1199 Magazine | November & December 2020

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The Need for Caregiver Self-Care

Our Heroes in Georgia’s Vanguard

Rest In Power, Mayor Dinkins A Journal of 1199SEIU November-December 2020


September-October 2020


And now we must work to undo the damage of the last four years.


12 4 The President’s Column We defeted Trump. Now onto 2021.


7 Around the Regions A new season for NYC Labor Chorus; Buffalo RN donates crisis pay; Buffalo nursing home contract wins; 1199er is member of the SEIU Healthcare Worker COVID Advisory Committee. 10 NYU Winthrop Contract Victory Workers win after year-long fight with hospital giant.

@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2

September-October 2020

1199 Magazine November-December 2020 Vol. 38, No. 6 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org

Editorial: We Are the People Who Make America Great

11 NJ Staffing Bill Victory Gov. Phil Murphy signed life-changing legislation for NJ nursing home workers. 12 We Dumped Trump Historic turnout helped take our country back. 14 Institution Spotlight Buffalo’s Catholic Health System. 15 Healing Our Caregivers Addressing healthcare workers’ COVID trauma.

16 The Work We Do Clark Nursing and Rehabilitation in Clark, NJ. 18 Where Science Meets Art Lab tech uses lab materials to create art and to process COVID trauma. 20 Our History The 2020 election was another demonstration of the power of Black and Brown women. 22 Farewell, Mayor Dinkins NYC’s late mayor was a cornerstone of New York City’s civic and political life and a great friend of 1199.

Cover: Nikosa Collins, a cytotechnologist at NY-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, at an early voting site near her Rockland County home. Collins, whose husband is a Presby RN, brought the whole family to vote on Oct. 24, the first day of early voting in New York State.

With any luck, as you read this, moving trucks are on their way to Washington, DC. COVID’s second wave is gripping the country. We are facing some of the deadliest days in American history. And at the same time, we have endured two hallucinatory months of Donald Trump’s tantrums, tweets, and delusions from his alternate universe. Like a tangerine King Lear, Donald Trump has been holed up in the White House, railing against reality, petulant and offended, as the people of our nation struggle to keep roofs over their head, their children fed, and their bodies healthy and alive. No more! We are tired. On Election Day, the working people of this country sent a message: Four years of the Trump fever dream is enough. This is not who we are. We’ll not idly stand by as the wealthy and powerful conspire to destroy our institutions; as the sick and elderly linger and die without health care; as our marginalized sisters and brothers are pushed further into the shadows, or as our children die in the streets, and as the boot heel of authoritarianism presses harder onto our necks. We will not allow our democracy and progress to be dismantled and thrown on the fires of avarice and hatred. Working people, led by Black women and a rainbow coalition of people of color—including millions of Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinx and Native Americans—took the country back on Nov. 3, 2020. Among the rescuers were thousands of 1199SEIU members who made calls, sent texts, organized in their communities, watched polls, and helped get out the vote. Every day for months, 1199SEIU members changed out of their PPE and scrubs and put on their organizing hats. The life of our country quite was literally at stake. But make no mistake: There is still a lot of work to do. Primarily, it will take a lot of diligent effort to undo the mindboggling damage of the last four years. And then we also must continue to hold Joe Biden and Kamala Harris accountable for their campaign promises and demand


George Gresham secretary treasurer

Maria Castaneda executive vice presidents

Jacqueline Alleyne Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Dale Ewart Tim Foley Patrick Forde Ruth Heller Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Steve Kramer Joyce Neil 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 contributors

April Ezzel Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Erin Rojas Jacob Webb

Luba Lukova

“We will not allow our democracy and progress to be dismantled and thrown on the fires of avarice and hatred.”

accountability from all our elected leaders. Dr. King taught us that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are now in a moment where we are seeing the bend in that arc very clearly. We are truly the people who have made–and will continue to make– America great. It is no surprise that we have a long struggle ahead, and we must hold our place in this struggle. But no one is more ready for the challenge than the members of 1199SEIU.

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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We Defeated Donald Trump— Onward to 2021. We’ve all got to take our place in the struggles ahead. The President’s Column by George Gresham


Well, we’ve come to the end of 2020. I can’t say I’m going to miss it. In the midst of the greatest public health crisis in a century, no group of workers has been more needed and more quickly rose to the challenge than the frontline healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes and home care. The country owes you a debt of gratitude. And of course, in November we saved democracy and pulled the country back from the brink of neo-fascist rule by defeating Donald Trump. For that, every one of you who worked to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris deserves many thanks and congratulations. Donald Trump’s embarrassing refusal to concede simply reaffirms what we already know about him: He is someone who has never believed in democracy. Trump’s tantrums will not alter the fact that Joe Biden received seven million more votes than he did. And let’s be clear. Working-class voters elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Those who talk about Trump being the working-class choice are speaking mainly of white workers. The majority of the working class is multiracial and multinational. It’s like saying Trump was the choice of women because a majority of white women voted for him. But a majority of all women by far chose Biden. And of course, millions of white workers of every identity voted for Biden and Harris. We need to understand—and hope that President-elect Biden understands—that we won because of Latinx and Native American voters in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. He won because of African Americans (especially African American women) in Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Which is why Trump’s failed attempts in court

November-December 2020

to reverse the election results relied primarily on disenfranchising those very voters. The Trump presidency was based almost entirely on its appeals—subtle and not so subtle—to racism. It appealed to those who could not see Donald Trump as the unashamed, preposterous fraud he is. To his supporters, he was the greatest of great white hopes. Their refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Biden presidency is an act of disloyalty unsurpassed in American history, except for the U.S. Civil War, when Jefferson Davis and other traitors rose up in violence and tried to destroy the United States of America. The Trump presidency has been a four-year effort to vandalize democracy. The greatest division in the political life of our country is not between Left and Right, but between fantasy and reality. The Republican Party has become the Cult of Trump. Republican officials, who knew better, refused to contradict Trump because his base was the Republican base. We are witnessing the decadeslong descent of a Republican Party that now prefers conspiracy theories to facts, magical thinking to science and delegitimizing elections to substantive and responsible governance. In the weeks since the election, the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the force of a hurricane. And instead of presidential leadership, we’ve had a thousand Trump tweets complaining about election fraud, in which his lawyers have presented no evidence and more than 40 lawsuits in six states. But there hasn’t been a single tweet about the million COVID cases per week. And the Republican Party leadership, too, has remained silent.

