Group and Greater Nursing Home Talks Begin
The Power of Political Action
Gold Standard Upheld
Members celebrate winning a strong League contract.
PPE Gets a Union Label A Journal of 1199SEIU September/October 2021
We must resist voices designed to divide us.
15 5 The President’s Column We can't let up the fight!
Cover: Two members from Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn—Genelle Jones (left), a Surgical Technologist, and Elaine Raffington, a Medical Office Assistant in the hospital's clinic—celebrate together at the signing of the League contract settlement agreement.
@1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2
1199 Magazine September-October 2021 Vol. 39 No.5 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org
Editorial: Don’t Let Competing Voices Sow Division
6 Around the Regions NJ Members mobilize to protect jobs and benefits in the face of nursing home sell-offs; Massachusetts and Florida members rally in solidarity with Haitian migrants at the U.S. border; 1199ers march on Washington for voting rights; new political action workshops for members.
8 Group and Greater Nursing Home Talks Kick Off “We’re the heroes in this fight!” 10 Hesitant No More 1199 Vaccine Champions convince members to change their minds and get the shots. 12 League Contract Settled Members move management to a strong master contract. 15 The Work We Do Habilitation Aides improve mobility at the Cora Hoffman Center in Staten Island.
18 PPE Gets a Union Label Union members fill gaps in the PPE supply chain. 19 Neighborhood Son in the Heights Misael Rivas makes his artistic mark on Washington Heights. 20 The Power of Political Action How lobbying in Trenton translated into better contracts in NJ nursing homes.. 22 Two 9/11 Heroes, Two Decades On Queens paramedics forge lifelong friendship.
The phrase Information Superhighway was first coined in the late 1970’s by U.S. Vice President Al Gore when the internet was in its infancy and barely anyone even knew of its existence. Half a century later, the internet is just one small part of a whole information ecosystem that includes dozens of competing social media platforms, as well numerous channels for connecting with friends and family around the globe. In many ways, this explosion of diverse information streams has helped to promote social justice. Activists from all over the United States and throughout the world can readily communicate with each other and amplify the strategies they have used successfully to promote social and political change. There have always been outlets and publications catering to particular views. From newsletters to newspapers and broadcast media, “freedom of the press” has long lent itself to providing information on many different topics. But a problem for the labor movement arises when these now widely viewed new electronic media channels and their streams of information are deployed by political enemies to divide members. Speaking with one voice at the bargaining table and working together to elect political candidates who will advance members’ interests in government are two key factors necessary for achieving true social justice. It’s easy to create an echo chamber, where you’re surrounded with like-minded individuals, sharing similar views and ideals. It is important for us as 1199SEIU members to ensure that included in these views and ideals is the unified fight for quality care for our patients and decent wages and conditions for ourselves and our families. And we began this fall with a significant new contract win with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. (See stories pp. 12-14.) Just as it is now commonplace for an advertisement for a refrigerator to pop up just after sending a message to a friend about needing a new one, our browsing habits, social media groups, and other interactions can be used to divide us based on a number of issues. This means that members must constantly sift through misinformation and disinformation to find out what is true—always being careful to question the source and their qualifications to speak authoritatively on an issue. Knowledge of history is also a powerful tool that we 1199ers have on our side. The formidable strength that members recently
George Gresham secretary treasurer
Maria Castaneda senior executive vice presidents
Yvonne Armstrong Veronica TurnerBiggs executive vice presidents
Jacqueline Alleyne Lisa Brown Tim Foley Patrick Forde Todd Hobler Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Brian Morse Joyce Neil Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Nadine Williamson editor
Sarah Wilson director of photography
Jim Tynan art direction and design
Maiarelli Studio cover photo
Jim Tynan contributors
Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Clemon Richardson Erin Rojas Desiree Taylor Kim Wessels Woody Harrington
Standing together as one union, regardless of individual views or predispositions, is what enables 1199SEIU members to negotiate strong contracts again and again, no matter what the political climate.
demonstrated to win a strong contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes was not built overnight. (At press time, members were still voting to ratify.) The power of 1199SEIU was put together, brick by brick, over decades of struggle. It’s important to remember that in 1989, before today’s social media platforms even existed, League contract talks broke down, members were bitterly divided, and there was a strike. In that year too, the President and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital was also the Chairman of the League, just like as it was during our successful 2021 negotiations. Then as now, 1199SEIU members were able to set aside the voices designed to divide and distract them from their contract priorities. Standing together as one union, regardless of individual views or predispositions, is what enables 1199SEIU members to negotiate strong contracts again and again, no matter what the political climate.
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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Social Media We can't let up the fight. We need to unite. No Matter How Tough are the Times The President’s Column by George Gresham
@1199seiu: Honrando los lideres: Cesar Chávez y Dolores Huerta que han organizado a los trabajadores agrícolas en lo que se volvió el @UFW; Dennis Rivera, Presidente de 1199SEIU de 1989-2007, y Linda Chávez-Thompson, fue la Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva de la @AFLCIO #HispanicHeritageMonth
@1199SEIUFLORIDA: These frontline long-term care workers continue to risk their lives to care for our loved ones in nursing homes. They’re truly #healthcareheroes #WeAreEssential @1199seiu #wecareforfl
1199SEIU MASSACHUSETTS: Join us in honoring the heroes of environmental services this week! Whether in a hospital, health center or nursing home, you are responsible for a wide range of essential functions. Thank You!
