4 Summer of Cultural Celebration
Members enjoy parade season again after the pandemic.
5 The President’s Column Expanding the Movement.
6 Taking Over 5th Avenue 1199ers turn out in force to demonstrate that New York City is a union town.
8 Around the Union Car Caravan for Safe Staffing; Columbia Memorial Hospital Solidarity Rally: Precepting walk in; Members at 12 ForProfit Nursing Homes Settle Contracts after Strikes; Contract Wins at Columbia Morningside and SSA.
11 The Work We Do Rite Aid members provide a community health resource.
14 Protecting Political Gains Democracy only works if everyone takes part.
16 New Jersey Nurses Join 1199
The Union welcomes its first hospital unit in NJ as nurses at Clara Maass vote to join.
18 Making Lemonade
A retired 1199 RN did not let a lung cancer diagnosis dampen her love of writing.
20 Paving Career Pathways
Members are using the tuition benefits to dramatically increase their pay.
22 How 1199 Became a Political Powerhouse Member mobilization tipped the balance in key races.
Editorial: Your Vote Matters
It is no time to sit on the sidelines as we face one of the most consequential Midterm elections in living memory.
If ever there were a time to stand up for our families and our communities, this is it. It is less than two years since we went all out to help secure victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris – at the height of the pandemic.
But ever since then, the forces ranging against working people have been vigorously plotting to seize power back for themselves.
Right-wing Republicans are using played out tactics and trying to make us point fingers in the wrong direction while we’re all struggling.
For months now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been sending busses filled with recently-arrived migrants crossing into his state from Mexico to Washington D.C. and New York City. Fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida – which of course doesn’t even share a border with Mexico –chartered busses for migrants to travel to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
All this political point-scoring is intended to turn voters in more liberal states against migrants — most of whom have little choice but to flee violence and extreme poverty in their countries of origin.
Here in the U.S. we are seeing our grocery bills going up, while at the same time the biggest corporations are recording record profits.
So much is at stake. Women’s right to make their own medical decisions –in every state – could be taken away. If extremist Republicans to take back the House and Senate, there is a real risk abortion bans could be extended throughout the country. Politicians, instead of women and their healthcare providers, would be in control of some of the most wrenching and difficult situations that families can face.
Our children’s future is also on the ballot. Without a Democratic victory there is little chance of legislation to slow the ongoing assaults on our planet -- which are already creating chaos within our climate.
At 1199, we are not simply members of a union. We are part of a movement. A movement to fight back against challenges facing working people and making sure we get our fair share of
Vol. 40 No.5
Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 498 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10018 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.orgpresident George Gresham
secretary treasurer Milly Silva
senior executive vice presidentsYvonne Armstrong Maria Castaneda Veronica TurnerBiggs
executive vice presidentsJacqueline Alleyne Lisa Brown Roger Cumberbatch Tim Foley Todd Hobler Patricia Marthone Brian Morse Joyce Neil Roxey Nelson
the pie. Being in a movement, though, requires sacrifices.
It means taking an active part in the political process. It means taking up some of our precious free time we would like to spend with our families, to make sure our fellow members understand the issues and go out to vote on election day. Those few hours we spend canvassing now away from our families will be worth many more good years to come, as we work to protect our future.
We know there is too much power in the hands of corporations, billionaires, and politicians who have rigged the system against working families. But taking back our power requires hard work.
One thing is for sure — by showing up as voters we have the power to get the care, respect and quality jobs that everyone of us deserves. There’s never been a better time to get ourselves and our families and friends to the polls.Mindy Berman April Ezzell Regina Heimbruch Jenna Jackson JJ Johnson
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 E. 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
At 1199 we are not simply members of a union. We are part of a movement.Regina Heimbruch
Summer of Cultural Celebration
African American Day Parade:
Celebrating Black heritage, culture, unity, and power, members filled the Harlem streets on September 18 with music and dance.
For the first time since the pandemic, union kids of the 1199SEIU Social Cultural Committee donned vibrant outfits for the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA)
Junior Carnival on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn on September 3.
Dominican Day parade: 1199ers came together in Manhattan on August 14 to celebrate healthcare heroines and heroes of Dominican descent on the 40th anniversary of the NYC parade.
Expanding the Movement
Showing solidarity to new union members builds our own power at the bargaining table.
The mainstream media has downplayed one of the biggest stories of the year. I’m referring to the tens of thousands of workers organizing themselves into new unions. I’d say they “somehow” missed the significance of the story—but, of course, the media is owned and run by billionaires; workers forming unions is about the last thing they want their viewers and readers to learn about.