Their approach has been denial, and a refusal to take even the most basic, low-cost precautions — like requiring that people wear masks in public. The epidemiological consequences of this cynical irresponsibility have been ghastly and will be still worse until a vaccine is readily available to all. The vaccine news has been very good, and it looks likely that, once available, the Biden administration will distribute it efficiently and fairly. Defeating Donald Trump was a huge victory, but our work is far from done. We not only have to undo the massive damage Trump has left behind; we are facing ongoing crises that demand immediate, bold action. The first challenge of course is gaining control of the pandemic after 300,000 deaths—100 times the number of fatalities in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In addition, millions of the 15 million-plus COVID survivors in our country will have lasting, even lifelong, symptoms such as headaches, disorientation, dizziness, and gastrointestinal and neurological difficulties. Joe Biden also inherits a country in turmoil. Unemployment benefits have run out for some 14 million workers. Millions of families have no money for their next rent check or mortgage payment and are facing eviction. Ten million workers lost their health coverage when they lost their jobs in 2020. Food insecurity has tripled for families with children. With such crises upon us, this will not be a time for half-measures. Among the urgent and imperative needs is a $15 federal minimum hourly wage, rapid expansion of health coverage, cancelation of student debt, the fight against climate change, and comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Welcome as it would be,

Photo: Getty Images

we cannot expect any kind of bipartisanship in Congress. The Republican-led Senate did everything possible to undermine Barack Obama and under Trump, it has only gotten worse. Senate Republicans have refused to agree to desperately needed pandemic relief for the poor, the unemployed, and cities and states facing bankruptcy. And we all know how the GOP blocked Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court and other federal courts, only to pack them with far-right judges under Trump. And more than a month after the November election, few leading Republicans were willing to defy Trump and recognize the legitimacy of the Biden-Harris victory. So if we are going to rescue our country and make it livable for our children and their children, it is going to be up to us to build the kind of coalitions that can force Congress

to meet its responsibilities. This means bringing together unions, religious communities, immigrant organizations, civil rights groups, and the many new movements of young people that have risen up in recent years. It was these kinds of movements in the workplaces and the streets that in the 1930s brought us industrial unionism, Social Security, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, and an end to child labor. And 30 years later, these coalitions helped secure the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and more. We are in the midst of a national crisis like those of the 1930s and 1960s and our generation must rise to the occasion like never before. I am confident that you, my 1199SEIU sisters and brothers, will take your rightful place in this fight. Onward to 2021 and the struggles ahead!

“If we are going to rescue our country and make it livable for our children and their children, it is going to be up to us to build the kind of coalitions that can force Congress to meet its responsibilities. This means bringing together unions, religious communities, immigrant organizations, civil rights group, and the many new movements of young people that have risen up in recent years.”

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Letters & Social Media

Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.

Around the Regions


Workers at McGuire Group Ratify Contract THANKS FOR CHILD CARE STIPEND would like to express my gratitude to the Union. I recently received an email letting me know that I will be receiving a one-time award from the 1199SEIU Child Care Fund (CCF) to assist me with childcare needs. With the holidays approaching, the timing could not be more perfect. I am a single mom of three young sons. Like so many families, we have managed, but COVID has been a hardship. When schools closed, we scrambled. Child care remains a tremendous struggle at this time, but that award will certainly help. I thank 1199 for always standing with me. As a social worker, I am no stranger to providing support for others. It’s not easy for me to be on the receiving end of help, but the CCF was generous and kind, and I did not feel at all self-conscious. I count my lucky stars every night that we are now part of this Union.


1199SEIU Westchester, Hudson Valley, Capital Region: “We are the ones, if they say they care about their residents, we are the ones caring for their residents; we are the ones on the front line; we are the ones that make sure that the residents’ safety is first and foremost,” Fran said. “And if we can’t take care of ourselves because we lose our benefits, how are we going to be able to stay and be able to take care of these residents?”

@1199upstateny: Members of @1199UpstateNY at Absolut Endicott protest management’s union busting. We are fighting for a #FairContract #WeAreEssential #1u #UnionStrong

Danyelle DiScala Northwell Health, Staten Island University Hospital

1199SEIU members at four Buffaloarea nursing homes owned by the McGuire Group last September ratified a new, one-and-a-half year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that includes wage increases of 4%, a firsttime shift differential for third shift, and increased starting wages for all departments (including additional increases based on years of service). The agreement came after five months of negotiations and covers some 900 workers who are employed at Western New York’s largest nursing home chain. With its one-and-a-halfyear duration, the contract also takes another step in the broader Union strategy of coordinating contracts to build workers’ power across industries. Patricia Meckes, an LPN at Autumn View Manor, in Hamburg, NY, said COVID-19 intensified negotiations and highlighted the importance of also settling an agreement that included fair compensation and recognition of workers’ sacrifice and critical roles on the front lines of the pandemic. “We don’t know what the future holds for us since we can’t predict if a

second or third wave of the virus will hit – or whether there’s a new strain or any other possibility; but we do know that if we don’t find a way to make employees feel appreciated for the ever increasingly difficult work they do, we won’t have anyone left to care for our residents,” said Meckes. She also noted that the virus has changed this industry and exacerbated pre-existing issues like staff retention. “It’s not going to get any easier to find people who want to do the jobs we do,” said Meckes. “So we must work together to figure out how we can continue to see McGuire thrive.” McGuire workers also negotiated COVID Appreciation Pay bonuses for all hours worked by all employees during March 1 through June 27, when the virus was at its worst. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) ensures that all McGuire workers will receive appreciation pay—something every one of them deserves,” said Tina Frain, CNA at North Gate Manor in North Tonawanda. “We saw our co-workers fall ill because of it,” said Frain. “And we were the ones who had to console

residents who were confused and depressed because they couldn’t see their loved ones.” Madonna Krah, a cook for 40 years at Seneca Care in West Seneca, said the agreement was about more than money. “All essential workers should be essentially respected,” said Krah. “Starting wages have increased in all departments. An appreciation bonus was given to all union employees during the most crucial time of this pandemic. Our voices were heard.” McGuire workers also won weekend “pick up” bonuses, increased pension contributions, and a less restrictive new uniform policy “These workers are heroes,” said 1199 Nursing Home Division VP Todd Hobler. “This contract demonstrates that they deserve to be respected and compensated in a way that allows them to care for themselves and their families in the same way they care for their patients.”

Workers from McGuire Group nursing homes in the Buffalo area settled a new agreement in September.

“We saw our co-workers fall ill because of [COVID]. And we were the ones who had to console residents who were confused and depressed because they couldn’t see their loved ones.” – Tina Frain, CNA at North Gate Manor in Buffalo

NYC Labor Chorus 30th Anniversary

1199SEIU: Congratulations to 1199ers at the Commons on St Anthony in Auburn, Upstate NY, who just ratified a new contract!


