We Stand With the AAPI Community
New Contract at GBMC
An Interview With Dr. Chris Pernell
PEOPLE OVER PROFITS 1199ers win historic nursing home reforms in New York State. See pages 14-15
A Journal of 1199SEIU March-April 2021
CONTENTS 6 20
10 4 The President’s Column Elections do indeed have consequences. 6 Around the Regions Make sure your 1199SEIU Credit Union account info is up to date; contract victory at Greater Baltimore Medical Center; Women’s Caucus Celebration; Make your appointment to get vaccinated—here’s how. 9 #StopAsianHate 1199ers take a stand against attacks on AAPI community. 10 Maya for Mayor 1199ers endorse Maya Wiley in NYC mayoral primary.
@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2
12 The Work We Do 1199’s Registered Nurses. 14 People Before Profits 1199ers win historic nursing home industry reforms. 16 A Brighter Future for Directed Care 1199 welcomes PAs from Concepts of Independence. 17 The Fight for St. John’s Episcopal Workers and community rally around NYC safety net hospital. 18 This HHA is a Survivor While battling cancer, home health aide Patricia O’Hara remains active in the Union.
19 PCA Is Part of Medical History Massachusetts member LaWanda Woumnm participated in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trials. 20 Our History Honoring the women of labor during Women’s History Month. 22 The Last Word Dr. Chris Pernell’s public health expertise helped guide 1199ers through COVID and the vaccine rollout.
1199 Magazine March-April 2021 Vol. 39 No.2 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org
Editorial: 1199’s History is One of Struggle and Victory Our recent nursing home victory is 1199’s story writ large.
1199SEIU members made history in April. Nursing home reforms that workers have been trying to win for decades were finally enacted by the New York State legislature. The fuse was lit last January, when angry, frustrated, and exhausted nursing home workers launched the Invest In Quality Care Campaign. Worn out by the pandemic and years of neglect, 1199ers took on a visionary, direct-action campaign that called attention to the desperate conditions in some of the state’s nursing homes, along with the lack of transparency and accountability that has allowed nursing home owners to enrich themselves. Even as workers struggled to find enough hours in the day to care for their residents. Emboldened and mobilized by a pandemic that decimated them physically and emotionally, nursing home workers won a historic raft of provisions that included a 70/40 mandate—owners must spend 70% of their revenue on quality care for residents, including 40% for staffing—and a 5% cap on the net profits of nursing home owners. “I am relieved more than anything else. This reform is a long time coming and I’m glad that Albany finally heard us,” said Mary Samaroo, an LPN from Far Rockaway, NY. “Knowing that I will be able to give my residents the care they deserve is wonderful. The fact that nursing home owners will be required to put residents before their personal profit and that they will be held accountable is a key to raising standards in the entire industry.” This nursing home victory is 1199’s struggle writ large. Fed up. Tired. Enough is enough. 1199’s history—indeed its strength—is one of uprisings by the marginalized. It is the story of those considered powerless stepping into their power and wielding the might that comes with solidarity. During March’s Women’s History Month, we recalled some of our heroes who exploded the myths of irrelevance and impotence. These women led movements that took on the powerful and won important gains that have continued today to change the lives of working families. Our foremothers were women who refused to sit down. Women who refused to be quiet. Women who refused to do as they were told. And today, because of them, we are seen, and we are heard. We are a force to be reckoned with and in the room when decisions are made. Our job is to continue making noise. We must continue singing the songs they taught us and continue bringing our power to struggles that, no matter how
George Gresham secretary treasurer
Maria Castaneda executive vice presidents
Jacqueline Alleyne Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Tim Foley Patrick Forde Todd Hobler (acting) Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Joyce Neil Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Veronica Turner-Biggs Nadine Williamson editor
Patricia Kenney director of photography
Jim Tynan art direction and design
Maiarelli Studio cover photo
Jim Tynan contributors
Our foremothers were women who refused to sit down. ...We are a force to be reckoned with and in the room when decisions are made. Our job is to continue making noise. We must continue singing the songs they taught us and continue bringing our power to struggles that, no matter how old, are still worth winning. old, are still worth winning. Now, as we look toward our next big challenge— negotiations with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes—we need to remember what’s in our DNA. 1199ers do not sit down. We are and have always been heroes – we know it, and so does management. We will continue to carry that torch our forebears lit. That flame will light the way for the challenges and victories that lie ahead, and we must hold our place in this struggle. But no one is more ready for the challenge than the members of 1199SEIU.
Mindy Berman Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Tobias Packer Erin Rojas 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
1199 Magazine 3
Letters & Social Media SOCIAL WORKERS ARE INVISIBLE HEROES arch was Social Work Month. I wanted to take a moment to recognize my co-workers who are a critical, but too-often-unseen part of the care team. While medical providers are saving physical lives, we are here tending to the emotional health of our patients and their families. We are deeply concerned about the short- and long-term consequences of the psychosocial impact of physical illness for those we serve, particularly so in this unprecedented crisis. We are here on the front lines serving in ways none of us had imagined we would ever be called upon to do. We sit at nursing stations and field phone calls from families who can no longer visit their loved ones. We provide updates with news normally given by doctors and nurses who are now overwhelmed providing life-saving physical care. We discuss DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders). We break the news to families, along with our colleagues, when their loved one has died. We take our cell phones into rooms so families can, through video apps, see their loved one, talk to them, and [we often] cry silently while trying to steady our phones on their loved one’s [image], as they say their goodbyes, exchange words of love, and [sometimes even make] amends as they do so. It is a tragically sad and yet beautifully privileged task to undertake. We help find resources––from food to child care to housing to financial assistance––for families, some of whom are all quarantined together and others who are miles or states away. We worry about the families we talk to who are now quarantined together with their abusers, adults and children alike, and attempt to provide them with support and resources. We try to offer resources to people who are barely scraping by and now face financial turmoil because of illness. We counsel addicts who no longer have the refuge of AA and other support programs, which often serve as the cornerstone of their sobriety. We scramble to find food delivery and home health services for those who physically cannot take care of themselves. We sit with doctors and nurses who are physically and emotionally exhausted and help them process the grief that they, too, are feeling. We do all of these things, while facing many of these issues ourselves. At the end of the day, we often are too emotionally drained to take care of our own emotional needs or those of our families and friends. We do this because social work isn’t what we do––it’s who we are. We are the ones who will be addressing the full spectrum of the consequences of COVID-19, long after the viral crisis is over. And believe me, it will be profoundly devastating for many of those we love. So here’s to all my fellow medical social workers, from one of you to all of you. When you are the ones providing endless days of encouragement, don’t you silently wonder to yourself, “Who warms the sun?” I could not do this without all of you, particularly those by my side every day, but we are all in this together in spirit.
Jill Nolan Neurological Intensive Care Unit Social Worker New York-Presbyterian Hospital, NYC CORRECTION: An article in the January/February 1199 Magazine about the annual MLK celebration at Strong Medical Center in Rochester, NY, mistakenly identified Rochester’s location as Central New York; the city is located in Western New York. The same article misspelled the name of Desmond Meeks, a New York State Assemblyman (and former 1199 organizer), who spoke at the event.