Unsurprisingly, the upsurge is most dramatic among low-wage workers—at places like Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and elsewhere. These new union members include the children, sisters, brothers and spouses of our own 1199SEIU members (it is no accident that the greatest upsurge of new union activity is in New York City, which already has higher rates of union membership than most parts of the country).
The biggest victory was at the Staten Island warehouse, where in April, the newly-formed Amazon Labor Union won a vote to represent 8000 workers. Amazon warehouse workers at various sites around the country are now organizing to join their Staten Island sisters and brothers.
Starbucks workers’ organizing is just as impressive. The $100-billion corporation has 9,000 coffee shops in the country, each employing only 15-30 workers. This means the workers have to organize shop-by-shop— three or four in Buffalo, another in Mesa, Arizona, another in Spokane, WA, and so on. Like the Amazon warehouse employees, the workers are organizing themselves, largely without help from the rest of the labor movement (Workers United, an
SEIU affiliate, has given crucial help to the Starbucks campaigns). They have already won elections in nearly 250 shops, rarely losing a vote, with dozens more recognition elections scheduled.
As we 1199ers know, once workers vote to recognize the union, the difficulty is in forcing the employer to negotiate a first contract. Billion-dollar corporations have batteries of lawyers skilled in delay, stalemate, legal maneuvers, etc. to avoid collective bargaining.
Amazon principal owner Jeff Bezos alone has a personal fortune worth $150 billion. That is 150,000 million dollars. Amazon’s net worth is ten times that—$1.5 trillion. Bezos, together with two other multi-billionaires, own as much wealth as the 160 million workers living paycheckto-paycheck at the bottom of the American economy. Obviously, Amazon can afford to pay decent wages; it pays millions of dollars to its lawyers to avoid doing so. Same with Starbucks, Trader Joes, Chipotle and other corporations that have built enormous wealth from the labor of their low-paid workers.
Fortunately, the National Labor Relations Board appointed by President Joe Biden—who the Washington Post called the most pro-union president since the New Deal—actually sides with workers in enforcing labor law. This year, the NLRB has forced fair recognition votes and compelled corporations to rehire pro-union workers they have fired. Moreover, public opinion polls show that 71 percent of the public approves of unions—the highest percent in half a century. If ever there was
a moment to rebuild the labor movement, this is it.
We in 1199SEIU are among the very fortunate minority of workers whose union continues to build power. But we do not live and work in isolation. Building solidarity and growing the labor movement is not only essential for newly-organized union members; it also builds our own power when we face our employers across the bargaining table.
Solidarity with the Amazon, Starbucks and other workers in their fight for their first contracts must become a priority for all of us.
The upcoming midterm elections for Congress and state officials are part of that fight. The ballot provides a stark choice between pro-union candidates—and those who want to give billions more to wealthy corporations. Next month’s elections will not only help decide the future of our very democracy, of our right to control our lives and our bodies, of whether we are part of humanity’s fight to save the planet from climate change. The elections will also help determine whether the current wave of workers’ organization is accelerated or stopped in its tracks. I am confident, my 1199 sisters and brothers, that you are up for this challenge. Let’s go!
If ever there was a moment to rebuild the labor movement, this is it.
Taking Over 5th Avenue
1199ers turn out in force to demonstrate once again that New York City is a union town!
Marching under the banner
“Workers Leading, Workers Rising”—roughly 1,000 members and officers surged onto 5th Avenue to show solidarity with emerging unions at the Labor Day Parade in New York City on September 10th.
It was the biggest turnout in memory, organized in recognition of the newly-formed Amazon Labor Union’s historic win in Staten Island, and the equally
impressive union organizing by Starbucks Workers United, Trader Joe’s United and many others. The atmosphere amongst NYC’s workers was buoyant.
Sarah Louis, a Gift Planning Senior Specialist at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and one of the leading worker activists who helped inspire her coworkers to form a union with 1199 in April, said, “It is important to show solidarity because we are only as strong as the weakest amongst us. We cannot do anything without including everybody. We are only strong if we act collectively.”
Longtime Union Delegate, Hugo Roman, a Patient Service Representative at the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton primary health care clinic in Manhattan added, “A lot of people think that unions are outdated, but we’ve seen time and again that there is a need. It is really important to show ALU and the other emerging unions that we have their back. We need to show everyone what a union can do.”