November-December 2020

@1199SEIU: It’s Election Day and 1199 is out in force, knocking on doors across Pennsylvania until the polls close, to make sure voters in this important state exert their power. #vote #myvotecounts #myvoteisessential #dumptrump

1199SEIU: Congratulations to the 1199 members Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home in Gloversville, NY, northwest of Albany, who fought for two long years to lift their below market wages and maintain their 1199 health and pension benefits. All members are now set to receive a combined 10% raise between now and July 2022! Base wages have also been increased for many positions, in order to attract and retain healthcare workers and mitigate short staffing.

The New York City Labor Chorus has kicked off its rehearsals on Zoom in preparation for performances celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Though no in-person rehearsals are planned until there is a vaccine for COVID19, the Labor Chorus is hard at work on its repertoire and planning

a virtual anniversary celebration. The NYC Labor Chorus has performed at strikes, rallies, and union meetings. The Chorus made its debut at a 1991 event produced by 1199’s Bread and Roses Cultural Program. Performance highlights include concerts at prestigious

venues including Carnegie Hall in New York City, and events honoring Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and other progressive heroes. You can learn more about the Chorus and purchase recordings, including the latest CD, “We Shall Overcome” at www.nyclc.org.

 The NYC Labor Chorus’s latest CD, “We Shall Overcome” is a recording of the groups 2018 benefit concert at New York City’s Symphony Space.

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Around the Regions

Workers at Small Buffalo Nursing Home Win Big New Contract Workers at Humboldt House, a rehabilitation and nursing center in Buffalo, NY, in October settled a new contract that includes significant wage increases, enlarges the existing 10-year longevity step, and adds an additional longevity step at 30 years of service. Humboldt House is a 173-bed independent nursing home that has served the Buffalo area for decades. Some 200 1199SEIU members work at Humboldt House in nursing, service, maintenance, dietary and other capacities. The new agreement also includes an increased pension contribution and an increased perfect attendance bonus. Activity Aide Lorraine Beasley says the contract improvements will also benefit workers by encouraging improved staffing and retention. “I am hoping [we will have] more people to stay and be part of our union family. We want people to stay and build seniority,” said Beasley. “We want people to have a say in their jobs and make things better for our residents and our families.” Housekeeping aide Jesse Favors said the contract was proof of what workers can do when they band together – even in a pandemic. “As long as we stand up together, we can fight for better improvements at work,” said Jesse Favors. Humboldt House workers ratified their new contract in October.

 As a second wave of the COVID pandemic approached NYC, management at NY Presbyterian Queens attacked the wages, benefits, and pensions of Registered Nurses. At a Nov. 9 informational picket, nurses said, “No way!”

RNs Picket Presby Queens For Fair Contract

– Activity Aide Lorraine Beasley

 Contract ratification vote at Buffalo’s Humboldt House in October.

November-December 2020

NY-Presbyterian Lab Tech Joins SEIU COVID Advisory Committee


“We want people to have a say in their jobs and make things better for our residents and our families.”



Registered Nurses New York Presbyterian-Queens in Flushing held an informational picket Nov. 9 to demand that management settle a new contract that protects their healthcare and retirement benefits and provides higher wages. Nearly 1,000 nurses work at Presby Queens and they have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since it swept through Queens, turning some parts of the borough into New York City’s coronavirus epicenter. “They are disrespecting us,” said Seeta Ozgur, a labor and delivery RN at the institution for over two decades. Ozgur told AM New York that the hospital was making unreasonable demands and refusing to budge. “After working through this pandemic, we deserve the same health care coverage that we had; instead, they want us to pay a higher cost with less

coverage—seven meetings and they haven’t budged at all.” Nurses have consistently risked their health and even their lives to care for patients and so maintain that their health and retirement benefits should be protected. The RNs made clear that they are united and have every intention of fighting to protect their pay, benefits, and pensions. Newly elected Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined the scores of nurses at the picket and called on Presbyterian Queens to do the right thing. “These frontline workers need to be treated with respect and dignity— that’s why I’m here,” said Richards. “Society shouldn’t celebrate them, and then try to cut their benefits. They need and deserve their benefits.” NY Presbyterian-Queens RNs are clear they will hold the line and fight as long as necessary for a fair contract.

1199SEIU member Genevieve E. Smith has been named to a new SEIU Healthcare Worker COVID Advisory Committee that will advise the Biden Administration’s COVID Task Force. The Committee will ensure that the experiences and perspectives of healthcare workers are included in the Biden administration’s COVID response: they will make recommendations and virtually meet with Task Force members as they plan the continuing battle against COVID-19. “I have knowledge of how testing and science work,” she says. “Sometimes the sciences are misunderstood, so [the Committee] must have people with a background in science. It’s also important that I work in a hot spot.” Smith has been a Clinical Laboratory Scientist at NY-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan for 38 years. Though she planned to pursue a career in nursing, a career day in high school introduced her to the laboratory sciences; she was captivated by lab work and its ability to unlock the mysteries of the human body. Smith specializes in immunology, where her work has focused on multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer that affects the blood, bones, and immune system. Today, like all healthcare workers, Smith is largely focused on COVID and ways to treat and contain the virus. “I want to stop it, so we won’t continue to lose so many lives,” she says. A Union delegate for over 25 years, Smith credits her late mother with instilling in her the desire to advocate for herself and others. “I think this is really important,” said Smith. “We must be devoted to protection and safety for healthcare workers and for everyone.”

Today, like all healthcare workers, Genevieve is largely focused on COVID and ways to treat and contain the virus.

NY-Presbyterian Hospital Clinical Lab Scientist Genevieve Smith is part of a new SEIU COVID Advisory Committee to help guide the Biden Administration’s COVID response.

Even During COVID, Buffalo RN Gives Back To her Community Cathy Mahar, a first assistant surgery RN at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Buffalo since 1987, grew up with the Golden Rule, and it’s one of the reasons she became a nurse. “I wanted to take care of others, and people who are sick,” she says. Mahar’s parents were her biggest supporters, encouraging her into the profession. She credits her high school ROTC program with encouraging her toward the education and discipline she needed to become a nurse.

When COVID-19’s first wave hit the Buffalo area, Mahar immediately volunteered to continue working at St. Joseph’s (which was converted to a COVID hospital by the institution’s parent organization, Catholic Health Systems). Mahar valued the education and experience, but says it was particularly important that she support her hometown. “This was something I HAD to do,” she says. “People were dying and not seeing their families.