1199SEIU: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” - Nelson Mandela #StopAsianHate
@1199mass: #HonorHeroes by hearing us! As we reflect on this past year, our voice and experience are critical in moving forward and addressing the inequities in our healthcare system. Learn more on how with our Healthcare Heroes bill of rights. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/3quyJpD
@1199SEIUFlorida: Nursing home workers from Miami Shores Nursing and Rehab stood in solidarity to demand respect, transparency and honesty from their employer. #WeCareForFL
1199SEIU: On March 25 at 4:00 p.m.,1199SEIU members in Hicksville, Peekskill, Manhattan and Albany, NY remembered and paid tribute to the residents they lost during the COVID pandemic. Crystal Perry, LPN said, “I don’t want to be back here next year. Albany lawmakers must act now and pass nursing home reform immediately, so our residents and their families never have to face this type of tragedy again.” After prayer and a moment of silence, at the memorial locations 150 carnations were placed, each one representing one hundred of the 15,000 nursing home residents who tragically passed away. #investinqualitycare than its opposite.”
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Are Cleaning Up Trump’s Mess Change is happening, but we have to remain vigilant, active and ready. The President’s Column by George Gresham
Across the board—whether it’s defending immigrant rights, protecting the environment against the ravages of climate change, or protecting and enhancing public education— the contrasts between the Trump and Biden Administration could not be sharper. So indeed, elections do have consequences.
Shortly after his election in 2008, President Barack Obama famously responded to Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act by reminding the opposition that “elections have consequences.” Indeed, they do. We will never forget the consequences of Donald Trump’s election: the devastation of our public health; the degradation of our environment; and the decimation of our civil rights and democracy. Though it is still quite early in the administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—just four months after inauguration––we already feel the difference from the past four years. And it feels a lot better. A lot better. Biden has appointed actual infectious disease experts and epidemiologists to curtail COVID-19. Confronting the pandemic is now being treated as confronting a public health crisis instead of political pointscoring. This White House, unlike its predecessor, views the country’s 30 million cases and more than 500,000 deaths as tragedy, many of which could have been prevented had the disease been treated seriously a year ago. Most importantly, the vaccines are now beginning to flow, seriously reducing infection rates. Soon every adult will be able to be vaccinated. In the meantime, the administration and our Democraticled Congress have pushed through a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 aid package, The American Rescue Act, putting thousands of dollars directly into the hands of working people, whose livelihoods have been ravaged by the pandemic. Also included are a new unemployment relief package and billions of dollars to our states and cities to make up for lost revenue for schools, health care and other
essential needs. This is a sharp contrast to the consequences of an earlier election: Donald Trump gave $1.5 trillion tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. And after four years of open hostility to workers’ rights and unions, the Biden White House immediately cleaned house at the National Labor Relations Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, sacking anti-labor corporate proxies and replacing them with workerfriendly officials. And unlike his predecessor, President Biden isn’t full of bluster. Amid the massive Amazon union organizing drive in Alabama, Biden did not mince words: “Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and Brown workers.” (Eighty percent of the Amazon workforce in the Alabama plant is Black, and most are women.) And Biden warned employers: “There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union references. Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer. It’s your right.” Unlike the previous administration, which devoted considerable effort to undermining and dismantling civil rights and voting rights, the Biden-Harris team has pledged to prioritize, expand, uphold, and enforce these rights. It has also directed the Pentagon
and Justice Department to weed out white supremacists and other fascist-minded personnel from their ranks. The first months of the administration have been devoted to undoing the racism—both in policies and personnel—of the last four years. While Republican-dominated states are busily trying to pass more than 250 voter-suppression bills, primarily aimed at Black and young voters—keep this in mind when you hear talk about non-existent voter fraud—the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to remove barriers to the ballot box. Whether it passes the Senate will depend on eliminating the segregation-era filibuster rules. Across the board—whether it’s defending immigrant rights, protecting the environment against the ravages of climate change, or protecting and enhancing public education—the contrasts between the Trump and Biden Administration could not be sharper. So indeed, elections do have consequences. I know that you, our 1199 family, understands this as well as anybody. We know that elections are not a spectator sport. We only get the consequences we desire if we work our behinds off. We are forever grateful for all your canvassing and phone-banking—and particularly for this year’s remote work. And not just in presidential elections, but in every year. Every year, we have local or state elections throughout our Union that help determine the quality of our lives. And we always count on you. I want to pay a special tribute to those of you who continue to contribute to our Martin Luther King, Jr. Political Action Fund. Thank you so much. You are an inspiration.
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Around the Regions
COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a homecare worker at March 8 event in NYC.
Homecare Workers Support Each Other through Vax and PPE Home health workers across the Union have been leading the way for vaccinations and PPE for home-based care workers. In New York City, 1199SEIU homecare workers have helped organize a host of vaccination and PPE distribution events. Homecare members and staff have been helping workers get vaccinated and obtain PPE; they have been providing transportation assistance as well and helping their Union family with paperwork and vaccination appointments. Over 200 1199ers participated in a March 8 vaccination event at New York City’s Personal Touch Agency. Workers at the joint labor/management event also received PPE and hand sanitizer. In Massachusetts, 1199SEIU Personal Care Attendants have been at the forefront of outreach among PCAs and agency-based homecare workers, to help them get vaccinated and stock up their PPE supply. Maria Alessio, a Boston-area PCA has participated in several PPE distribution and vaccination events. “I talked to 6
PCAs and homecare workers about the vaccine and what it was like,” says Alessio, who received her first vaccination in February. “I also talked to them about the Union and what it means for them to be in our Union— because we all have to fight for each other.” The clinics were held at local Boston-area hospitals, with PPE drives held in areas PCAs and homecare workers could easily access by public transportation. (Some PPE was also mailed to PCAs who could not attend distribution events.) Alessio sees the events as a two-fold opportunity: Workers can build the Union and also address hesitance around the vaccine that’s prevalent in some communities. “We wanted people to understand that we were trying to help them. We needed to figure out how to help people feel more confident, and [we are mindful about] how we talk to people, so they feel we are respecting their feelings and their bodies,” she says. “It was an opportunity to educate ourselves and each other. Together we can survive this pandemic.”
1199 Women’s Caucus Celebrates International Women’s Day Nearly 500 attendees gathered via Zoom on March 5 for this year’s 1199SEIU Women’s Caucus celebration of International Women’s Day. This year’s virtual celebration replaced the popular in-person event usually held at Union headquarters in Manhattan. Spirits were high as this year’s event gave members an opportunity to celebrate the incredible sacrifice and contributions of their Union sisters during this pandemic year. A highlight was the presentation of this year’s Audrey Smith Campbell Awards. Named after Audrey Smith Campbell,
a dedicated 1199 delegate who passed away during the Union’s historic 2008 strike at Kingsbridge Nursing Home in the Bronx, the prizes are given out each year for outstanding leadership. This year’s honorees were Anne Merci Blot, Jennifer Dorey, Desma Reaves, Alyssa Bartholomew, Paraskeve Hioutakos, Patricia O’Hara, Nevonne Tyndall, Darlene Gates, Kirsis Pimental, Shaniqua Covington, Cheryl Quarless, and Anayansi Clarke. For more about the Union’s Women’s Caucus and the 1199 Caucus program, visit 1199SEIU.org.
Big News From the 1199SEIU Federal Credit Union We will be upgrading our system at the end of April. This means better service, more convenience and added security. Starting May 1, 1199SEIU Federal Credit Union customers will have access to remote deposits, instant text alerts, an improved mobile app and a new and improved website. To ensure your ability to take advantage of these great new features and services, please make sure that all your information is up to date. Visit our website at www.1199federalcu.org. We are excited and we hope you are too! Be on the lookout for more information via mail, email, and on our website.
Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.
1199ers at Hudson, NY’s Columbia Memorial Hospital braved blizzards and freezing temperatures in their fight for a fair contract. They turned up the heat and won!
Workers Win Big at Columbia Memorial Hospital On a frigid day in December 2020, two weeks before the year anniversary of their contract expiration, with a snowstorm looming, more than three hundred 1199SEIU members with families, friends and community supporters held an informational picket in Hudson, NY, demanding fair wages and affordable health benefits for workers at Columbia Memorial Hospital (CMH). By all reports, this was the strongest worker and community outcry at in decades. On Feb. 5, CMH 1199ers—professional, technical, and service workers—ratified a new, three-year contract with raises, retroactive pay, better wages, affordable health benefits and provisions that aim to raise standards for the workers, and improve quality patient care, by helping to attract & maintain staff, reduce turnover, and relieve short staffing. Highlights of the new collective bargaining agreement are raises of 2 percent for each year of the contract, plus retroactive pay. Workers also won big on pensions and healthcare; all members kept their pension and the bargaining committee fully pushed back CMH’s proposal to increase health insurance contribution and negotiated an additional 1 percent from a management for family health coverage. Workers also won a host of improvements that help recruit and retain staff, including weekend and shift differentials, on call premiums, orientation pay and improvements to education and training benefits. Numerous classifications, including RNs, LPN, multi-specialty aides and others won significant step increases and differentials. Colleen Daly, RN and member of the negotiating committee said, “This agreement proves what we can do when we are united and stay the course. We set new and improved standards this time, and we’re going to build on that. Our community supported us every step of the way in this contract fight, and they deserve nothing less than the best patient care.”
Kingsbrook Jewish Transition Committee Aids COVID Vaccine Effort Workers at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, already involved in the institution’s transition into the One Brooklyn Health System, are now also supporting the facility’s community vaccination program. “They asked us to jump in (to the vaccination program) the weekend before the Martin Luther King holiday,” says Transition Committee member Sharon RostantDebique. Up to then, the Committee had been focused exclusively on the collective effort and institutional change necessary for bringing Kingsbrook into the One Brooklyn System. (See the January/February issue of 1199 Magazine for details.) But then COVID-19 halted much of this work. “We have no control over COVID, so we just got to work on the vaccine effort,” says Rostant-Debique.
Committee members have been doing everything from community outreach to helping patients fill out their vaccination paperwork. Members say the work has been fulfilling and are thrilled by the community’s positive response to the vaccination rollout. Behavioral Health Aide Denise St. Bernard says she has been more than happy to make such a difference in the Kingsbrook community. “It’s been a really wonderful experience,” she says. “The Black community needs more education and conversation around the vaccines because people still have a lot of reservations about taking them. Doing this work, I was able to talk to people and connect them with clinicians and professionals like pharmacists who could explain things and address their concerns. I was also one of the first people to be vaccinated because of an underlying condition I have.”
“Doing this work, I was able to talk to people and connect them with clinicians and professionals like pharmacists who could explain things and address their concerns. “ – Denise St. Bernard Behavioral Health Aide
Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center 1199ers at the hospital’s vaccine clinic.
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Around the Regions
Strong New Contract at Greater Baltimore Medical Center In February 1199ers at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) ratified a contract with historic gains that included significant wage increases, improved base rates and shift differentials, a $400 COVID-19 bonus, and preservation of the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Fund. Workers also placed introducing an official Juneteenth holiday on the docket for the next contract. The institution employs some 450 1199SEIU members in housekeeping, materials management, sterile supply, clerical and technical positions. In an unusual move, bargaining was held in person at held at 1199SEIU’s Baltimore headquarters because a union conference room was large enough to accommodate both sides and maintain proper social distancing protocols. Bargaining committee member Sheila Saunders, a GBMC unit clerk, said the in-person dynamic helped the process. “We got this done quickly and with cooperation,” she
says. “We have a really great committee. We work together very well, and when we have a goal we want to accomplish, we work together very well to achieve it. The committee knows that it’s not just about us, but about every 1199 member at the hospital.” “They really can adjust to every angle,” says MD/DC area oganizer Maurice Brown, praising the committee’s adaptability. “And we wanted to let the boss know that this committee was speaking for the whole shop, not just the committee. And they definitely accomplished that.” Though bargaining during COVID-19 was a challenge, says Saunders, workers should not let the pandemic stop them from standing up for what they want. “We kept telling management that our jobs are as important as any other one in the hospital,” says Saunders. “And we were ready to do what we did to make them understand and get what we wanted.” 1199ers at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, MD recently won a strong new collective bargaining agreement that includes a COVID-19 bonus and significant shift differentials plus wage increases.
Schedule an Appointment and Get Vaccinated!
We are making incredible progress. Let’s keep up the good work! Below are links and phone numbers for scheduling vaccinations. Share this information widely with your friends, neighbors, and community. For more information, go to 1199SEIU.org/vaccineresources. NEW YORK STATE
Schedule your appointment online: covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ Schedule your appointment on the phone: 1-833-NYS-4-VAX NEW YORK CITY
Schedule your appointment online: vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/ Schedule your appointment on the phone: 1-877-VAX-4NYC NEW JERSEY
Schedule your appointment online: covid19.nj.gov/pages/covid-19-vaccine-locations-for-eligible-recipients Schedule your appointment on the phone: 855-568-0545 MASSACHUSETTS
Schedule your appointment online: www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccination-locations Schedule your appointment on the phone: dial 211 MARYLAND
Schedule your appointment online: coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine Schedule your appointment on the phone: 855-MD-GoVAX DC
Schedule your appointment online: coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc Schedule your appointment on the phone: 1-855-363-0333 FLORIDA
Schedule your appointment online: floridahealthcovid19.gov/vaccines/vaccine-locator/ Schedule your appointment on the phone: 1-866-200-3468
Stop Asian Hate
After racist attacks, 1199ers are organizing to support the AAPI community.
1199SEIU is taking a strong stand in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community after a dramatic upswing in racist attacks on Asian Americans. 1199SEIU President George Gresham vowed that the Union would bring its full strength in the fight against anti-Asian racism and that 1199 would, as is the Union’s tradition, organize a diverse and united movement to support the AAPI community and disempower the racist forces dividing the country. The show of strength is particularly critical in the aftermath of the Trump administration, with its racist references to the “China Virus” and its open-door policy for white supremacists. “We want to make very plain that racism in any forms against any community is unacceptable,” said President Gresham. “Together with our allies, we are going to speak loudly—and with one voice that these attacks will not continue. 1199ers’ creed is that an injury to one is an injury to all. We intend to demonstrate this truth in our institutions, with our allies, and for the public at large.” As press time, Union leadership and representatives of the 1199SEIU Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus were planning a raft of public and internal actions and initiatives to support the AAPI community and denounce the increased, racist targeting of marginalized communities. Late March Tele-Town Halls drew hundreds of participants who were joined by guests Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY6) and Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ3). Yan Jun Yu, a home health aide with New York City’s Chinese Amer-
Jian Mei, a pharmacy technician at NY-Presbyterian Hospital in NYC, spoke at a March Tele-Town Hall about how recent racist attacks have affected the Asian community.
ican Planning Council spoke on the Tele-Town Hall. She says 1199ers’ participation and leadership is critical in the current moment.