1199SEIU MARYLAND/DC: As National Assisted Living Week #NALW wraps up, we’d like you to meet Nakkitta Starkes, a Geriatric Nursing Assistant and Medicine Aide at Autumn Lake at Homewood, who has been caring for residents for over 20 years. Thank you, Nakkitta, for keeping our communities safe, healthy, and smiling!
@1199SEIUFlorida: Here’s a compelling story about how a Florida RN who treated #COVID -19 patients learned firsthand the importance of #GettingVaccinated. Scan the QR code above to check it out!
@1199UpstateNY: @1199UpstateNY members in #Utica going door to door. Local elections have a large impact on our day to day lives. Make sure you make your plan to #Vote #1u #UnionStrong
These are hard times for working people. Good paying jobs with benefits are scarce. Employers continue to dig in their heels against union organizing and union contracts. And on top of that, we have the pandemic that continues to rage on with the Delta variant. So we’re all living in hard times. We know that our unity and determination are what have always made the difference. Tough times only get easier when we band together, unite and fight for what is rightfully ours. These were my thoughts when I heard the news in August that Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, died while on a camping trip with his family. I had a lot of respect for Brother Trumka, and it only grew when Barack Obama first ran for President in 2008. Trumka, who was white, started to encounter white union members who told him they had reservations about voting for an African American candidate. In response, he began touring union halls and factory floors, confronting the issue. “Our kids are moving away because there’s no future here,” Trumka told a convention for steelworkers. “And here’s a man, Barack Obama, who’s going to fight for people like us, and you won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-loving mind?” These were Trumka’s people—the steel workers and coal miners of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He grew up there, the son of a coal miner and himself a miner as a young man. He eventually rose to become head of the United Mineworkers Union before leading the AFL-CIO. As healthcare workers,
we know what it is to work under dangerous conditions. Like heathcare workers, few work harder than mineworkers laboring underground in pitch darkness, breathing in poisonous coal dust. The organization of their union and the achievement of decent wages, safer conditions and health benefits, was a battle soaked in blood spilled by workers during the “coal wars” with national guardsmen, sheriff’s deputies and hired thugs, all operating on behalf of the mine owners. Trumka knew this history well. It would be good for all of us know it too, because history’s lessons are no less valid for healthcare workers than for coal miners. Employers are not benevolent. Some of them may be friendly people, but they are not our friends. Whatever wages, benefits and working conditions we have achieved have come because we were united, we demanded them and we fought for them. Nothing was given to us. A century before Richard Trumka was born, Frederick Douglass wrote: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.” The growth of 1199 from a 5,000-member New York City drugstore workers union to a 450,000-member union representing every sector of health care— geographically stretching from the Florida Keys to the Canadian border—is a story of many decades of struggle. Our history includes workers going to jail for the right to organize, months-long strikes for union recognition through both brutal winters and summer heat, and
The growth of 1199 from a 5,000-member New York City drugstore workers union to a 450,000-member union representing every sector of health care— geographically stretching from the Florida Keys to the Canadian border—is a story of many decades of struggle. massive marches on state capitals for healthcare spending. Often some of our struggles are not so dramatic but are equally essential—filing grievances, departmental meetings, walk-ins on the bosses, informational picketing. I mention all of this because it is important to understand that what we have won so far can also be lost if we are not united and ready to fight. They say that freedom is a constant struggle. So too is the fight for workers’ rights. Obviously, all of our employers are more powerful than any one of us workers. We only have strength when we unite together. That is the basic premise of a union. The old saying that “You can’t fight City Hall” only serves “City Hall.” But we 1199ers know that we can indeed fight powerful forces because we have done it before—year after year. Our veteran members know this, but it is a lesson that we all must re-learn time and again. I hope you are all ready to unite and fight. Because we’re going to have to do just that in these hard times.
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Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.
Around the Regions
As NJ Nursing Homes Are Sold, Members Mobilized to Protect Jobs and Benefits 1199SEIU members at two New Jersey nursing homes held pickets on July 29 to protest the sale of their facilities and cuts to their health insurance and other benefits. This April, 1199SEIU learned that Atlas Healthcare was planning to assume ownership of Cranford and River’s Edge nursing homes and intended to immediately and dramatically cut back workers’ healthcare and other benefits and refused to commit to retaining all employees. Workers at both institutions launched into action, demanding that management respect the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which includes successorship language and prohibits the employer from selling or transferring operations, unless the new operator agrees to hire all bargaining unit workers and maintain their terms and conditions of employment. After members brought the issue to arbitration, an award was granted in their favor, blocking any sale or transfer that did not comply with the successorship provision of 6
the CBA. However, both the seller and Atlas continued their plans to proceed with the transfer—in direct violation of the terms of the CBA and the arbitration award— without guaranteeing jobs or maintaining wages, family health insurance, pensions, and other important benefits for current bargaining unit employees. 1199SEIU immediately filed an action in federal court to require the employer to comply with the arbitration award and the successorship clause of the collective bargaining agreement. At press time, the sale had not gone through, and members are staying vigilant and ready to take action to protect their jobs. “I love my job and my residents. We sacrificed so much over the past year, and it is really offensive to me that we still have to fight to keep what benefits we have,” said Cristina Martino, who works as a CNA and a housekeeper at Cranford Rehab and Nursing Center, “I also worry about my job— before the Union stopped the sale last spring, I was told not to come into work because I wasn’t going to be rehired for a job I’ve had for 30 years!”