People were constantly donating food and looking after us. It was rewarding to be there for my community and my patients.” After the surge, Mahar donated her crisis pay to Catholic Health’s food pantry. “I’m glad the Union fought for hazard pay, because it’s definitely needed,” she says. “But this was something I was happy to be able to do, particularly because so many businesses and community member had done so much for us.”

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NYU Winthrop Workers

 Margaret Boyce, a CNA at JFK Hartwyck at Edison Estates in NJ, is among the 1199 leaders who fought for a recent staffing bill protecting workers and residents.

Win New Contract Relentless worker pressure forced the mega-system to blink. “This was not a sprint; it was a marathon. We had to go one mile at a time and run at an even pace. Eventually, we got across that finish line.” – NYU Winthrop Hospitality Worker, James Weaver

 Workers at NYU Winthrop University Hospital on Long Island in October ratified an agreement that provides “gold standard” coverage under 1199’s National Benefit, Child Care, Training and Pension Funds; health benefits without co-payments or premiums start in October, 2021.


After a protracted struggle that spanned over a year and through the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at NYU Winthrop University Medical Center in Mineola, NY, have their first collective bargaining agreement as members of 1199SEIU. The new contract brings over 1,000 NYU Winthrop workers under the umbrella of 1199’s agreement with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes. By remaining steadfast in the face of a powerhouse health system, NYU Winthrop workers won 3% across the board wage increases; a $1,000 signing bonus; coverage under the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading, Pension, and Child Care Funds; and, effective 10/1/2021, coverage without co-payment or premiums under the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund. “This is a great victory that shows that if we unite, we can win the things we want,” said negotiating committee member James Weaver, a NYU Winthrop hospitality worker. “The Child Care Fund and Pension Fund are so important. Nothing hurts workers more than not having benefits. When you retire after putting your blood, sweat, and tears into a job for 20 or 30 years, not having a secure

November-December 2020

retirement really hurts.” The new agreement is hard-won. It was the third time in recent years that NYU workers publicly had to hold the mega-system’s feet to the fire around respect and contract enforcement. NYU Winthrop workers voted overwhelmingly in 2019 for 1199SEIU membership. NYU, still smarting from its failed attempt at thwarting the organizing drive, signaled early on that it would not make easy any path to a collective bargaining agreement. Workers said, “No way!” and launched into action, holding pickets, sticker days, and walk-ins on the boss to build a united, system-wide effort against NYU’s attempts isolate NYU Winthrop workers. Social media campaigns also dinged the wealthy hospital, reminding the public that NYU’s slogan, “Made For NY” does not necessarily include workers or their families. “After waiting so long, we thought the people who actually did the work would be more appreciated. We have watched our co-workers die; we have seen our co-workers spend five and six hours at a stretch in COVID rooms,” said PACU CSA Joe Campbell. “We’re

emotionally messed up from watching people die. Is [NYU] management so rich and complacent they’ve lost their humanity?’ Throughout the struggle, workers constantly reminded NYU of their obligation to cover workers under its agreement with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Nursing Homes. Instead of abiding by their legal requirement, NYU chose to ignore the League contract and proposed a sub-standard package of wages and benefits for NYU Winthrop workers. At the same time, NYU management refused crisis pay for caregivers at the affiliates, adding insult to injury for frontline caregivers who had sacrificed so much as the pandemic engulfed New York. Workers were not having it and prepared to take the stalemate to binding arbitration. The hospital blinked. The new agreement was settled in late September and ratified nearly unanimously in an electronic vote held on Oct. 29 and 30. “This was not a sprint, it was a marathon,” said Weaver. “We had to go one mile at a time and run at an even pace. Eventually we got across that finish line.”

Two New NJ Laws Mark Historic Gains for Nursing Home Workers & Residents Legislation establishes minimum staffing ratios and policies to prevent social isolation among residents.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed two bills on Oct. 23 ordering historic reforms to the Garden State’s long-term care industry. The laws are the culmination of a years-long battle to improve conditions for New Jersey’s long-term care workers and the residents for whom they care. 1199ers have been at the forefront of the struggle, so the day was one of pride and emotion. “I cried. I was so happy,” said Margaret Boyce, a CNA at JFK Hartwyck at Edison Estates. “What a glorious day! That [staffing] bill was my baby.” The new staffing law (S2712) includes specific minimum direct care staff-to-resident ratios in New Jersey long-term care facilities. Under the legislation, minimum direct care staff-to-resident ratios are as follows: one CNA to every eight residents for the day shift; one direct care staff member (RN, LPN, or CNA working in the capacity of a CNA) to every 10 residents for the evening shift; and one direct care staff member (RN, LPN, or CNA working in the capacity of a CNA) to every 14 residents for the night shift. The law also establishes the Special Task Force on Direct Care Workforce Retention and Recruitment. “Sadly, too many nursing homes are run by companies more interested in making money than protecting patients,” said Governor Murphy. “These long-sought reforms will help bring accountability to the industry and protect residents, staff, and family members with a loved one living in a long-term care facility. I am proud to have worked with our partners in organized labor, health care advocates, and legislative sponsors to finally implement safe staffing ratios in our nursing homes, as well as other long overdue reforms.” The second bill signed by Gov. Murphy (S2785) mandates, as a

condition of licensure, policies that prevent social isolation of residents and addresses issues experienced by residents and their families as a result of visitation limitations during COVID-19. (The pandemic only exacerbated tremendous strains already experienced by many longterm care residents and their families.) The bill also promotes virtual visitation and resident recreational activities during periods where in-person engagement is limited/prohibited. “New Jersey has enacted one of the most meaningful pieces of nursing home legislation our state has seen in decades,” said 1199SEIU EVP Milly Silva. “This law will fundamentally improve standards of quality care in nursing homes by ensuring that facilities hire sufficient frontline staff to meet the basic needs of residents. We commend Gov. Murphy and our legislative leadership for taking this step establishing New Jersey as a national model for compassionate staffing levels in nursing homes.” “Now we will have enough time to give our residents the care they deserve,” said Margaret Boyce. “Seeing Gov. Murphy sign that bill was bittersweet, because there are still things to be done; I know how short staffing has affected our residents over the years. This victory shows that we in 1199 can change things if we put our minds to it.”

The new staffing law (S2712) includes specific minimum direct care staff-toresident ratios in New Jersey long-term care facilities.

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POLITICAL ACTION rearview, MPO Brendan Lusby, a surgical technologist at Holy Family Medical Center in Methuen, MA, says it’s critical for workers to be at the table during the first 100 days of the Biden presidency.