“1199ers’ creed is that an injury to one is an injury to all. We intend to demonstrate this truth in our institutions, with our allies, and for the public at large.” – George Gresham 1199SEIU President
“It makes me so angry that sometimes I can’t find the right words,” Yu said through an interpreter. “I am also very scared. We are all scared. So, if we stand together, we can stop this. When unions and other organizations work together, they can help people understand how frightened the Asian American community is; we can also contribute our strength to stopping these attacks.” Sajan Kurian, a cath lab tech at Florida Medical Center in Lauderdale Lakes, says America must come to grips with the realities of the melting pot; diversity must come with education.
“There has to be an awareness and appreciation for other cultures. We call ourselves a melting pot, but we don’t co-exist the way we should,” says Kurian, who is an activist in South Florida’s Asian community. “Asians [from all parts of the continent] are marginalized. We are subject to bullying because people don’t understand our culture. Often there is a language barrier. Asian people face prejudice because of the foods we eat and our educational values. We are attacked in our places of worship. This has been happening for years. Now is an opportunity to begin real education.” For more information visit 1199seiu.org/aapi. You can also report any instances of anti-AAPI violence you witness or experience at StopAPIViolence@1199.org.
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Maya For Mayor! 1199 endorses Maya Wiley in NYC mayoral primary.
1199ers have thrown their full support behind NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley. Wiley had deep conversations with members during a visit to 1199’s New York City headquarters. Primary Day is June 22nd.
1199SEIU has endorsed civil rights attorney Maya Wiley in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City. New York City’s Mayoral Primary vote is scheduled for June 22. The endorsement follows a thorough, member-based screening and interview process and a unanimous endorsement vote from the Union’s Executive Council at a Feb. 19 meeting. “Maya Wiley has the experience and vision needed to move us forward, and to reimagine what our city can be when working people have access to the tools and support needed to live with dignity,” said 1199SEIU President George Gresham in a public announcement of the endorsement “Maya’s priorities are our priorities – from investing in and fairly compensating our caregivers to rebuilding our economy through job creation and training. We believe that Maya is uniquely positioned to join the ranks of Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and so many other women who have continued to serve as the backbone of our communities, and of political fights nationwide. We are proud to support Maya, and we look forward to doing all we can to make our collective vision for NYC a reality.”
For the Union’s endorsement, 1199SEIU members participated in a number of polls and focus groups that helped narrow down the field to eight of the leading candidates, who then participated in the endorsement process. Candidates included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan; former non-profit CEO Dianne Morales; Wall Street exec Ray McGuire; former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Each candidate was asked a series of questions and also paired with a member to walk a day in their shoes, either at work, traveling home, or in conversation. The members said they wanted a candidate would fight for affordable housing, health care, reimagined public safety and better schools. Wiley consistently polled well with members who connected with her experiences, ideas, and plans to rebuild the city. After the February 19 endorsement vote, Wiley received tumultuous applause when she joined the Union’s Executive Council Zoom meeting. Clearly moved by Union members’ faith in her, Wiley spoke of her belief in
the people for New York City, the need for change, and her vision for a postpandemic New York still struggling with pre-pandemic inequities. “We know who cared for us during our darkest days; the same people who kept us safe, fed, clean and cared for even during our bright ones. Now, it’s our turn to care for the caregivers,” Wiley said. “Today, I am honored to stand side by side with these essential workers to make our shared vision for our beloved city a reality: where we are all cared for; where we all have jobs with a future… Can see a doctor when we’re sick; can afford the rent and know we can be safe from crime and from police violence! The hard-working members of 1199SEIU know what it means to care and to fight for a city that cares. As mayor, in my City Hall, the voices of frontline workers and unions will be as loud and as powerful as the pots and pans celebrating these essential workers at 7 p.m. every night this past spring. I am excited to work alongside
George Gresham—a pillar of the labor movement—and the dedicated heroes of 1199SEIU.” If she wins, Wiley will be the first woman elected to the mayoralty of New York City. And as the city moves through pandemic recovery and on to the work of facing longstanding issues like income inequality, health care, housing, education, and more, Wiley will have her work cut out for her. But going into the June primary, Wiley will have the might of a dedicated army of 1199SEIU members, who are battle tested and proven time and time again that organized working people are a force to be reckoned with. To that end, 1199 plans to run a robust education, persuasion and turnout effort with its members and retirees. The campaign will include comprehensive digital and mail components. The union plans to recruit, train and equip its members to register voters, make calls, host virtual events and, with
proper precaution, a robust door-todoor effort. “We know that Maya will stand with us, so we are more than prepared to stand with her and help her win this critical election,” says 1199SEIU Political Director Gabby Seay. “Maya’s vision for New York City on everything from housing to child care to criminal justice align with the priorities of 1199 and our members.” “I think she is the best candidate because she is so committed to fighting for healthcare workers,” said Sandra Diaz, a home care aide from the Bronx who spent time with Wiley during the endorsement process. “She is a visionary, down-toearth, honest and caring,” Diaz said. “When her mom was sick, she had a home care aide, so she understands and appreciates what we do. She has always been on the forefront advocating for all of us. It’s not so much that we chose her. By her words and actions, she actually chose us.”
Maya Wiley met with a group of 1199 RNS on March 1st to mark the anniversary of New York city’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are proud to support Maya, and we look forward to doing all we can to make our collective vision for NYC a reality.”
1199 Magazine 11
The Work We Do Registered Nurses RN is shorthand for trust. Nurses regularly poll as one of the most trusted professions in America. COVID-19 has borne out that truth. Over the last year, the maskmarked, exhausted yet determined faces of nurses and their frontline team members came to symbolize the unrelenting fight against the pandemic. At press time, COVID-19 deaths were down, and vaccination rates were on the rise, but hospitalizations and case numbers were ticking up. 1199 Magazine
spoke with some of our New York City RNs about their experiences a year into the pandemic. Brookdale RN Ursula Edwards says that seeing more people get vaccinated and recover has been central to her moving on from the pandemic’s dark, early days. “It’s definitely helped my recovery,” she says. “Working on with the vaccination team is such a great environment. We put on music and sing and laugh. It’s wonderful getting to spend time with our patients that way.”
1. Iona Folkes treated the first COVID-19 patient at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, NY, where she has worked for the last 30 years. Folkes has been an outspoken advocate for her institution and her community. (See story about the fight for St. John’s Episcopal on page 17.) “When [COVID-19] first came on our radar, the nurses realized we were dealing with something different—that was before we had any guidelines or protocols from the CDC,” says Folkes. “I was not frightened because when you work in the ER you see things. And we’d had pandemic training during the Ebola crisis, so we were still in that mindset.”
taking a pause. When I go home, I do some meditation. Even when the prognosis is that someone is unlikely to improve, you always have that hope. You never really get used to losing someone.”