Haitian Lives Matter
"I was told not to come into work because I wasn’t going to be re-hired for a job I’ve had for 30 years!"
Members March on Washington for Voting Rights
1199ers in Boston, MA and West Palm Beach, FL took part in local rallies as part of a national protest movement over the recent treatment of Haitian migrants at the Texas border. Calling on the Biden administration to lead with compassion, activists raised their voices to call for more humane treatment for Haitian people fleeing the earthquake-affected island, which was already shaken by severe political unrest.
Members and retirees from the Union’s Maryland/ Washington D.C. region march for voting rights at the nation’s capitol.
A delegation of 1199SEIU members from the Maryland/Washington D.C. region joined the national “March On For Voting Rights” on August 28, marking the 58th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Current voting rights activists are advocating additional federal legislation to limit new rules just passed by Republican-led state legislatures that they say are intended to make it harder to vote, particularly for voters of color and young people. “That is why voting is so important,” says 1199 retiree Phyllis Hall, “It’s not about agreeing—it’s about your rights. And when you use that right to express your opinion by voting, you are really doing justice for yourself.”
– Cristina Martino
New Political Action Workshops: “Tools for Change”
1199ers in Boston, MA, stand in solidarity with Haitian migrants recently arrived at the border. Young activist in West Palm Beach, FL, joins the rally for Haitian migrants rights.
The 2020 election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris created a groundswell for change, and unions are at the forefront of transforming that historic momentum into grassroots action. As the largest healthcare union in the nation, 1199SEIU knows a thing or two about organizing: To share our newest strategies with members, the Union created a series of 12 virtual training modules—called “Tools for Change”—to enable members to hone their own organizing skills and learn strategies for public speaking and political organizing. Members across all 1199SEIU regions are
concerned about issues facing their communities. Maybe their child’s school needs more teachers, or they need a more frequent bus service in their own neighborhood to get to work on time. Safer, more affordable housing is another key concern for many. All of these problems can be solved at the local level, and political organizing is what gets it done. But talking is one thing; being heard is another. Armed with the skills learned in the “Tools for Change” workshops, members will be making themselves heard by the right people at the right time to bring on much needed change. 1199 Magazine 7
New York Nursing Home Members Start Talks
our eyes. I’m angry that they have to think about giving us a raise." “We need money to take care of our families now. Giving us a pizza is fine, but I can’t fold a pizza and put it in my pocket; it doesn’t pay the bills. It shouldn’t be that people who care for the elderly get the worst of the deal.” In the meantime, management is consistently plugging their immediate staffing gaps by hiring non-union agency workers—and now they want to be able to use agency workers more often. 1199 members are rejecting that idea, knowing that it only creates a revolving door of nursing home workers when continuity of care is crucial for the residents.
Bargaining begins for Group of 65 and Greater New York nursing home contracts.
Bargaining the contracts that determine the wages and conditions of tens of thousands of 1199 nursing home members in the New York City metropolitan area has begun. What is different this time around is that these talks are taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing 18-month pandemic, the effects of which are still being felt on a daily basis by both members and the residents in their care. Not only that, but thanks to concerted political action by 1199 nursing home members and our elected representatives in Albany, historic reforms to New York State law governing management’s responsibilities were enacted earlier this year. Members had been warning for years about how low levels of staffing in many facilities was jeopardizing their ability to provide the quality care that every resident deserves. In many of the for-profit homes, appeals for better staffing levels fell on deaf ears. But then the pandemic shone a spotlight on the nursing home 8
industry, and NYS lawmakers were spurred into action. New laws passed in April of this year require that owners spend 70 percent of their revenue on direct resident care, including 40 percent on resident-facing staff. The inclusion of nursing home reform in the 2021 NY State Budget came as a direct result of worker activism through 1199’s “Invest in Quality Care” campaign. Still, the negotiators for the Greater New York nursing homes and the “Group of 65” did not commit to wage increases and made proposals which, members pointed out, would leave workers poorer, less secure and less able to provide care to the residents than when they walked into the bargaining sessions. 1199SEIU members know what is needed to take care of others at the same time they provide for their own loved ones. Julia Stock, an 1199 Cook at North Westchester Restorative Therapy and Nursing Center in the Hudson Valley, says: “Everything has been
“ We’re not machines—we’re heroes—and we deserve their appreciation, gratitude, and the respect of a new contract. We’re not just employees: We’re an asset to the company. We’re their biggest asset.” – Paulette Baldwin, 1199 Recreational Therapist at The Plaza Citadel Care Centers, The Bronx
rough since COVID: No one knows what’s really going to happen or what we’re up against. They call us heroes and say they care. If they really care, why are they fighting us for a raise? “We haven’t seen many of [the owners] all year. They didn’t show up at their own facilities, but we were there and kept the doors open. We kept it running the whole time. We were in places with little ventilation. We were being exposed to people who we knew were sick, and we still had to treat them. We had to watch people die in front of
Paulette Baldwin, an 1199 Recreational Therapist at The Plaza Citadel Care Centers in the Bronx, says: “I work in two units with 84 clients. Management keeps making comments as if this pandemic is over. It is not. We’re not machines—we’re heroes— and we deserve their appreciation, gratitude, and the respect of a new contract. We’re not just employees: We’re an asset to the company. We're their biggest asset.” “I want to be able to enjoy what my retired brothers and sisters have gotten,” continues Baldwin. “I don’t want retirement benefits to be in arms reach and then get snatched away. We’re in this together, and we need to stand united.”