“WE DID IT, JOE!” 1199ers helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Union members will also play a critical role rebuilding the country after four years of destruction and division.


September-October 2020

In what is arguably the most consequential presidential election in American history, 1199ers overcame the challenges of a global pandemic and helped Joe Biden and Kamala Harris beat Donald Trump. Now, members are setting about the work of undoing the damage done by four years of Donald Trump while at the same time battling COVID’s second wave. “There’s probably no one who understands more acutely than 1199 members what was at stake in this election,” said 1199SEIU Political Director Gabby Seay. “Everything we have fought for since the Union was founded was in jeopardy­— civil rights, workers’ rights, healthcare, education, our kids’ future—everything. Together with COVID, a second term of Donald Trump would have quite literally destroyed our country and our democracy.”

Late last spring, with COVID-19’s first wave raging and a divided America facing record levels of inequality, 1199SEIU members mustered for the November election. They quickly undertook groundbreaking organizing campaigns, learned new skills, embraced technology on the fly, and stepped into broad and effective coalitions. Across the Union, 118 Member Political Organizers (MPOs) built community strength, held workplace meetings, ran GOTV events, and connected with partners to educate members and ensure turnout in every voting precinct. 1199ers also made over 300,000 member-to-member calls, sent nearly 400,000 member-to-member texts, and engaged some 500,000 voters. The remarkable effort worked; Joe Biden received the largest number of votes in

presidential history, garnering some 80 million votes and shattering Barack Obama’s record from the 2008. In addition to helping win a $15 minimum wage victory in Florida, preserving a supermajority in the New York State Senate, and winning numerous crucial down-ballot races, 1199 rank and filers and staff aided in the historic effort of turning Georgia blue. Together with the rest of Stacey Abrams’ visionary coalition, 1199ers called over 330,000 Georgia voters and sent texts to an additional 193,000 more. As part of the Pen and Pencil Brigade, 1199SEIU retirees wrote hundreds of personal letters to Georgians encouraging them to vote. (For more on this, see pages 20-21 for a story about the political power of Black and Brown women.) With November in the

“President Biden’s priority needs to be getting the economy back on track. And I don’t mean Wall Street. They don’t care about us. I mean for working people,” says Lusby “We need a stimulus package that isn’t a bailout for corporations. It must help everyone who is struggling financially. It has to make sure healthcare workers are protected and it has to include hazard pay for every essential worker.” MPO Anestine Bentick, a medical assistant at South Boston Community Health, thinks Biden is off to a good start with his announcement of a mask mandate for his first 100 days. “But we also need to talk about the right to organize and the Supreme Court, because it’s so out of balance. I have a young adult at home and the Court’s decisions will affect young women’s right to choose. I’m also very concerned about those 565 [immigrant] kids in detention without their parents,” says Bentick. “We must make sure we bring this country back to democracy and common decency. We must emphasize respect for one another. That is going to bring stability back to the country so we can move forward.” Mary Maggio Fischer, a Queens MPO says Donald Trump and the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are reminders that we cannot become complacent around any victory or progress. “We always have to do the work,” says Maggio Fischer. “We can never take anything for granted.” “It’s incredible what members accomplished and continue to accomplish. We saw how close our democracy came to ending,” said Seay. “Their focus on the first 100 days of the Biden presidency will ensure that workers’ voices are included in those plans and setting the agenda.”

Photo: Rose Lincoln

“ President Biden’s priority needs to be getting the economy back on track. And I don’t mean Wall Street. They don’t care about us. I mean for working people.” – MPO Brendan Lusby, surgical technologist at Holy Family Medical Center in Methuen, MA

Top Left: Rockland County, NY Top Right: Holyoke, MA Middle: Ocala, FL Bottom: Baltimore, MD 1199 Magazine 13


you would think.” Polka adds that affirmation is vital. “When you are facing such a heavy load, you need a constant reminder [about self-care].”

Support, solidarity, and communication are key.

Harry Beyer, a Physician Assistant at Elmhurst Hospital Center, says the intensity of the pandemic’s first wave was like nothing he had seen in three decades as a healthcare worker. “At Elmhurst, we were at the epicenter of the epicenter,” he says. “There was always that fear of the unknown in the beginning. No one really knew [about the virus]. That was the biggest issue.” Beyer says that in the second wave, administrators need to do a better job handling learning curves and compensating workers who are already handling massive amounts of professional and personal stress. “In addition to everything else we do, we are witnesses to death. We talk to COVID patients and their families,” says Beyer. “Some stressors don’t need to be there. If both sides are willing to work together, we could be in a better place. We cannot necessarily change the fact of people dying of COVID, but we can change relationships between workers and employers. It’s going to take a lot, but it can be done.”

Just as healthcare workers have fought in the current pandemic to heal America, they also face the work of healing themselves. Every day, healthcare workers bear witness to severe illness and mass death while simultaneously tending to dozens of patients requiring previously unseen levels of care. At the same time, they are also fighting to protect themselves and their families from the novel coronavirus, and too often, they must heal themselves and/or family members after infection. Add to that health care’s pre-existing structural problems: susceptibility to worker burnout, and an already marginalized workforce that is overwhelmingly Black, Brown, and female. Sandra Harris, a social worker and leader of Harris Solutions, says COVID is a perfect storm of trauma for caregivers. Harris, who works with 1199’s National Benefit Fund to develop programs that help workers manage COVID’s emotional stress, says the pandemic has highlighted the many ways in which our healthcare

Patti Spaulding, a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Cheektowaga, NY, said that solidarity was the best short-term way of dealing with the stress of COVID. (As this magazine goes to press, Western NY is leading New York State in COVID cases.) “It was hard every day to go in, but we knew we had to stick together,” says Spaulding. “But this was nothing like we had ever seen [before]. We are used to people dying, but people dying alone without their families [with them] is not something we are [at all] used to.” Polka, Beyer and Spaulding say that caregivers must make time to disconnect and care for their own needs through time off, getting outdoors, quality time with family and friends, or talking to someone. The 1199 National Benefit Fund offers services and advice to help healthcare workers at its website, www.1199seiubenefits.org/ covid-19-resources. And you can also learn more about what is happening in your region and how the Union can help at www.1199onthefrontlines.org/ resources.

