fran, a Livingston Hills housekeeper, who recently
Livingston Hills NH members at their December candlelight vigil.
“It’s unacceptable that an important community healthcare institution, and one of the biggest employers in the region, is treating its workers with so little respect. We’re frontline healthcare workers, facing unimaginable challenges during this pandemic.” – Colleen Daley, CMH RN
contracted COVID-19, is pleased with the community support and recognition. She and her Livingston Hills co-workers are no longer invisible. “We’re the ones who care for and about the residents, and make sure their health and safety comes first,” she says. “If we can’t take care of ourselves because the owner takes away our health benefits, how are we going to be able to work here, to stay here and take care of our residents?” About 10 minutes north of Livingston Hills, more than 750 members at CMH (plus additional members at offsites across Columbia and Greene Counties) are in a similar situation. CMH members have not received a raise in more than a year. And in recent contract negotiations, the hospital offered low wages and insisted that 1199 members pay more for health insurance,
knowing well that some can’t even afford the current insurance. When negotiating committee members insisted healthcare workers should not be without health insurance or on Medicaid, management called affordable health benefits an “unrealistic ask.” Members said, “enough is enough.” Despite temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and a looming snowstorm, more than three hundred 1199SEIU members with families, friends and community supporters took to the streets for a late December informational picket. Driven by disrespect, 1199ers organized the strongest worker and community action at CMH in decades. “Of course it was,” said Colleen Daley, a CMH RN for 10 years. “It’s unacceptable that an important community healthcare institution, and one of the biggest employers in the region, is treating its workers
with so little respect. We’re frontline healthcare workers, facing unimaginable challenges during this pandemic.” CMH and Livingston Hills 1199ers say negotiations moved in a positive direction after making their voices heard. “I love my job and interacting with patients; that’s what keeps me at the hospital,” says Nancy Richardson, a housekeeper at the hospital for over 20 years. “I didn’t plan to leave until I retire, but at $15.50 an hour, if we have to pay for health insurance, I won’t have a choice.” At press time, CMH members settled an agreement that includes significant improvements to wages, retroactive pay, and base rates for certain classifications. Workers also maintained their health plan and won increased employer contributions for family coverage. See the next issue of 1199 Magazine for the complete story.
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Retiree Fritz Joseph, displays some of his artwork at his Brooklyn home.
Fifty Years of Discovery, Creation and Caring In retirement, Kingsbrook Jewish Lab worker Fritz Joseph is devoted full time to art.
In January, after 50 years at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, Clinical Laboratory Scientist Fritz Joseph hung up his lab coat for the last time. At retirement age and with Kingsbrook’s lab downsizing, Joseph decided to dedicate his life full-time to art. (See pages 12 and 13 for story about Kingsbrook’s transformation.) A renowned painter and sculptor whose images of Haitian and Caribbean life have been shown at prestigious institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum, Joseph previously juggled his love for the arts and the sciences. “When the lab closed, I was like the captain saying goodbye to his ship,” he says. “I was the last one to close the lab because our services began shifting to Brookdale Medical Center. It was bittersweet, but I have learned so much from my directors and the people I worked with.” Joseph arrived in New York City in 1967 with a dream of becoming an architect and a degree from Haiti’s Academy of Fine Arts. Joseph followed four of his brothers from Haiti to Brooklyn, where like many immigrants, they took jobs in health care. Since dreams don’t necessarily
put food on the table, Fritz took a CNA job at Kingsbrook Jewish, where his late brother Jean Marie was working in the lab. “I got the [Kingsbrook lab job] when Jean Marie left to study medicine in Europe. I was more interested in studying architecture at Brooklyn Technical College, but Jean Marie encouraged me to take [science] courses while training me for the job,” says Joseph. Over time, Kingsbrook Jewish became the intersection of Joseph’s life as an artist, lab scientist, and caregiver. Joseph volunteered outside the lab during his lunchtimes, lecturing about art and teaching patients in recreational therapy. As painter and sculptor, Joseph is a creator of and witness to the evolution of image and form. His lab specialty of histology is not dissimilar, he says; both demand patience, empathy, and mastery of numerous skills acting in concert. “I was able to witness the evolution of histochemistry from A to Z. I learned to work with the electron microscope, to examine frozen sections, and to make reagents from conventional to microwave techniques and immunoprocedures, as well as doing special staining for different tissues such as mucosubstances, connective tissues, for fungi, for acidfast bacteria, mucicarmine, congo red, and other abnormal proteins surrounding tissues for amyloidosis.” Over time, says Joseph, he came to see his work in histology as a fine art. I’d refer to some procedures in the field as Rembrandt [after the artist], or even Winsor & Newton [a British supplier of fine arts materials],” he adds. Joseph is now devoting himself full-time to organizing exhibits, writing criticism and poetry, and supporting emerging artists from the Haitian and other Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. He is excited but will miss the pathology lab. Says Joseph: “Human tissue, nuclei, cytoplasm, myelin sheaths, neurofibrils, etc., may offer under microscopic examination a view of another universe that one can hardly imagine with the naked eye.”