Members from Long Island to Schenectady, NY, and everywhere in between, took to the streets to press Albany lawmakers into nursing home reform through their “Invest in Quality Care” campaign.
Paulette Baldwin, an 1199 Recreational Therapist at The Plaza Citadel home in the Bronx calls on management to recognize that their workers are their most important asset. Julia Stock, an 1199 Cook at North Westchester nursing home in the Hudson Valley, says: “Giving us a pizza is fine. But I can’t fold a pizza and put it in my pocket. It doesn’t pay the bills.” 1199 Magazine 9
Hesitant No More
How 1199 Vaccine Champions worked to change members’ minds.
From the moment COVID-19 vaccines became available last December, 1199SEIU has been urging its members to get the injection to protect themselves and their families against the deadly pathogen. The Union immediately organized virtual conversations with thousands of members, with medical doctors on hand to answer their scientific questions. Many 1199ers took the opportunity to get vaccinated as soon as they could. But there were a few members who remained hesitant even as winter turned to summer and the more contagious Delta variant created a new surge in virus cases. Recognizing the urgency of overcoming those members’ concerns, the union put together a team of Vaccine Champions—members who spoke directly to their fellow 1199ers about the safety and value of the injection. Anthony DeVivo, a Unit Assistant in Labor and Delivery at New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), was eager to sign up. He got vaccinated back in January after people who were very close to his family passed away from the virus. “Of all the co-workers I spoke to in August, I’d say only two or three were genuinely scared,” says DeVivo, “The rest were just listening to rumors. A lot of what we did was give them the scientific information, which disproved the rumors. These are the ingredients of the vaccine. You can look them all up.” There were 15 members on the Vaccine Champions team at NYPH, and between them they spoke to well over 100 fellow healthcare workers. “You might not like being told what to do with your body, I told them, but it is the safest thing you can do right now,” says 10
“ A lot of what we did was give them the scientific information, which disproved the rumors.” – Anthony DeVivo, Unit Assistant in Labor and Delivery at New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH)
DeVivo. When he spoke to members who were afraid of getting the shot, DeVivo offered to go with them, and half a dozen members took him up on it. In Florida, where vaccination rates are generally much lower than in New York, the Union teamed with Broward County officials and New Hope Missionary Baptist Church for a free vaccination event that was held in early September. The event targeted Hollywood-area residents, but it was also open to anyone. Penny Ceasar, an 1199 Unit Clerk at Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, Florida, got vaccinated months before. She volunteered for the Hollywood vaccine event because she has seen firsthand the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I see it daily, people trying to get their breath, and that’s such a horrible feeling. It’s like drowning in your own body. Who wants to go through that? Take the vaccine, protect yourself so you don’t have to go through that, and your loved ones don’t have to go through it,” said Ceasar. Massachusetts member Anestine Bentick, a Lead Medical Assistant at South Boston Community Health Center, was initially hesitant to get vaccinated herself. As a Caribbean woman, she was uneasy about the United States history of medically mistreating Black people. She was especially skeptical of vaccines that were developed and approved so quickly through a federal program called Operation Warp Speed. “That name alone turned me off,” Bentick said. But having seen the virus’s debilitating effect on patients, she eventually decided it was better to get
“ It’s important that more people get vaccinated so that I can go down to Florida and hug my granddaughter for the first time.” – Deborah O’Bryant, Home Health Aide from the Bronx, NY
vaccinated. Pretty soon Bentick went a step further, and became a Vaccine Ambassador in Boston, where she has been convincing coworkers and patients to protect themselves and their loved ones. For 1199 Home Care members in New York, because they were not attached to hospitals, it was often more difficult to access the vaccines in the early days. The union worked with NYC and hospitals to make thousands of vaccine appointments for Home Care members to make sure they were able to get the protection they needed. Deborah O’Bryant, who works at
Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, made sure she was at the front of the line. “I remember what it was like last year,” she said, “It was really scary leaving my house. It felt like I was the only one out on the street when I left my apartment. An elderly couple who’d lived in my building both passed away from the virus. I lost my nephew and cousin too. I tell everyone I meet to get vaccinated.” O’Bryant’s son lives in Florida and has a 15-month-old baby girl. “It’s important that more people get vaccinated so that I can go down to Florida and hug my granddaughter for the first time.”
Clockwise from top left: Anestine Bentick, a Lead Medical Assistant at South Boston Community Health Center, MA Deborah O’Bryant, a Home Health Aide from the Bronx, NY Penny Ceasar, a Unit Clerk at Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, FL
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Meet the Bargaining Committee
SECURED Members move management to a strong League contract.
It was a long and winding road to get there, but 1199 members negotiating with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes moved management to a strong settlement agreement on September 23, 2021—an agreement that secures the Union’s Gold Standard Contract
Check out some of the member stories that moved management at the table.