The City of

Good Neighbors Labor-management cooperation at Buffalo’s Catholic Health has been central to caring for Western New York’s COVID patients. As New York State’s Buffalo Niagara Region comes up againts a second wave of the coronavirus, the area’s Catholic Health (CH) hospital system is relying on a strong foundation of preparedness and lessons learned during February’s COVID-19 outbreak. “We have never stopped preparing. Our goal since February has been to be always ready,” President and CEO Mark Sullivan told Buffalo’s WKBW in a recent interview. “The disease knows no barriers. We are seeing more people coming into the hospital now with COVID symptoms. We’re not seeing the same number of people in the ICUs, but that’s not to say that won’t happen in the future.” Workers’ cooperation and outreach to unions played a major part in that preparedness. 1199 represents some 1,500 members at four CH institutions throughout the Buffalo area. And as CH management and workers undertook

the massive task of becoming COVIDready and transforming St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Cheektowaga into a COVID-only facility, 1199SEIU and the Communications Workers of America (both unions represent workers at CH facilities) huddled with management to negotiate agreements ensuring staffing requirements were met, workers were protected, and adequate compensation and crisis pay were provided. “Catholic Health immediately contacted the Union and negotiated [an additional] $10.00 an hour in premium pay for anyone working on a COVID unit,” says 1199SEIU Vice President Jim Scordato. “They made sure workers had all the PPE they needed, and units were well-staffed. The response was really remarkable, especially considering that other employers were doing the opposite: rationing supplies and limiting crisis pay.”

“The administration showed that they were there with us. They made sure that we had everything we needed to do our jobs to the best of our abilities.” – Brenda Anderson, LPN at St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center in Buffalo

 Shaun Crisman, a surgical tech at Buffalo’s Sisters of Mercy Hospital, worked at the Catholic Health’s COVID hospital, St. Joseph’s, at the onset of the pandemic.

Photo: Bob Kirkham


September-October 2020

CH also provided hotel rooms, meals, and counseling to workers facing unprecedented challenges as they got a new hospital up, running and ready to serve the needs of the Buffalo Niagara area’s COVID patients. “We went live taking care of patients on March 26 and had three zones – red, yellow, and green. Because of the way we worked with CH, everyone felt safe. The institution of crisis pay was particularly great,” says Shaun Crisman, a surgical tech at Sisters of Charity Hospital who worked at St. Joseph’s making sure PPE was worn properly. Brenda Anderson, an LPN at St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center in Buffalo, says cooperation, along with a sense of concern for workers’ physical, spiritual and emotional needs, gave caregivers a sense of security in the face of the unknown. “The administration showed that they were there with us. They made sure that we had everything we needed to do our jobs to the best of our abilities,” says Anderson. “We have not always gotten along, but we were really working together, and we have a working relationship that’s even better now.” Buffalo is known as the city of good neighbors, and CH CEO Sullivan says cooperation during COVID is emblematic of that spirit. “Buffalo rises to the occasion. We care about people, and we see that day in and day out in health care,” says Sullivan. “COVID has truly shown the depth of the relationship among people in the communities of Western New York.”

COVID Highlights the Need for Caregiver Self-Care workforce is neglected. “Quarantine does not exist for healthcare workers,” she says. “And related to that is a deep sense of trauma, which is a word not often used in underserved communities. Too often, minority and underserved workers do not have an option of saying ‘I have a problem,’ so we need to develop solutions for this workforce. We can start serving the needs of healthcare workers by letting them know there are tools out there to help them.” The strain of being essential can be unrelenting; advisements to stay home, social distancing, and other protective guidelines simply do not apply to frontline workers. Caregivers also have an instinctive sense of responsibility for others, says Courtney Polka, a licensed clinical social worker at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital. In times of crisis, the vocation of caregiving itself can be an obstacle to self-care. “First and foremost, people need more [education] around trauma,” she says. “Many people think this has already happened, but not as much as

Photo: Bob Kirkham

 Niagara Falls Memorial Social Worker Courtney Polka with her children. She says the pandemic has highlighted the importance of self-care for healthcare workers.

“There was always that fear of the unknown in the beginning. No one really knew [about the virus]. That was the biggest issue.” – Harry Beyer, PA, Elmhurst Hospital

1199 Magazine 15

The Work We Do Clark Nursing and Rehab At Clark Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (CNRC) in Clark, NJ, 1199SEIU members care for a broad spectrum of patients. Caregivers at CNRC treat patients recovering from surgery and seniors needing long-term care. CNRC members also work on a ventilator management unit, where they treat patients unable to breathe on their own. COVID-19 has highlighted not only the importance of this work, but also the professionalism and dedication of those who do it. Clark 1199ers are among the tens of thousands of nursing home workers who everyday brave the pandemic to ensure the best care for their patients. In November, 1199 Magazine spent some socially-distant time with a group of nursing assistants from CNRC who shared their fears about a second wave, experience of the first, and a strong faith that has helped see them through the pandemic.





1. CNA Marie Sierre

3. CNA Mona Darisme

2. Marie St. Germain has worked at CNRC for 25 years and is currently assigned to the facility’s ventilator management unit. St. Germain works hard to ensure the safety of her vulnerable patients and wears both a surgical mask and an N-95 anytime she’s outside of her home. “In the beginning, it was so scary,” she says. “I worked on the COVID floor, and I didn’t eat or sit down unless I really had to,” she says. “I have to take care of myself because I have high blood pressure and diabetes. I take Vitamin B and C to boost my immune system.”

4. Marie Polynice has been a CNA at CNRC since 2000. She works on units throughout the home. Polynice says that one of the hardest parts of COVID has been the dealing with the fear among residents and her co-workers. “You go to work, and you go home. You don’t want to make anyone else sick or bring it home to your family,” she says. “And we don’t want COVID to come back into our facility [with the second wave].” “I pray a lot. I know that God is going to protect me,” she adds. “I also follow all the precautions and don’t go anywhere, because I want

to protect my family and my patients.” 5. “I had COVID from April into May and spent over a month at home,” says CNA Antoinise Barthelemey. “I was the only one who had it in my family, and my sons and my husband looked after me. I quarantined myself, and they would leave food and medicine by my door. I thank God for them,” she says. “I was very nervous coming back to work, because I was scared of getting it again. I make sure I take all precautions and make sure I’m wearing my gloves, mask, and gown correctly at all times.”

“ I pray a lot. I know that God is going to protect me. I also follow all the precautions and don’t go anywhere, because I want to protect my family and my patients.” – Marie Polynice, CNA, Clark Nursing and Rehabilitation



November-December 2020

1199 Magazine 17


Lab Tech’s Art Explores Pandemic Grief Ansel Oommen makes collages to process COVID-19’s private and public grief.