Caregivers Are Also Healing Our Nation 1199ers will help build back better.
During an unprecedented national crisis, 1199ers moved to the vanguard to defeat perhaps the worst president in our nation’s history. Now we are moving to the front lines to help our nation heal and move forward from a confluence of health, economic, social and democratic crises. The road ahead is steep and long, they say. Too many members have witnessed the funerals of patients, colleagues, friends and relatives. Although healthcare workers as a whole have retained their jobs during the crises, loved ones and neighbors have lost jobs, savings and even homes. Even before the pandemic, our nation’s healthcare system was sorely in need of reform. The Affordable Care Act––not comprehensive when it was passed––was further weakened by the last administration and its Congressional cronies. Prior to the pandemic, 87 million people in the nation were uninsured or underinsured. Since then, another 12 million have lost employer-based insurance. Medical debt remains the nation’s leading cause of bankruptcy. Healthcare workers face another crisis. “When the pandemic began, it became clear to me that working in a nursing home is the most dangerous job in America,” says Crystal Perry, an LPN at Glendale NH in Schenectady, NY. Recent reputable studies have found that while five percent of the nation’s COVID-19 cases occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths among residents and workers in those facilities accounted for more than 36 percent of the nation’s total. In twelve states, including Massachusetts, long-term care facilities accounted for more than half the COVID deaths. Hospitals have also been battered. “I have never seen anything like
“Instead of dropping the ball, we can work as a team.” – Susan Philip, Orthopedic Physician Assistant at Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital.
this,” says Susan Philip, a per-diem orthopedic physician assistant at Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital. Philip stresses that because COVID-19 tossed everyone into uncharted waters, coordination and cooperation has always been paramount. That was sorely missing from an administration characterized by denial, cronyism and incompetence. Instead of support from the nation’s capital, healthcare workers were accused of inflating the number of COVID patients and deaths in an attempt to increase funding. The lack of support from the former administration had a disproportionate effect on poorer communities,
particularly those of color. The pandemic has laid bare the failure of a profit-driven healthcare system and the systemic racism within it. “My work is at Broookdale in an underserved community, so I can’t compare my experience there to more affluent neighborhoods,” says Scheena Tannis, an RN for the past 15 years there. “I do know that the patients have been negatively impacted by lack of access and the overwhelming demand.” Tannis stresses that the traditionally underserved should be prioritized. She is critical of the previous administration that failed to distinguish opinion from fact and that disparaged science. “You don’t call a plumber to fix your electricity,” she says.
Susan Philip, RUMC Physician Assistant.
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“We are the essential workers, the hands-on workers who don’t have the luxury of sitting behind our home computers,” Perry says. She has the additional responsibility of trying to shield her grown children from infection. “I live with four children and my fiancé, so we have to be extra careful,” she says. Perry’s son, a restaurant chef, and one of her daughters, a grocery-store worker, were recently laid off. “None of my children have the benefits that I do because they aren’t union members,” she says sadly. She noted that the first weeks of the vaccine rollout were plagued with disorder, delays and disinformation. New York was not an exception. Each state was left to fend for itself with little or no assistance from federal officials. The Biden-Harris team was not even granted the courtesy of a briefing on the work of the previous administration.
January 20 restored hope. The Biden-Harris administration has forthrightly acknowledged the systemic racism built into our institutions. It has noted that during the vaccine rollout, the map of communities in which residents were fortunate enough to get vaccinations did not correspond to a map of the hardest-hit communities. The administration has promised to address that with the help of allies like 1199. “Having a Union like 1199 helps with outreach and education and to get everyone on the same page,” says Physician Assistant Philip. “Instead of dropping the ball, we can work as a team.” RN Tannis also believes that 1199 can use its influence and prestige to get local and national leaders to work together. That has always been the Union’s posture. A major objective in 1199’s constitution is “to help achieve high quality health care and human services for all
The pandemic has laid bare our profitdriven healthcare system and the systemic racism within it.
people regardless of their economic status.” The 1199 members interviewed all spoke of the pandemic’s emotional trauma and the healing that needs to take place. “Caring for each other is essential,” says Philip. “As healthcare workers, we must be concerned about all aspects of our patients’ wellbeing.” “Concern, compassion and empathy is why I’m a nurse,” says Perry. “I put myself and my family on the line every day. And I know I have the support of my Union. 1199 can help lead us out of this disaster. But we must also use our power to hold our elected officials accountable.” At press time, Philip, Tannis and Perry had each been vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and to encourage others to do the same. They want to set an example. Said Tannis of her vaccination, “I took one for the team.”
Catherine Smith Photo
Perry, an LPN at Glendale NH in Schenectady, NY, says that the pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of working families.
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Dignity for Our Departed (L to R) Jesse Aguirre, Gary Hilliard, and Bryon Howard work in the morgue at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, Queens. They help ensure that St. John’s COVID-19 victims receive a loving and dignified transition. See story on pgs. 16-17.
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