Left page: George Gresham, 1199SEIU President shaking hands with Marc Kramer, President of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes over the signing of the tentative agreement.
for another three years. And, for the first time, instead of facing the League’s lawyers across a large conference table with hundreds of members behind them, the Union’s Bargaining Committee did all their negotiating online in a virtual meeting place. But that did not stop the Committee from holding League management’s feet to the fire over key issues—demands over which members from Long Island to Poughkeepsie (and everywhere in between) had taken to the streets to advance several times over the summer. The new contract meets the priority goals identified by members early on, using their contract surveys. As well as a $3,000 bonus for every League member upon ratification—on top of wage increases every year— League members will maintain their employer-paid health and pension beneﬁts, not to mention the education, childcare and job security protections.
of the Bargaining Committee. Bassey emigrated from Nigeria more than 20 years ago and started out as a Nurse Aide then studied to become an RN with the help of the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund.
Another historic victory won during the negotiations was the inclusion of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, as an annual vacation day for all League members. Wayne Bassey, an 1199 Registered Nurse from Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, was instrumental in moving management on this issue. “When I look around this country, one thing I’m grateful for is the slaves who fought for freedom while enduring whiplashes across their backs. I’m always in awe of what they had to go through. Their labor and toil created the environment we have today. It is very important to honor [enslaved] people in history, and their pivotal role should be celebrated,” said the 1199 Delegate and newly-elected member
The Bargaining Committee also included members like Lurline Stoddard, a Patient Finance Advisor from New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and a veteran of previous League negotiations. In January, she lost her husband to COVID-19. He had been a Physician Assistant at the same hospital where she works. All the more was his widow determined to fight hard at the negotiating table and help bring new bargaining team members along. “Negotiating online was very difficult. Management doesn’t like it when we’re there making noise,” she says. “In the end though, what we got is a very fair contract. Management moved on the Juneteenth vacation day, and they didn’t touch our benefits. We will also have cash-in-hand with a separate check for our $3,000 bonus.”
A member rallies for a fair contract outside New York Presbyterian Hospital to put pressure on management when talks were stalled.
“I’m always in awe of what they had to go through. It is very important to honor [enslaved] people in history and their pivotal role should be celebrated.” – Wayne Bassey, 1199 RN, Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, speaking of the new Juneteenth holiday.
Nikosa Collins, Cytotechnologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Manhattan “The lab was short-staffed before COVID-19 made its way to New York, and then throughout the pandemic, our work became more difficult. While it was good news that people were getting tested, there were not enough of us to look at the tests and get results back to people in the time frame they required. We had to work overtime—often. One day, I spotted a co-worker crying from exhaustion. It’s still difficult to get qualified people to work here.”
Marie Alvarez, ER Medical Assistant, St John’s Riverside Hospital, Yonkers “This was the worst year of my life, but you must know that it is not over—that COVID-19 patients are still coming into the ER. If you didn’t live it, you can’t know it. We are the first ones after the paramedics to see the patients when they are at their worst. Sometimes we can save them, but sometimes we can’t. In the beginning, before we knew much about the virus, we treated patients while we did not have enough PPE. Our own lives were at risk every day. The ER was short-staffed during the pandemic, and we all worked extra shifts to the point of exhaustion.”
George Davila, Paramedic, Mount Sinai West, Manhattan “It’s hard to put into words what we have been through during the pandemic. I watched families say final goodbyes to their loved ones on the street—as we brought patients struggling to breathe into the ambulance. My colleagues got sick: they were hospitalized, and some died. Some are still sick. I didn’t see my own family for two months—I had to live at a hotel. We all showed up to work and did double shifts and more. We were always there. There were consequences. Even for those of us who did not get COVID, there is posttraumatic stress and depression and anxiety.”
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Meet the Bargaining Committee Jane Gerenscer, RN, Westchester Medical Center Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern “In my 30 years as a nurse, I have never experienced anything close to the COVID pandemic. You must understand that I am not only talking about the caseload volume. The level of patient acuity was severe and dramatic. In the beginning, we knew very little about the virus—as nurses, we did everything possible to keep our patients alive and comfortable. Everyone is aware that there was a nurse shortage before the pandemic. As nurses got burned out or sick, the problem got worse.” Christopher Rogers, Certified Nursing Assistant, Archcare at Ferncliff Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, Rhinebeck “I’ve been a caregiver for a long time—I truly love my job and my residents. Last year was by far the most difficult time I have ever had. Residents got extremely sick, and some died. As sick as they were, they couldn’t see their actual family members. So we were their family. Some of my coworkers got sick, and I feared every day that I would be next; or worse, carry the virus home to my family.” Gina Torres, Radiology Tech, Wyckoff Heights, Brooklyn “We were working short before last year’s pandemic and it’s worse now— good people left, and few want to work here under these circumstances. When there are not enough staff, who suffers? First and foremost, the patients, of course, and it’s not fair to them. But it’s terrible for us, too. We work long hours, and morale falls. We want to do the best job possible, but how can we? The most frustrating part for me is that there are plenty of administrators—but not enough [caregivers] to do the real work. The hospital cannot operate without us.”
Collette Seegars, Certified Nursing Assistant, Sarah Neumann Nursing Home, Mamaroneck “We didn’t have PPE to protect ourselves. We watched our residents get very sick, and many died. We were scared for them and for ourselves. There is never enough staff. People are burned out.”
THE WORK WE DO: Theresa Gatling, Business Office, Long Island Jewish/Northwell, Queens “Everyone of us—my co-workers in the business office, the nurse assistants, the techs in the lab, the cooks and the housekeepers—we are all the heroes who keep the hospital running. We make the hospital look good. We are the reason our institutions get high ratings, and patients choose to come here.”