“Cytokine Storm”

“Six Feet Six Degrees Together Apart”

Ansel Oommen, a laboratory technologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, is also an artist. “Pandemicon”

Ansel Oommen, a clinical laboratory technologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, lives where art and science meet. Since childhood, as an emerging artist he used his creativity to process emotions for which he did not yet have words. As he grew older, Oommen was also drawn to the sciences and the natural world. “In high school I planned to become a pharmacist, but then I realized that was not what I wanted to do, so I studied toxicology,” he says. The path eventually led him to the laboratory, but he never abandoned his artistic vocation. Though many see contrasts between the worlds of art and science, for Oommen they are inextricably related. “I was always drawn to artists like Leonardo DaVinci, because he was an 18

November-December 2020

artist as well as a scientist,” he says. “Because of [my connection to both fields] it has been hard for me to find role models. My art has always been about translating the sciences. “With my own art, I’m on a tightrope, balancing the worlds of art and science,” he adds. More recently, Oommen has played a vital role in translating the sciences for COVID patients and their families. Before starting his job at Mount Sinai, Oommen was a lab tech at NY-Presbyterian, where at the onset of the pandemic he was one of two COVID-specialized lab techs working overnights. He helped process samples from the entire NYPresbyterian system. From behind his microscope, Oommen watched the epidemic’s explosive growth and

“I didn’t need to watch the news because I was contributing to the news. I was one of the people seeing the patterns of COVID’s growth from inside the hospital.”

its effect on New York’s healthcare workers and their patients. “At one point I had worked 20 nights in a row. I was processing samples from every, single NYPresbyterian campus,” he says. “I didn’t need to watch the news because I was contributing to the news. I was one of the people seeing the patterns of COVID’s growth from inside the hospital.” Oommen points out that lab work is far from the impersonal analysis it’s often made out to be. “Something like 70% of all medical decisions and diagnoses are based on lab work,” he says. “And people don’t realize how much goes into lab work—it’s about [scientific] thinking and emotional intelligence.

We are bonded with our patients. We are connected with our patients, and we take care of our patients in the same way as other healthcare workers: It’s just that we aren’t seen [by our patients].” Working the 20-night shift left Oommen grieving and fatigued. So, as he has done throughout his life, he turned to his art to process the intense feelings associated with his work and with being a New Yorker living through COVID. With so much time spent in the lab, he used the media at his fingertips­—biohazard tape and stickers. Another benefit was that unlike paint, glue or fabric, the stickers are easy to manipulate and work with, so they provided a respite for his weary brain and body. Sometimes you don’t have the

energy to talk about your trauma,” he says. The result is a series of collages exploring COVID’s psychic and physical devastation. The works have titles like “Pandemicon,” “Infectious,” and “The Creation of Distance” and were featured recently in The New York Times. “Somewhere within suffering is a profound understanding of what it means to be mortal,” Oomman told The Times. Oomman intends to donate the work he’s done so far to The New York Historical Society, but he has not ruled out continuing the series. “With the potential second wave, the series might resume if things get worse,” he says. “I’m already preparing myself for that.”

1199 Magazine 19



Several years after the Montgomery bus boycott, 1199 hired its first woman organizer, Thelma Bowles, an African American Bronx Montefiore LPN, who helped lead the Union’s first hospital organizing campaign. Countless women of color who grew up in the South, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico joined native New York sisters and led the campaigns throughout New York’s voluntary hospitals and nursing homes, while also active in their local communities and raising families. Leaders like Puerto Rican Gloria Arana of Mt. Sinai in Manhattan and Bermudan immigrant Hilda Joquin of Beth Israel were champions of the 1959 hospital organizing campaigns.

In the Georgia presidential campaign, 1199ers worked with other SEIU members and young activists. They and their retired sisters and brothers will continue to participate in voter mobilization and registration efforts through Jan. 5. “We have to pass the baton,” Shelton says. “Young people have vision, and we must use that.” Shelton says she also does a lot of work through her church and draws strength from it, too. Yvette Bonhomme and her husband, Alix, also cannot separate their electoral work from their work at church and in the community. Says Yvette, “The people we pray with [are the same ones] we also push to vote.”

Women of color have always been on our front lines.

With the exception of MarylandD.C. and Florida districts, 1199 is not generally viewed as a political force below the nation’s Mason-Dixon line. Nonetheless, our Union’s retirees throughout the South are flipping the script. These seniors, an overwhelming majority African American women, count themselves among the much-heralded constituency that have helped end the nightmare of the last four years. “I’m proud of what we’ve done in Georgia, but our work is not over,” says Alma Shelton, a former patient advocate at the now-closed St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn. She is a proud member of the Retired Members Division chapter, in Georgia where some 2,000 retired 1199ers have relocated. Dozens of these members were active in November’s election campaign that delivered the state to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and forced runoffs in both U.S. Senate races. Today, all eyes are on the state, because the political direction of our nation rests in large part on the outcome of the two Georgia races for the U.S. Senate, which conclude on Jan. 5, 2021. 1199ers and pro-democracy allies throughout the state are working tirelessly to wrest these Senate seats from Republican control, thereby preventing GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D, KY) from continuing to pack the nation’s courts with far-right judges, serve corporate 20

November-December 2020

“ Our work is not done.”

– Alma Shelton, 1199 retiree

interests and block legislation in the interests of working people. A critical leader of the fight to wrest the Senate from Republican control is Stacey Abrams, the African American woman who narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia when her opponent, then secretary of state, Brian Kemp, engaged in widespread voter suppression. In the summer of 2019, Abrams was a guest speaker at the 1199 Training and Education Funds fiftieth anniversary celebration. About the same time, she launched Fair Fight and Fair Fight Action to combat voter suppression in Georgia and Texas. Under Abrams leadership, hundreds of thousands of new voters have been registered in Georgia alone. “Georgia is where it is because of Stacey Abrams. She has inspired and encouraged us all,” says Yolette Bonhomme, a Manhattan Morningside House NH retiree who now lives in Decatur, Georgia. She and her husband, Alix Bonhomme, a Bronx Albert Einstein retiree, worked with their church to print and mail election literature and to phone bank during the general election. 1199 retirees, many of whom canvassed door-to-door during Abrams 2018 campaign, note that African American women are the staunchest supporters of progressive candidates. Some 93% voted for the Biden-Harris ticket nationwide. The support of pro-worker and

 Workers during the historic 1969 strike by hospital workers in Charleston, SC.

Regina Heimbruch

people’s candidates by 1199ers has been consistent throughout its history. When the Union consisted mainly of white male pharmacy workers, 1199 contributed funds to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott was sparked by Rosa Parks, an NAACP leader who refused to give up her bus seat, and many African American women were on the front lines of this historic demonstration. Months before Parks’ refusal, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was also arrested in Birmingham for refusing to give up her seat. For 36 years Colvin was a proud 1199 member and a nurse’s aide at Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home in Manhattan. She retired in 2004.