It wasn’t just New York City members who turned out for the celebration of labor power. Colleen Taft, an LPN at the Fort Hudson Nursing Center, travelled all the way from Fort Edward, NY, near Lake George, to march in solidarity with emerging unions. “We know from our own experience in Upstate, New York that the only way we can keep winning strong contracts as union members is if we make sure to stick together,” said Taft.
Audrey Stokes, who has been a Delegate and CNA at Park Gardens Nursing Center in the Bronx since 1978, could not agree more. “We want equal rights for everyone and if you don’t have a union you can’t get them,” she said. “Management will try to put you down all the time. But if you show solidarity they have to back down and give you what you want.”
The solidarity with emerging unions was flowing both ways. Tristan “Lion” Dutchin, an Amazon warehouse worker who helped lead the successful organizing effort at company's massive Staten Island warehouse, rode on one of the 1199 floats. “I’m here to show support and solidarity with healthcare workers and workers across the globe,” he said. “We’re in this together.”
As mega-billionaires and major U.S. corporations seek to derail the gains of organized labor, destroy workers’ organizations, and drag the country back to a
time when there was no hope for democracy in the workplace— workers are turning out in record numbers to fight back.
“People across zip codes and industries have come out and supported 1199SEIU over the years, so it’s important that we show up for young workers from places like Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks in the same way,” said Michele Lebby, a Behavioral Health Associate at South Oaks Hospital in Bayshore, Long Island.
1199ers know more than most what it takes to build and maintain a powerful union, but also what that means for the membership.
“As an 1199 member who has advanced in my career three times because of union support—I stand for a workforce where young workers can grow in their careers through secure benefits, especially affordable or no-cost educational opportunities,” said Starr Madden, a Family Support Specialist from BronxCare Health System.
“Management will try to put you down all the time. But if you show solidarity they have to back down and give you what you want.”
– Audrey Stokes, Delegate and CNA at Park Gardens Nursing Center, the Bronx Tristan “Lion” Dutchin of the Amazon Labor Union stands in solidarity with 1199 members.
Around the Union
Members take a break as their caravan makes its way from Putnam County to western Connecticut where Nuvance headquarters are located.
Car Caravan for Safe Staffing
More than 1,000 members at the hospitals owned by Nuvance Health signed a letter to the Nuvance Board of Directors at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and Putnam Hospital in Carmel, NY—calling on them to tackle short staffing. They sent the letter three different times, but unfortunately, when August came around, there was still no response.
The hope was that the Board, which is responsible for ensuring Nuvance is fulfilling its mission of providing quality care, would understand the impact short staffing is having on patients and workers. There are long waits throughout every department— including labs and hospital emergency rooms. Staff, working around the clock, suffer fatigue and stress. Qualified caregivers, professionals and service workers
have all been leaving their jobs. With below-market wages that aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, the short-staffing situation was only getting worse. And despite the opportunity to fix the situation through contract negotiations, the workers did not feel heard by management, or the Board.
Erin Mulligan, who works in the constantly short-staffed Emergency Room at Putnam Hospital said, “By August, we said it was time for the public to know that Nuvance was putting profits before patients. We organized two car caravans with a mobile billboard in the lead and visited the homes of several Board members—once again, asking for their support. One caravan traveled across the Poughkeepsie area. The other started in Putnam County and drove across the state line to western Connecticut where Nuvance headquarters are
located. The 1199 billboard, asking members of the community to call the Nuvance CEOs and urge them to do what’s necessary to fix the staffing problem, was on display throughout the route.”
Amy Jordan, who works at the Nuvance Hudson Valley Heart Center in Poughkeepsie said, “It was a great action, exciting, with strong member unity. That’s the way we are going to win this—the way 1199 members have done for decades. We are going to stay strong, make our voices heard in every way we can think of, and stick together until Nuvance does the right thing.”
As of this writing, contract negotiations continue for 1,600 members at Vassar and Putnam hospitals. Three hundred other members in residual units and at Nuvance Northern Dutchess Hospital are negotiating their first contract.
Staff, working around the clock, suffer fatigue and stress. Qualified caregivers, professionals and service workers have all been leaving their jobs.
Columbia Memorial Hospital Solidarity Rally
On Thursday September 1, a day before the start of Labor Day weekend, 1199SEIU members and community leaders rallied at the 7th Street Park in Hudson and asked: “Will Columbia Memorial Hospital have enough staff to meet the community’s healthcare needs throughout the holiday?”
CMH documents indicate more than 300 open positions at the hospital and its offsites on that day. The healthcare workers and many community leaders, including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have been urging an indifferent administration to deal with the staffing crisis for more than a year. As the only hospital between Kingston and Albany, Columbia Memorial Health staff serves more than 100,000 residents in a healthcare desert spanning Columbia, Greene, and Dutchess counties.