Joanna Ocasio-Janvier, Patient Educator, Montefiore Hospital, Bronx “Our 1199 Funds [for training and education] were created for a good reason: to help make our healthcare institutions what they are—some of the best in the nation. Offering good economic benefits means a stable workforce. Qualified staff want to come and stay at their jobs. I am a graduate of the Training Fund. I know that my continuing education has helped me be the best I can be.” Barbara Moody, Registered Nurse, Forest Hills Hospital, Queens “I’ve been a health caregiver for 30 years, and I’ve never experienced work this stressful. The COVID pandemic put strain on the entire healthcare system, and on each one of us as individuals. We have been working tirelessly to provide safe, quality care to our patients, and we are exhausted. Still we continue on. We are the vital employees who keep our institutions vital in our communities.” Jean Roper, Unit Clerk, Silvercrest Nursing Home, Briarwood “I’ve worked in nursing homes for more than 20 years, and shortstaffing has always been a problem. Everyone, including the League employers, knows short-staffing got worse during and after COVID. Bringing in agency staff creates a revolving door of caregivers: the residents don’t know them, and the situation also ignores how important continuity of care is. Using agency caregivers doesn’t do anything at all to promote a stable nursing home workforce.”
“We have been working tirelessly to provide safe, quality care to our patients, and we are exhausted. Still we continue on. ” – Barbara Moody, Registered Nurse, Forest Hills Hospital
Improving Mobility, Enhancing Opportunities
Habilitation Aide Amina Montalvo describes another benefit of the new activity chair: “I love doing things that are going to make them smile. The activity chair gives them the experience as if they were walking.”
The Cora Hoffman Center has been operating on Staten Island for decades and is one of the oldest facilities in New York providing support to disabled individuals to help them live independently. The 1199 Habilitation Aides at the center work hard to help individuals improve their walking, sitting and transitioning skills, with innovative equipment and training. The facility, run by Constructive Partnerships Unlimited, formerly Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State, has also recently opened a greenhouse where red and green peppers are grown, harvested and sold to make hot sauce. Aides have been trained to operate new equipment that enables individuals who cannot stand independently to increase their mobility.
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THE WORK WE DO
“ I love my guys. They are smarter than anyone thinks they are. They are amazing. They have a great sense of humor.”
1. Cynthia Nicholas-Peters, an Habilitation Aide for almost 30 years, was recently named Employee of the Year by Constructive Partnerships Unlimited. “At the height of the pandemic, the center was closed and I was transferred to a residence in Brooklyn,” she says, “So I’m glad to be back here. I also just got married, so things are looking up.”
– Stacey Wachsmut, Habilitation Aide
2. Stacey Wachsmut describes the joy she finds in her work as an Habilitation Aide: “I love my guys. They are smarter than anyone thinks they are. They are amazing. They have a great sense of humor.”
4. Natara Moore has been an Habilitation Aide for 24 years. She’s glad the participants with whom she works are getting out into the greenhouse, but says: “It’s 95 degrees in there. It’s hot!”
3. Janely Alayou, an 1199 Delegate and Habilitation Aide, explains the new activity chair: “It gives individuals more independence for table top activities. We put goals in place to help increase their mobility.
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feed our families, so we had to do this dangerous work. The saddest part is that I have lost many of my friends. They travelled on public transport and caught the virus, and they died.” Clacken is asthmatic, so she needed to be extra careful. She also has two grandchildren living with her and was afraid of passing the virus on to them.
PPE Gets a Union Label
This year Biden primed the PPE supply chain, protecting healthcare workers. When the U.S. government shows that it’s not up to the task of protecting American workers from a deadly disease, working people have a long tradition of stepping in to fill the gap. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of cases surged in March 2020 under the Trump administration, members working in nursing homes, clinics, as home health aides—and even in hospitals—found themselves quickly falling short of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gowns and masks. One year later, in March 2021, the newly elected President Joe Biden awarded a contract designed to change all that. Members of Workers United, a union affiliated with the same Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as 1199, began manufacturing over 17 million reusable masks at the Ferrara Manufacturing plant in New York City—so that the United States will never again be caught without adequate PPE. Lilieth Clacken, a homecare worker with Region Care and All Metro agencies in New York City, 18
“It is past time that we started producing PPE right here in the U.S.” – Ursula Edwards, RN at Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Brooklyn
Lilieth Clacken, an 1199 Home Care member with All Metro in New York take part in a rally outside City Hall to press for more funding for Home Care.
remembers what it was like for her working through the height of the pandemic: “The PPE that we got in the early days was of poor quality, and the masks kept ripping. My client couldn’t walk. Sometimes I would have to hold her with one hand and my mask in the other. I could not afford for her to fall down and end up in the hospital. “Many home health workers left the profession during the pandemic. But some of us had no choice. We had to
It is not just members who worked inside people’s homes who lacked adequate PPE. “We definitely ran out of masks at the hospital,” said Ursula Edwards, an RN at Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn, adding: “I had a friend who was sending me homemade masks through the mail that she had produced herself. There were times when we were ordering masks on Amazon. “We also had the Union coming to the forefront to make sure we were getting the PPE we needed. But it should not have been the Union’s fight. It should have been the hospital’s fight. America’s fight. It is past time that we took charge and owned this problem, and started producing PPE right her in the U.S.” Clacken agrees: “When my agency ran out of PPE, we got a supplementary supply of masks from 1199SEIU. But the government should have been prepared for the pandemic in the first place. Our elected leaders really failed in this area back in 2020. When it comes to safety and health, we have a duty to protect those who are protecting other people’s loved ones.”