2. New York-Presbyterian Queens RN Vanessa Benjamin says the recent loss of two of longterm COVID-19 patients was particularly difficult. Numbers may be down, but patients are still dying. “You always ask what you could have done better. It never gets easier,” she says. “I cope by
4. Emergency Department RN Angela Sanchez started her nursing career as an LPN at Brookdale Medical Center’s Schulman and Schachne Institute for Nursing and Rehabilitation. Through the 1199 Training and Employment Program, Sanchez went back to school and in 2009 earned her
3. Ursula Edwards works in the cardiac catheterization lab at Brookdale Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. She’s also on the hospital’s vaccination team. “I help coordinate the nurses,” she says. “We have been vaccinating East Brownsville and other communities in Central Brooklyn. It’s such a different environment [than last year] and it’s a great experience. People are so grateful. They’re smiling and happy to be there.”
nursing degree. Over her career at the hospital, she has worked ono many units. The experiences have given her appreciation for Brookdale’s importance to the residents of central Brooklyn. “But for the fact that Brookdale exists, many people would suffer,” she says. “I see a lot of kids and if we weren’t here many folks would not be able to get any healthcare.” 5. Sybilla Daniel Douglas has been an RN at Brookdale since 1990.She works in the hospital’s outpatient ambulatory care clinic, the Brookdale Family Care Center. Daniel Douglas has also been working at Brookdale’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic. “I really want to say things are changing,” she says. “But one thing I can say for sure is that the patients we are seeing aren’t as sick and we don’t have the same number of hospitalizations. We are really trying to make sure that everyone is vaccinated. I’m working to bring a vaccine program to my site at the Family Clinic.”
“One thing I can say for sure is that the patients we are seeing aren’t as sick and we don’t have the same number of hospitalizations. We are really trying to make sure that everyone is vaccinated.” – Sybilla Daniel Douglas, RN, Brookdale Medical Center
2, 4 & 5 Kim Wessels Photo
1199 Magazine 13
BIG WIN FOR NEW YORK’S
NURSING HOME WORKERS 1199ers’ Invest In Quality Care campaign wins historic reforms to New York’s nursing homes.
Victory! In January, 1199 nursing home workers in New York launched the Invest In Quality
Care Campaign, demanding an overhaul of the industry during lobby visits and direct action.
Their milestone victory was announced on April 6 with the New York State budget.
After embarking on their bold and visionary Invest In Quality Care campaign in January, 1199SEIU nursing home workers in New York State have won a number of key reforms to the nursing home industry, including a requirement that owners spend 70% of their revenue on quality care for residents—including 40% on staffing. The victory was announced on April 6, with details of the New York State budget. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare for all New Yorkers what nursing home workers have known for years— that the broken system enabled owners to maximize their own profits while residents and families paid the price. 1199ers launched into action. Angry, grieving and frustrated with the industry’s administrative opacity, lack of oversight, and impossible workload demands, 1199 nursing homes members initiated Invest In Quality Care to bring front and center the difficulties caregivers face daily while caring for residents: not enough time with residents, inadequate supplies, poor infection control, and profiteering by many corporate owners.
“These owners need to think about two things: quality care and respect. If [they] aren’t giving us what we need to do our jobs, which includes enough hours with our residents and enough decent supplies, [they] are standing in the way of our ability to give quality care to our residents,” said Sanjour Spencer, a CNA at Crown Heights Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation (formerly Marcus Garvey NH). “If you don’t respect the workers who provide caring and comfort, you are not respecting the residents and their families. This has to change now.” With bold action and in no uncertain terms, members called on lawmakers to rein in owners who too often treat their facilities like piggy banks, rather than centers of humane and compassionate care. Nursing home workers made sure they were heard loud and clear at statewide demonstrations that brought thousands of caregivers into the streets, “virtual” legislative lobby days, and with a robust social and traditional media campaign reminding the regulators who oversee
A statewide Day of Action brought thousands of NYS nursing home workers into the streets to demand reforms that require in New York’s nursing home owners to spend 70% of revenue— including 40% on staffing—on quality resident care. Workers also demanded increased accountability and transparency among nursing home owners.
the nursing home industry (and the public) that reform is a matter of life or death. “It’s overwhelming for us. You have to pick and choose what you do. Sometimes you have to choose between taking lunch or dinner and caring for your residents,” said Marie Clerjeau, a CNA at Fulton Commons Care Center in East Meadow, NY. “We have three CNAs on a 40-bed unit. You have to run from one patient to another. Would residents choose this kind of care? And what am I supposed to do, stop giving
care to those who need me? It’s so exhausting.” “Sometimes when residents speak about this it hurts my heart,” she adds, her voice shaking with emotion. “No one should feel like a burden. And [my residents] are not a burden. These owners need to see what it’s really like working [in our facility] every day.” In addition to the new 70/40 revenue and staffing requirements, which will ensure that residents receive the quality care they deserve, workers also won a provision in the budget that requires a 5% cap on
“We simply asked that the industry practice honesty and transparency— and that owners stand for quality care, not personal profit. After all this time—after lobbying, and thousands of emails, and texts and phone calls, our voices were finally heard by Albany lawmakers.” – Ed Ferguson, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing and Rehab
net profits for private nursing home owners. “This nursing home reform will make the industry stronger, because it will allow us to deliver the best possible quality care. Isn’t that the common goal? Now that owners must spend a minimum of 70% of their revenue on resident care and, 40% on direct care, we will be able to do our jobs caring for our residents under improved conditions, with better staffing and enough supplies,” said Ed Ferguson, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing and Rehab in Woodbury. “We didn’t ask for much. We simply asked that the industry practice honesty and transparency—and that owners stand for quality care, not personal profit. After all this time—after lobbying, and thousands of emails, and texts and phone calls, our voices were finally heard by Albany lawmakers.” 1199ers have pledged to continue their advocacy through the end of session, calling for additional reforms including establishing minimum standards for hours spent on resident care. “Our members took their grief and anger over what happened over the past year and turned it into action to demand reform, and today, Albany listened. This pandemic has made abundantly clear that the broken nursing home industry has allowed owners to maximize their own profits at the expense of providing quality care. For years it has been residents, workers and families who have paid the price,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU’s Nursing Home Division. “The past year has brought so much pain to residents, their families and the workers who tirelessly provide the best care they can. This victory belongs to all of them.”
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A Brighter Future for Consumer Directed Care 6,000 Personal Assistants opt to join 1199SEIU
On February 19, 1199SEIU welcomed the nearly 6,000 Personal Assistants (PAs) from Concepts of Independence—the largest group of workers to join the Union in the last decade. Funded by Medicaid, CDPAP is a unique program that enables people living with disabilities and the elderly to live independently by hiring a Personal Assistant of their choice. Concepts of Independence, founded by individuals with disabilities joined together to start a community-based alternative to institutionalization. Concepts is a non-profit organization that has long advocated for consumers and improvements to New York’s Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP). With compassion and dedication, these caregivers provide the self-directed services necessary to allow
their consumers to live independently with freedom and dignity. A majority of the Personal Assistant (PAs) at Concepts signed cards designating 1199 as their representative and the Union was recognized in February of this year with a vision to strengthen New York State’s CDPAP and to stabilize and improve their economic condition. By joining the 1199 family, the workers now have a collective voice to fight for a better care system for all. Edward Abayev cares for his 82-year-old mother at her Staten Island home. A hospital based 1199SEIU member for 17 years, Abayev signed up for Union membership because he knows well what it means for members’ strength and security. “I’m very happy to be joining the 1199 family again,” he said. “I had to
Nancie Battaglia Photo
“I can complain by myself until I’m blue in the face and my chances of being heard are slim to none, but people working together in numbers have a real chance at making change.” – Barbie Craig
Concepts of Independence organizing committee member Barbie Craig of Plattsburg, NY is a Personal Assistant for her daughter, Tia, 27.