“The entire community is feeling the impact of hospital leaders who are driving workers from the bedside by providing inadequate wages and failing to implement appropriate recruitment/retention practices,” said Karin Rene Roberts, a longtime RN at the hospital. “I think that for a long time, our administration buried their head in the sand and refused to acknowledge what we saw coming. We saw dribbles of staff leaving, which turned into torrents. Now they can’t hide anymore.”
Elected leaders turned out in solidarity for the workers at the rally. New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey said, “We’re heading into Labor Day and it’s important that we support our friends, neighbors and relatives in labor. As more and more people come to our area, we have to make sure we
Precepting walk in
Teaching new staff members in Professional and Technical roles requires skill and dedication from older hands in the facility. In recognition of the extra work this requires, a pay differential known as “Preceptor Pay” was successfully negotiated at the last contract negotiation with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes.
It has been more than a year since the League contract was ratified, and while 1199 members have continued teaching, they still haven’t been paid for it.
have the support systems, and that includes health care.”
Kamal Johnson, the mayor of Hudson, told the CMH members, “The nationwide staffing crisis doesn’t take Columbia Memorial off the hook for its own staffing issues. Especially when so many employees are quitting to work at neighboring hospitals that pay better. They’re leaving for better working conditions. That’s not something that can be blamed on this nationwide crisis.”
1199SEIU members say they will continue to make their voices heard and demand that CMH management fix the situation, for the sake of quality patient care and to maintain the hospital’s legacy as a trusted community health care provider and partner.
Columbia Memorial Hospital rally over short staffing.
“As more and more people come to our area, we have to make sure we have the support systems, and that includes health care.”– New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey
On September 21, ProTech members across multiple League hospitals in New York City delivered a petition to their bosses to hold them accountable for their contractual obligations.
Irene Sprung, Licenced Social Worker at Presby, said, “People don’t just graduate school and know how to do professional and technical work. Nurses have had preceptor pay for years and the ProTechs are very involved in training new employees and training students to do the work that we do.”
Around the Union
Members at 12 For-Profit
Nursing Homes Settle Strong Contracts after Strike Action
More than 1,200 longterm caregivers at a dozen for-profit nursing homes across two Western New York counties whose union contracts had expired joined together to win $15 an hour for service workers, higher starting rates for new employees, and standard wage scales for experience following months of unrest and strike action.
1199 members stood united against out-of-town for-profit ownership groups to demand
better wages and benefits—and won. Nursing home members at the 12 facilities participated in a coordinated campaign that included sticker days, purple days, informational pickets, and one-day strikes. Members told their stories publicly to highlight critically understaffed facilities and the need to improve wages and benefits to recruit and retain workers.
“It was a long battle, but we came out victorious,” said Lori Beeman, Housekeeper at Fiddler’s Green Manor in Springville. “These
Contract Wins at Columbia Morningside and SSA
After a long, hard battle, members at the Columbia Morn ingside and SSA bargaining units settled a new three-yearcontract including a three per cent annual wage increase and a lump sum bonus payment of $500.
Members at Columbia Morningside maintained their employer paid 1199SEIU Na tional Benefit Fund healthcare, as well at the 1199SEIUPension, Training and Child Care funds. Cafeteria and Dining members also negotiated an increase in
temporary layoff pay from $220 to $255.
Members at Columbia SSA won a $1,250 equity adjustment to their base wage rate and to the minimum rates before the three percent wage increase is applied in 2022.
At both Morningside and SSA, Columbia members won an additional paid holiday in recognition of the new Fed eral holiday for Juneteenth, the day which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans in 1865.
raises will have a big impact on my fellow union members. The new start rates for service of $14.50, and going to $15.00 in May, is a great win—the new start rates will help improve staffing and help provide the care our residents deserve.”
“We are thankful to have settled this contract and get our members up to par so we can start hiring new employees," said April Stonebraker, LPN at Elderwood in Lockport, Niagara County. “We still have some work to do, but this contract is a start to fight for staffing and an upward growth in wages and limiting agency use.”
"It's a new day in the healthcare workplace, and these contracts are the first step to recognizing and realizing how important we are," said James Funderburk, Housekeeper with Elderwood at Williamsville in Amherst.
“I’m glad to finally be recognized for my seven years of dedication to Seneca Health Care with these new wages,” Dietary Aide Joseph Grotky said. “I’m hopeful we’ll see less turnover and better care for residents. This is the best contract I’ve ever seen.”