Neighborhood Son in the Heights
Misael Rivas always thought he’d work at the hospital he passed as a kid. Making his artistic mark on Washington Heights was a bonus. Misael Rivas has lived in and around Washington Heights for most of his 52 years. Both Rivas’ elementary and junior high school are short walks from the New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH) front doors, and he remembers cutting through the hospital site as a kid. “Where we’re sitting now was [then] a parking garage,” he said, looking around the manicured garden at the center of the hospital campus. “I used to see so many people from the neighborhood who worked here going in the building that I always said I was going to work here someday.” He got his chance 14 years ago, when he secured a job in the NYPH Environmental Services Department. Five years later, he joined the Blood Marrow Transplant (BMT) team as an Outpatient Oncology Transporter. “I do blood runs, take specimens to the labs, bring around the necessary paperwork,” he said. “I bring patients to the BMT unit, and if the patient needs a wheelchair, I’m pushing it. It’s a lot of footwork and paperwork, but I handle it. “The doctors like to say I’m the backbone of the unit,” he adds. Rivas was also born in NYPH—as was his late son, Christopher, who died there tragically five years ago from an asthma attack. Working at the hospital was just one of Rivas’ ambitions. He also discovered his artistic talent in third grade. He drew Superman for an inclass assignment that was so good the teacher had him draw another one. “She was testing me,” Rivas said. “She thought I traced it. I did another one, and she said, 'Wow! I didn’t know you drew.' She took it with a big smile and hung it on the bulletin board in the hall. Then she called my mother and
“It’s very vivid—the way I put colors together— so they pop out.”
said, “Your son has a talent, and I hope he gets to develop it.” Rivas went to the High School of Art and Design, and while he dabbled with graffiti over the years, and took his tag from an antique arcade game he saw at a neighborhood bodega, he jokes that he never got into it enough that the police came looking for him.
“I love making mistakes because you learn from mistakes,” he said. “You not only have to fix that mistake, you have to make it look good. That’s where your skill comes in.” Rivas has several upcoming projects, including a commission for the Universal Hip Hop Museum, scheduled to open in the Bronx in 2024.
Misael Rivas shows off one of his eyecatching mural in Washington Heights.
Rivas drew his first mural in 1985, on a wall at 163rd and Broadway—not far from the hospital. “It’s very vivid— the way I put colors together—so they pop out.” he said. “But it’s also very neat. It has to be centered and balanced.” What ends up on the wall might not be what started out in his original plans, but that’s all right with him.
“When I’m working [at my art], I’m in my own world. I can go where I want to go, do what I want to do,” he says. “I am honored and humbled that people, especially around here, are finding out about me [and my art],” Rivas says. “I’m known in the graffiti world, but there is a larger audience that did not know me and are getting to know me, and that’s a good feeling.”
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The Power of significant reforms to nursing home pay and working conditions in decades—including a path to an $18 minimum wage for CNAs—as well as safe staffing ratios. These wins were in addition to the historic "Fight for $15" victory that 1199 members achieved in 2019. As a result, when it came time to negotiate new contracts with employers like Alameda Center in Perth Amboy, the improvements to pay and benefits that members won were dramatic.
At some two dozen nursing homes, members negotiated significant yearly wage increases across all departments, nearing 10% annually for many workers in dietary and housekeeping. With CNAs on track by law to reach $18 an hour, 1199ers pushed for—and won—even higher minimum contract rates. Bernace Mene, has been working as an 1199 CNA at Alameda in Perth Amboy, NJ, for the past 9 years and served on the negotiating committee. “Without us, you would have no facility,” he says. “There was a serious staffing problem during COVID, and management brought in agencies. They pay more but have no benefits. We recognize the value of benefits. But we also need to have a fair wage.” “I have high blood pressure, and I sometimes need to see specialists. But our Union health plan makes that affordable for me. I also have a dental plan for my wife and kids,” added Mene.
How lobbying Trenton translated into better contracts in New Jersey nursing homes.
For years, members who work in nursing homes have protested that management’s continuing reluctance to hire enough staff has seriously undermined their ability to deliver quality care—the kind of time and attention that every person deserves when she/he find themselves in need of help with daily tasks.
After the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic and strong political organizing, 1199 members’ voices finally began to be heard by elected officials across the country. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy and the state legislative leadership (who 1199 members helped to elect), ushered in some of the most
workers were making more than we were, but our jobs were much more dangerous.” As well as a wage increase in her recent contract, Santos saw her
monthly healthcare premium reduce by half. She added: “We always have to remember that whatever we earn per hour, if our benefits improve, we have more money in our pockets.”
“We were in a situation where warehouse workers were making more than we were, but our jobs were much more dangerous.” – Mara Santos, 1199 LPN at Alameda
Nursing home members take the fight to the New Jersey state capitol in Trenton.
Mara Santos, an 1199 LPN at Alameda, went to Trenton with the Union twice to rally for laws that would force employers to offer decent pay and ensure adequate staffing. She saw the value of this lobbying during the recent round of contract talks, too. “Since COVID-19 nobody has wanted to work in a nursing home. We were in a situation where warehouse 1199 Magazine 21
Two 9/11 Heroes, Two Decades On Queens paramedics forge lifelong friendship.