Joan Perdereaux of the Bronx is one of nearly 6,000 Personal Assistants who recently joined 1199 with an organizing agreement with Concepts of Independence.
leave that job to care for my mother.” The victory marks a brighter future for CDPAP caregivers and consumers alike. Many PAs work in isolation, caring for family members or close friends. With a collective voice in 1199SEIU they now have a platform to advocate for themselves and their consumers and new opportunities to connect with other in-home healthcare providers across the state. “I can complain by myself until I’m blue in the face and my chances of being heard are slim to none,” says Barbie Craig, a Plattsburg, NY PA who cares for her daughter Tia, 27. “But people working together in numbers have a real chance at making change.” Indeed, these new 1199SEIU members add even more strength to the Union’s growing ranks of homebased health workers, whose industry is seeing growth as our aging population demands more home-based care. 1199 currently represents nearly 58,000 PCAs in Massachusetts and over 60,000 home health aides in the downstate New York area. “I think that with regard to making change and getting our point across [being part of the Union] will really help,” said Craig. “And we aren’t just advocating for the PAs we’re also advocating for the people who need our services.” Contract negotiations for Concepts of Independence workers are still in the planning stages, but these newest 1199ers are looking forward to strengthening the CDPAP program by negotiating a contract that benefits workers and consumers alike.
1199 Delegate Jeannine Hutchinson, a senior secretary at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, lives in Rockaway. Workers and the community have been fighting to improve St. John’s Episcopal, which is the only hospital on the Rockaway Peninsula.
Even the New York Daily News Editorial Board weighed in, running an op-ed under the banner “Critical Condition: Closing Rockaway’s Only Hospital Isn’t Wise.”
The Fight for St. John’s Episcopal Members and allies fend off deadly cuts proposed by state at Rockaway safety net hospital. 1199SEIU members and community allies in Southeastern Queens sounded an alarm in early March after a consulting team working with New York State’s Department of Health proposed massive cuts to services and staff at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. The local show of strength forced the state to back off the plan, but St. John’s workers and patients are still angry and wary after the attack on their hospital. “When I heard the news, I was outraged,” says St. John’s Episcopal Senior Secretary Jeannine Hutchinson. “They were not considering our community or the fact that the Rockaway Peninsula doesn’t have [another hospital]. If anything, we need more services here at Saint John’s and in Rockaway. We don’t need cuts.”
The venerable institution has served the Rockaways and surrounding areas for over a century. Home to a predominantly Black and Brown population, the Rockaway Peninsula is changing; as in many working class and poor New York City neighborhoods, gentrification is bringing rapid development after years of neglect. Additionally, when COVID-19 hit, the Rockaways were still struggling to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. Word of the plan spread quickly and brought a swift rebuke not just from 1199ers—many of whom live in the Rockaways and work at the hospital—but also from a host of public officials and community allies, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a host of City Council and Community Board representatives.
“They were not considering our community or the fact that the Rockaway Peninsula doesn’t have [another hospital]. If anything, we need more services here at St. John’s and in Rockaway. We don’t need cuts.”
At a March 5 rally at the hospital, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announced that the state’s “ridiculous” plans to gut St. John’s were pushed back and that stakeholders were convening to find workable, beneficial solutions to improve that would ultimately improve the hospital and its services. “Today was supposed to be a day where we would continue to fight about the […] ridiculous proposals that were put in place that would decimate this hospital,” Richards said. “But I’m happy to say based on the work of all of us coming together — and that means elected officials who came together when we got the news, including the staff of St. John’s, and most importantly, you, the community — because of you, we have got a reprieve of keeping St. John’s hospital moving.” Workers at St. John’s are cautiously optimistic about the future and the work of improving St. John’s Episcopal. “This is a high-need community. The loss of Peninsula Hospital was devastating. We cannot afford to lose St. John’s,” said Delegate Gary Hilliard, a morgue attendant at the institution. “Our community and the hospital have worked together to continue to expand services. The Rockaways has definitely seen improvements; we just want the opportunity to continue investing in our community.” Secretary Jeannine Hutchinson is relieved, but vigilant. “We know this fight isn’t over; it’s on hold,” she says. “This is something that happens every couple of years, and 1199 members and delegates are committed to this fight and the challenge of saving St. John’s Episcopal.”
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Homecare Delegate Patricia O’Hara was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer last summer. She is still active in the Union, participating in GOTV phone banking and division meetings plus vaccination efforts.
in their successful bids for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. A longtime delegate, O’Hara is a member of the 1199 Executive Council and regularly attends meetings. She participates in virtual homecare events and has been a vocal proponent for vaccines for homecare workers. In January, she was vaccinated at an event for homecare workers at Partners In Care’s Manhattan headquarters.
“I Always Have Hope” Cancer hasn’t thwarted Patricia O’Hara’s homecare activism. Home Health Aide Patricia O’Hara is a survivor. And she is dedicated to making sure that the rest of us are, too. A homecare worker with the Partners in Care agency in New York City for the last 12 years, O’Hara was diagnosed last summer with stage three ovarian cancer. That news, during a pandemic that put such burdens on home care and all healthcare workers, was potentially devastating. But O’Hara, already a breast cancer survivor, launched into action. Taking an active role in her care, she went immediately to her doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where scans revealed the extent of the cancer in her ovaries, spleen, large intestine, and 18
diaphragm. Early in the morning on Aug. 3, just two days after her last visit with her homecare client, O’Hara was wheeled into surgery. “Back in May and June, I was just feeling that something wasn’t right [with my health],” she says. “I went through all the tests, and the surgeon said, ‘I can take you tomorrow, or you have to wait.’ There was no waiting.” Since then, even as she’s undergone chemotherapy and radiation, O’Hara has continued her work as a political and homecare activist. During last November’s elections, when she felt physically up to it, she phone banked for the Biden/Harris ticket and also for Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff
“As long as I am alive, I am going to do something for the greater good, and right now, I’m encouraging other healthcare workers to take care of themselves, especially because we spend so much time taking care of others.”
She says her Union work has been a major highlight in a decidedly dark year. “I had not seen my family. I go out for hikes with my boyfriend, but nothing has really been the same,” she says. “I haven’t seen my mother and only talk to my family in Ireland on Skype.” Vaccinations have been a gamechanger, she says, and she is doing all she can when she can to encourage her Union family to get vaccinated. (For more information about how to get an appointment, see page 8. Or visit 1199.org/ vaccineresources.) “I’m really focusing on just doing one thing at a time. I can’t go back to work because my immune system is compromised,” she says. “But when I got the call about the vaccine event, I jumped at the chance. If me and my experience can encourage people to get out there and get vaccinated, I am definitely going to do it. Unless 80% of us get vaccinated, we are never going to get past this thing.” For today, O’Hara says she has good days and bad days, but a recent positive report from her oncologist gave her spirits an additional boost. “As long as I am alive, I am going to do something for the greater good, and right now I’m encouraging other healthcare workers to take care of themselves, especially because we spend so much time taking care of others,” she says. “When I am gone, I want people to have good memories of me. I’ve done a lot of crying and been scared a lot, but my Union helped me through by keeping me busy. And I always have hope.”