In the late 1960s, 1199 asked Coretta Scott King to serve as honorary chair of the Union’s national organizing committee. Her rousing oratory, commanding presence at meetings and picket lines, and her media appearances emboldened and energized workers. She helped sustain Mary Moultrie, who led the Charleston, SC, organizing campaign, and many other low-paid African-American workers. The Charleston organizing drive was not successful, but it left its mark on the city and laid the groundwork for later progressive victories. Leaders like Annie Henry and Carrie Davis of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, never fail to mention Coretta Scott King’s example and inspiration in the campaign to organize Johns Hopkins just months after the Charleston drive. Members at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, say there would be no Rochester 1199 without the work in the 1970s of the late Mattie Best, whom they’ve anointed “Rochester’s Mother of the Union.” Following the rapid growth of the Union in the late 1990s, 1199 became a more formidable political force. During presidential campaigns, the Union was able to dispatch members and retirees to live and work in battleground states. Others boarded buses from Union headquarters to work as Weekend Warriors.

1199 Magazine 21

More than 2,000 members took part in the 1989 New York City primaries and general election, although the campaigns coincided with one of 1199’s most crucial contract fights.

Manhattan Borough President on his third try. Then, at the urging of 1199, Borough President Dinkins held public hearings in which NYC homecare workers described their abject working conditions and poverty wages. These hearings helped the workers—largely women of color, and many immigrants—eventually win major wage increases and benefits.


David Dinkins, 1199’s Staunch Ally NYC’s first Black mayor was champion of what he called our “gorgeous mosaic.”


November-December 2020

Our Union mourns the death of one of its greatest friends, David Dinkins. New York City’s only African American mayor passed away Nov. 23 at his Manhattan home. He was 93. His wife of 67 years, Joyce Dinkins, a celebrated children’s advocate, died only six weeks before him, on Oct. 11. “David Dinkins made New York City better and was truly an example of the potential he believed in for us all,” said 1199 President George Gresham. The son of a barber and a domestic worker, Dinkins was raised in Trenton, NJ, and in Harlem. His rise to New York City’s highest office in 1989, was intimately tied to 1199’s resurgence and political maturation in the second half of the 1980s. Over the years, Dinkins never wavered in his support for poor and working people. Dinkins graduated from the historically Black Howard University in Washington, DC, where he met his wife Joyce. He also served in the military before returning to New York City with his wife. He then worked his way through Brooklyn Law School, and eventually developed a law practice in business and real estate in Harlem, while also becoming a low-key, but well-known political mover. He was appointed City Clerk by Mayor Abe Beame, a job he held for many years, until he made his own political breakthrough. Finally, in 1986, Dinkins won the office of

1199 played a central role in electing David Dinkins as New York City’s first Black mayor.

Within 1199 back then, the reformist Save Our Union (SOU) slate won a union-wide election against an inept leadership that had deeply divided the membership by exploiting racial and skills divisions and calling a disastrous strike in 1984. By 1989 David Dinkins ran for mayor on a platform of bringing a deeply divided city together. He challenged then Mayor Edward I. Koch, who had become a polarizing figure among communities of color. New Yorkers who believed in the “gorgeous mosaic” that Dinkins often referred to rallied around him. The ranks of labor provided resources that a weakened Democratic Party at the time was unable to provide. So 1199 was in the front lines of the successful Dinkins campaign for Mayor, defeating Koch in the primary, and Rudolph Giuliani in the general election. More than 2,000 members took part in the 1989 New York City primaries and general election, although those campaigns coincided with one of 1199’s most crucial contract fights. That battle with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes was a crucial test of 1199’s ability to unite a previously divided and fearful membership. Many had been demoralized and disillusioned by the failed 1984 strike. Early in the 1989 campaign, members indicated their willingness to trust the new Union leadership by participating in one-day strikes. The League, with the exception of the Catholic hospitals, refused to budge. When 1199 momentarily suspended contract mobilizations to devote its full resources to the Dinkins’ campaign, one hospital CEO was quoted as saying, “We’ll kill two birds with one stone­—1199 and David Dinkins.” He was woefully mistaken on both counts. Dinkins won the September primary and 1199 also won an historic groundbreaking contract the next month. Quoted in The New York Times, one 1199er declared: “We stood behind [Dinkins] and we got our man in. I’m happy for that—not because I’m Black, but for my Union and the whole city.”

Dinkins had endorsed the 1199 contract campaign. His chief strategist, Bill Lynch, a former union organizer, had previously worked closely with the 1199 SOU activists on various campaigns, especially for Jesse Jackson’s U.S. presidential campaign in the New York State primary—in which then 1199 President Dennis Rivera had led registration and GOTV drives. And Jackson’s primary win in NYC was instrumental in convincing Dinkins to run for mayor. When in November 1989, Dinkins defeated his Republican opponent, federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, and became the city’s first African American mayor, he inherited a deepening crisis. The city’s budget deficit stood at $1.8 billion, the result of the worst local recession since the Great Depression. Murders and other serious crime, homelessness, and the heroin and crack epidemic had all reached frightening levels. Perhaps the mayor’s biggest challenge was trying to heal the city’s deep racial divisions. And during the Dinkins administration crime in the city decreased more dramatically than at any time in the city’s history. The mayor also decreased the size of the city’s homeless population. And he rehabilitated more housing in a single term than his successor, Mayor Giuliani, did in two terms. Mayor Dinkins cleaned up Times Square. He established Beacon centers—afterschool programs for poor students—and placed healthcare centers in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. But in 1993 Mayor Dinkins was narrowly defeated by race monger Giuliani with much help from the city’s Policemen Benevolent Association (PBA). Mayor Dinkins, always the gentleman, rarely complained, but his biography provides a fitting post-mortem to his loss. “I think it was just racism, pure and simple,” he wrote in A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic, written with Peter Knobler. His legacy includes helping to inspire younger activist legislators and public servants, among them NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, both of whom worked in the Dinkins administration. Another leader who worked for Mayor Dinkins is Patrick Gaspard, former 1199 exec VP and President Barack Obama’s political director. Gaspard now heads the progressive Open Society, and he recognized Mayor Dinkins as “a political Jackie Robinson.” 1199 Magazine 23

From Pandemic Grief, Art Laboratory Technologist Ansel Oommen creates collages from materials found in labs and hospitals (pictured here: ‘Silent Spring�). The work helps him identify and process the grief that comes with living through a pandemic. See story on pages 18-19.

1199 Magazine 24

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