Twenty years ago, this magazine profiled two 9/11 heroes, paramedics Marvin Bethea and James Dobson, from the now closed St. John’s Queens Hospital. These two first responders were both heroes and victims of the events that took place on that terrible day. Dobson initially escaped being trapped in the rubble, but he drove his ambulance into the smoldering debris until he located Bethea. “Just as he found me in the 9/11 debris, Jimmy has also helped
“ Jimmy has also helped rescue me from my physical and emotional debris.” – Marvin Bethea
Healthcare workers at the now closed St. Vincent’s hospital in lower Manhattan, tending to a man injured in the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago. 22
rescue me from my physical and emotional debris,” Bethea says. “He’s not very talkative, but we don’t have to talk to communicate. We understand what we’ve both been through.” Dobson, who has testified on behalf of first responders, says: “Marvin’s such a fighter. He’s been fighting for everyone, even through all his illnesses.” Bethea received a call from Evelyn Sullins years back to thank him for winning higher
compensation for her and her three sons. She is the widow of David Marc Sullins, an 1199 Emergency Medical Technician at the now closed Cabrini Hospital, he died on 9/11 while rescuing victims. “People would say that I was the muscle, and he was the mouth. He was much more outgoing. I knew that at meetings he would always advocate for me,” says Dobson. “Now, we get together once or twice a month. With all he has to go through every day, he’s
still fighting.” Marvin has been pressing for justice for close to two decades, since he learned that first responders in the private voluntary hospitals would not receive the same survivor benefits as those classified as city workers. At the time, 40 percent of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers in the city worked in private voluntary hospitals. “I called the Union, and they put me in touch with its Albany lobbyist Richard Winsten,” Bethea says. With constant support from 1199’s political and legislative staff, the two worked to convince the state legislators to provide the same compensation for private EMS workers. “I drove to Albany in 2007 to see the legislature override Gov. [Eliot] Spitzer’s threatened veto. To avoid embarrassment, the governor signed the bill,” Bethea says. “I’ve made 25 trips to Washington, D.C. to fight for compensation for 9/11 first responders and their survivors.” On one of those trips in 2007, Bethea told a congressional hearing: “I saw and heard my government promise on a city, state and federal level, that we [first responders] wouldn’t be forgotten. They forgot.” Here Bethea was referring to Congress’ failure to continue funding the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. Through relentless lobbying and the support of comedian-producer Jon Stewart, extended funding was finally secured in 2019. Bethea also fought to extend those benefits and those of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to voluntary hospital first responders. “I’m like a pit bull who doesn’t let go until I get them to cry uncle,” he says. Bethea also had to fight to receive Social Security disability. Today he continues to fight for the federal Public Safety Officer benefit for which he was denied. Just like management has behaved towards members during the COVID-19 pandemic, “They called us heroes, but treated us like
zeroes,” says Bethea. Dobson’s ordeal with Social Security was worse. Not only was he denied the benefit for two years after having received it for the previous five years, unbelievably, he was wrongly sued for fraud by the Social Security Administration for $1 million. For the two years during the travesty, he had no income. The presiding judge in the case, ruled in Dobson’s favor. “Without 1199, I would have been totally screwed,” he says. The funds he received from the 1199 National Benefit Fund helped get him back on his feet, but the hurt remains. “How can they treat us this way?” he says. On 9/11, he could have rested or gone home after transporting the first group of survivors to the hospital, but he returned to the towers four more times. He had to navigate his ambulance through clouds of dust, soot, darkness, dodging fireballs from other vehicles that were ablaze. “I couldn’t just sit in the hospital. The thought of leaving people behind drove me crazy,” he says. Dobson also continued to return to the site to find Bethea from whom he had been separated earlier in the day. He described his searches for Bethea in a National Geographic six-part special “9/11: One Day in
America,” currently streaming on Hulu. Unsuccessfully fighting off tears, Dobson said: “Cause being a partner like that and having that bond, I couldn’t work every day knowing he, Marvin, had died.” Even after a policeman near the site warned Dobson that the melting pavement might not support his ambulance, he drove on. When to their amazement, Bethea and Dobson found each other, Dobson said, “We hugged like we had never seen each other before. We’re alive, and we’re alive together.” “We didn’t have time to cry,” Bethea says in the documentary. “We just embraced each other and said, ‘OK, we have work to do, let’s do it.’” Today, Dobson and Bethea still lean on each other and their loving families. When Bethea married his long-time partner last year, Dobson was there to support his friend. Bethea’s home is filled with awards, photos and articles chronicling his struggles and victories over the last two decades. He and his wife were recently visited by the Dobsons. 1199 Magazine was there to capture their enduring friendship, 20 years on. Bethea says: “We’re more than partners. We’re brothers.”
“ Marvin was the only person I could open up to. We vented together, and we sometimes cried together.” – James Dobson
Marvin Bethea (left) and James Dobson (right) as they were 20 years ago, shortly after the collapse of the towers Bethea and Dobson as they are today— still playing an important part in each other’s lives.
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“We will never forget...”
On Sept. 11, 2001, 1199 members at St. Vincent’s Hospital (now closed) in lower Manhattan tend to injured survivors after the Twin Towers collapsed following the infamous terrorist attack. See “Two 9/11 Heroes, Two Decades On,” page 22.
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