Boston-Area PCA Participated in a Moderna Vaccine Trial LaWanda Woumnm accepted an opportunity to honor Dr. King and help move the country past the pandemic. LaWanda X. Woumnm (pronounced womb) is not unused to being part of history. The Boston-area PCA grew up in Mattapan, where she experienced the upheaval of the 1970’s Boston public school busing crisis. Later on, in her early twenties and searching for a job, she became one of the first clients of an employment agency that would go on to be one of the nation’s largest. That job would place her in a seminal role in diversity efforts at a major engineering firm. And most recently, along with a relative who is also her consumer, Woumnm participated in a clinical trial for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She credits her parents— Southerners who came north in the Great Migration—with instilling in her and her siblings a sense of openness and an ability to communicate their feelings about their experiences. “My experience with busing was very surprising since I was brought up with Southern values,” she says. “But my parents allowed an opportunity for discussion. We would talk at the dinner table, ‘Okay what is this? What is going on?’ And [our conversations] always stuck with me and made me want to [contribute more to] an educated environment for peace.” “I am able to take my experiences and share them with others,” she adds. “I am also able to look at things from others’ perspective.” So when she was offered the opportunity to participate in a Moderna vaccine trial at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, she embraced it—not only for the
public good, but also because she has an invisible disability. “I had to make it past three different screenings,” she says. “I was in a double-blind study to evaluate the immunogenicity (how a vaccine works) of the vaccine in adults over 18.” “I felt that I needed to do something instead of sitting, hoping, and waiting for a cure for COVID-19,” she says. “And if I could be part of a something that would save hundreds of thousands of lives, I wanted to do it.” Woumnm says that Black people’s experiences with the medical community also compelled her to participate. “Black people often struggle trusting doctors,” she says. “I remember the Tuskegee study. I know how Black people have been treated historically.”
good comes out of the pandemic, it is that we learn to care for each other and value those on the front lines who care for us all. “We have to ask people what we can do for them. We have to help people get over their fears,” she says. “Taking care of our PCAs and other first responders is so important because if we are not protected, who is going to look after our consumers, patients, residents, and everyone else in their time of need?”
“Dr. King was a leader who wanted an healthy and equal society for everyone. Being part of the COVID vaccine trial— and getting the shot on his birthday—was something I could do to honor Dr. King and all that he has done for us.” Massachusetts Personal Care Attendant LaWanda Woumnm chose to be part of the Moderna vaccine trial because she wanted to help save lives.
Rose Lincoln Photo
Woumnm entered the Brigham and Women’s double blind Moderna trial in August of 2020. Shortly after, her consumer entered the trial also. In January 2021 she was “unblinded.” She received her first vaccination shot on Jan. 15, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she chose the day to take the shot to honor Dr. King’s leadership and as a symbol of her participation in the fight for equality. “Dr. King was a leader who wanted a healthy and equal society for everyone,” she says. “Being part of the COVID vaccine trial and getting the shot on his birthday was something I could do to honor Dr. King and all that he has done for us.” Woumnm got her second shot in early February and has continued to feel great. She hopes that if anything 1199 Magazine 19
WOMEN BUILT OUR UNION
They’ve carried the torch for justice and equality.
At the 1959 AFL-CIO convention, a male delegate ignorantly proclaimed, “Let’s face it: Women are, in the main, unorganizable. They are more emotional than men, and they simply lack the necessary staying power to build effective unions.” In the same year, 1199 exploded that myth by launching an organizing drive that eventually built the largest healthcare union in the nation, the majority of whom are women of color. The ground was laid a generation earlier when a group of predominantly Jewish and male pharmacy workers launched a scrappy progressive Union grounded in the principles of social, racial and economic justice. The leaders said that they would carry aloft a solidarity torch that would light the way for all, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. 20
When 1199 won its first hospital contract in December 1958 at the Bronx’s Montefiore Hospital, the leadership hired its first woman organizer of color, AfricanAmerican LPN Thelma Bowles to its initial hospital organizing team. Soon, women emerged as leaders in virtually all other targeted institutions. Many hailed from the West Indies and Puerto Rico. Others had recently migrated from the South. Among those leaders were Bermudan Hilda Joaquin, a dietary worker at Beth Israel, and Doris Turner, a dietary clerk at Lenox Hill Hospital. Turner later rose through the ranks to become 1199’s second president. The hospital organizing campaign was widely hailed for helping to unite New York City’s growing Black and Puerto Rican communities. These two groups, in fact, constituted the majority of the voluntary hospitals’ service workers. The campaign was championed by El Diario La Prensa, the city’s major Spanishlanguage daily. It rallied the Latinx community to “La Cruzada,” (The Crusade). Among the key Puerto Rican supporters was Celia Maria Vice, a business and community leader who was the first Latina grand marshal of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Gloria Arana, a Mt. Sinai laundry worker and native of Puerto Rico, was revered by co-workers. During the strike, a co-worker of European descent, because of her ailing feet, was unable to picket. She remained in the hospital dormitory and told supervisors, “Gloria told me, I don’t work. I do the strike here.” Like Arana, many of the other workers were single heads of household. A photo of Mt. Sinai’s Maria Cruz and her two young daughters on the picket line became a powerful symbol in the publicity campaign. At the time, Cruz earned just $36 before taxes for a six-day workweek and needed relief payments to survive. Less than a decade later, 1199 had lifted Cruz and all members out of poverty by winning a 1968 contract that established a minimum wage of $100 per week. Equally important were the benefits members won and have built on since then. In addition to a generous pension and world-class health benefits, members have made gains that are especially important to women workers. For example, members have used training and upgrading benefits for classes ranging from basic literacy to graduate school— all at no cost. New York 1199ers also have access to the only Child Care Fund in the U.S. labor movement. Our unique Citizenship Program provides a full range of completely free services. Participants of that program are among our most politically engaged citizens. The women of 1199 have also advanced the struggle through their participation and leadership in the labor movement’s constituency groups, including the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, then Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the Labor Council for
The women of 1199 have also advanced the struggle through their participation and leadership in the labor movement’s constituency groups, including the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, then Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Pride At Work. the United Nations. In the electoral arena, few unions have a prouder record of accomplishments. The Union’s support is sought-after in all 1199 districts. The work of our activists, the majority of them women, often mean the difference between victory and defeat for candidates and legislation. For decades, members have been fighting on the frontlines for women’s right to choose, for LGBTQ rights, and for the right to worship freely.
Latin American Advancement and Pride At Work. The Union has also through the years earned the support of leading feminists who praised 1199’s work for social, political and economic justice. Among its earliest supporters was a former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. During the 1959 hospital campaign, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote: “A business has no right to exist which cannot pay every employee a living wage.” Others important allies have included the late Coretta Scott
King, first honorary president of the 1199 national union, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (who credited 1199 for her first Congressional victory), the late Rep. Bella Abzug, activist Gloria Steinem and artists-activists Jane Fonda and the late Ruby Dee. The Union has also helped to educate the nation about women’s contributions with its distribution in the 1990’s of a series of five “Women of Hope” posters. The posters, produced by the Union’s Bread and Roses Program, were exhibited around the world in union halls, schools, public venues and
The late Hilda Joaquin, a dietary worker at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, was a seminal leader in 1199 organizing.
Sexist attitudes and practices have not yet been eradicated from our labor movement, but 1199 and other progressive social justice unions have helped to alter the perception of women workers. Workers are no longer perceived as just men in hardhats, but also women in a variety of garb. These women, many of whom perform work that makes other jobs possible, continue to inspire others, such as the Amazon workers now attempting to organize in Bessemer, Alabama. Today 1199ers continue to carry the torch on the front lines of the battle to defeat the COVID pandemic, eradicate the inequalities it has laid bare, and help our nation build back better.
1199 Magazine 21
THE LAST WORD
Dr. Chris Pernell Dr. Chris T. Pernell is a dynamic physician leader and social change agent. In her public health practice, her focus is health justice, community-based advocacy, and population-wide health promotion and disease prevention. Recently, she joined University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, as their first Chief Strategic Integration and Health Equity Officer. She oversees a portfolio which includes Population Health, Strategic Planning, Community Affairs, and the Human Experience. Her office is responsible for health equity strategy development and integrating equity and inclusion within the system and across all operations. Prior to joining University Hospital, she led the 1199SEIU/League Labor Management Initiatives (LMI) Workplace and Community Health Program. Working with leaders and frontline workers of 1199SEIU, and partners across NYC healthcare institutions, her efforts centered on workplace health strategies, worker empowerment, health equity, and health system transformation. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Chris Pernell has been an outspoken ally to 1199 members at work and in their communities. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Q: Why do healthcare workers need to take the lead on community health issues, amidst the pandemic and going forward? A: Healthcare workers often are trusted messengers in their families and in their communities. There is a value that healthcare workers provide to the broader social and cultural fabric in society and in our networks, so when healthcare workers can inform and educate, they have capital. They are an asset to communities, and their voices are heard. Q: How do you see the pandemic changing health care? What are some changes we will see in a postpandemic world? A: Two immediate things come to mind: One, our pandemic experience highlights the need for better integration of public health and clinical medicine. Public health and clinical medicine need more integration because each relies on one another for 22
collective efficacy, and too often there have been information silos that separated the public health realm from the clinical realm. We saw it through this pandemic—whether its understanding and interpreting public health guidelines or treating patients rapidly in a constantly evolving treatment landscape while so little was known at first around coronavirus. Partnership, collaboration and integration is key to saving lives and improving well-being. I’m hopeful that coming out of this we’ll eliminate those false silos that hamper information sharing and that we will operate in a more matrixed environment so that every individual practitioner will think not only about the patient in front of him or her, but also the whole population and community they come from and how that influences care. Q: Tell us about the moment when you made the decision to participate in the vaccine trial?
A: It was against the backdrop of losing my father on April 13 and my eldest sister struggling to overcome coronavirus, but also seeing my community in the greater Newark area devastated by the pandemic. We were at the epicenter in the spring. I needed a way to pay for my father’s legacy and to personally invest, dismantle and undo the inequities that have plagued Black and Brown communities. This was a part of my public service to the nation. I knew that a study site was going to be offered here at University Hospital. It was a clear choice for me. I weighed the risks vs. the benefits. This was my way to be my community’s keeper and educate and inform the people. I was in a position where this was the right choice for me. I did my homework. The study team allowed me to ask multiple questions, and I felt reassured about what was evolving with the science. I got my first injection on August 31, and I have never regretted my participation. Q: Given your authority as a public health advocate, tell us about the importance of allies like 1199 and educators in outreach and education work. A: As with other public health issues, beating back the pandemic has to follow an asset-based approach. What are the assets in communities that can be mobilized to help plug the information gaps and eliminate the access to barriers? Those assets are things like unions in our communities. So many of the gains in our society can be directly attributed to the role of unions in advocating for the collective and public good. So being able to partner with unions helps to mobilize more individuals. It helps to elevate and amplify necessary messages and taps into trusted messengers in our communities. Outside of unions, whoever else holds value in our communities are the folks we should be partnering with. This has to be a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach. It’s
going to include faith-based leaders, community-based organizations, health care more broadly, including those who are associated with any of the social determinants of health we’ve discussed. Educators, other frontline essential workers, people who community members identify as valuable and trustworthy--we must all join forces and we must all speak with the same intention. We must say “I hear you. I respect you. I validate you. And because I respect your humanity. I want to make sure you are informed and educated and have the facts so that you can make a decision, and I can help you along your decision journey.” This is a decision journey, and I want people to understand that. And health-seeking behavior is also a decision journey. So being able to mobilize and coalesce those resources is integral to helping us beat back this pandemic and achieve health equity more broadly. And I mean health and well-being for the masses. Q: How is this moment in history related to work that has been done for decades around civil rights and its recent intersection with the Black Lives Matter movement? A: What we have seen is the collision of two pandemics There has been a fast pandemic and a slow pandemic. The fast pandemic is the coronavirus that’s led to disproportionate devastation in historically excluded communities. That has collided with the pandemic of systemic racism, a public health crisis since the founding of the nation. Racism is in the very soil of the American story. Had it not been for those interlocking systems of racism and how that has impacted access to care and the distribution of resources, I don’t believe you would have seen the disproportionate devastation in Black and Brown communities. The advocacy was already afoot. We have been fighting and advocating for the value of Black humanity and the dignity of all persons alongside the
Photo courtesy of Dr.Pernell
Dr. Chris T. Pernell.
trajectory of this nation. Whether its Reconstruction, civil rights, or Black Lives Matter, we have been on this continuum of advocating for the value of all lives and the humanity of all lives. That was heightened during the pandemic because we saw its devastation to Black lives. Q: What advice do you have for caregivers as they navigate the anxieties around getting vaccinated? A: It starts with validating those emotions and concerns. I always start there. We have to validate the various feelings, whether we are anxious, fearful or distrustful. We have to validate the experiences because the experiences are authentic and our rational response to the collective trauma due to historical injustices and present-day disparities. Once we have validation that helps people along the decision journey, the next step is to inform and educate and make sure each person is aware of the facts, given their insights and experiences. For everyone its about the ability to advocate for yourself and to make an informed decision and to walk with a sense of agency and selfdetermination, finding out the facts and knowing what the truth is. Going to reputable and trusted sources to help elevate the facts and then being
able to weigh the risks and benefits in light of the facts, and using that to make an informed choice and decision. We need to know how we message, listen, and communicate effectively. How do we respond and plan accordingly? Q: What are some other tools in our arsenal that we need to pay attention to when we think about the pandemic and getting vaccinated? A: Now vaccines are not our only tool, but they are our most powerful tools. And in addition, its not necessarily vaccines that save lives, but vaccinations. Vaccines must be administered to provide protection and prevention. Yes, we must focus on basic public health measures to keep the greatest number or people well. Like masks. We need to emphasize how important it is to wear a mask properly. We can’t relax on that. We have to continue emphasizing hand hygiene and physical distancing. While the vaccines afford significant protection, but it’s not 100 percent, so you need to do all these other things to activate as much protection as possible. Vaccinations, public health guidelines and understanding the relevance of public health to our individual lives are all vitally important.
“For everyone its about the ability to advocate for yourself and to make an informed decision and to walk with a sense of agency and selfdetermination, finding out the facts and knowing what the truth is.”
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1199ers Aid Vaccine Efforts Maria Alessio, a Personal Care Attendant from the Boston area in Massachusetts, has been helping keep Bay State PCAs safe by organizing PPE distribution drives and vaccination events. More on how home-based caregivers are participating in vaccination efforts on page 6.
Rose Lincoln Photo
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1199 Magazine April / May 2021 People Over Profits