These 12 nursing home victories across Western New York will now set the standard for wages and benefits at for-profit facilities.
1199 members stood united against out-oftown for-profit ownership groups to demand better wages and benefits—and won.
1199ers at Autumn View rehabilitation center, in Hamburg, NY, near Buffalo, take to the streets to demand better wages and benefits.
Columbia Morningside members celebrate their contract settlement.
THE WORK WE DO COMMUNITY HEALTH RESOURCE
As brick-and-mortar retail operations fight off online competition and a surge in shoplifting across the sector, 1199 members at Rite Aid are amongst the few retail workers who can rely on contract language to protect their jobs.
These members know they are providing a vital community resource, offering free health advice
and convenient products, often in areas where healthcare coverage is poor.
This summer, Rite Aid members ratified a new three-year-contract including three percent annual pay increases, as well as holding onto their 1199SEIU Pension Fund, Training and Upgrading Fund and Child Care Fund.
1. Moses Brown is a Pharmacy Technician at a Rite Aid store on Southern Blvd in the Bronx. A Union Delegate, he was on the committee which negotiated the recent contract. He has been with Rite Aid for 15 years and re cently moved to his current store after his previous one closed.
“We are very busy here—often filling more than one thousand prescriptions in a day,” he says.
“I always encourage people to be active in the union. It offers childcare and education bene fits—right up to PhD level—and the security that even if a store closes, you will be guaranteed a place somewhere else.”
2. As a Shift Supervisor in charge of retail operations at the Astoria, Queens store, Angelique Huerta knows pharmacies are vital community resources—often providing customers, for instance, with helpful tips on skincare and other wellness products. “It is important that our value is recognized,” Huerta says. “I joined the bargaining committee because I wanted to fight for better wages for our families.”
3. Dipta Roy is a Shift Supervisor at a Rite Aid outlet in Hillcrest, near the Brooklyn/ Queens border. The store is located near the entrances to the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway—which may be one reason it is frequently targeted by shoplifters hoping to make a quick getaway. Roy routinely works with the floor manager, security guards and police to prevent theft and recover merchandise. But last June, Roy was wrongly terminated from his position after he intervened to stop a shoplifter. Roy was reinstated a month later, however, after his Union representative intervened.
4. Margie Ford, a Pharmacy Technician in Astoria, has worked for Rite Aid for almost 30 years. “During the pandemic, I was
sometimes scared to come into work. But I also recognized how important it was for people in the community to know we were still here for them. We were friendly faces that could offer personal reassurance face-to-face.”
5. Recently, Hosneara Pramanik, a cashier in the Astoria store, completed her high school equivalency diploma with the help of the 1199SEIU Training Fund. She’s been working in the
field since 1996, and joined Rite Aid when the chain took over Genovese in 2001.
“Now, I’m eligible for an 1199SEIU Pension,” she says. “I only have about five years left.”
6. Astoria store Staff Pharmacist Joanna Tsitsipatis is especially proud of Rite Aid’s vaccination service.
“We handle at least 50 walk-in patients a day,” she says. “People come in for tetanus, pneumonia and MMR vaccines, as well as Flu shots—and, of course,—
The training to qualify as a Pharmacist is equivalent to a PhD course. After students graduate from their six-year program, they are awarded the title of “Doctor of Pharmacy.”
“We can offer patients advice about over-the-counter remedies and about when they need to see a doctor,” Tsitsipatis says. “Pharmacists can offer a level of primary care in the community which is free to patients and takes the pressure off local emergency rooms.”
“ Pharmacists can offer a level of primary care in the community which is free to patients and takes the pressure off local emergency rooms.”
Joanna Tsitsipatis, Staff Pharmacist, Rite Aid
PR OT ECTING
POLITI CA L GAINS
Democracy only works if everyone takes part.
The political movement that 1199ers have built up over decades to protect and expand the rights of working people is now facing some of its greatest challenges. Members worked extremely hard to ensure that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were elected in 2020. But extremist Republicans who represent the interests of large corporations and billionaires—even while pretending to side with “the little guy”—will stop at nothing to turn back the clock.
That is why the Union’s battle to protect recent political wins is already in full swing across all the regions where members and retirees live. It is crucial that the Democrats hold onto control of the Congress to ensure that pro-union policies continue to be enacted.
And this year, the path to holding onto the House runs straight through New York and New Jersey where the largest concentration of 1199 members live. Signing up for Weekend Warriors busses to canvass in knife-edge districts will make
a crucial difference in national politics.
Alimamy Barrie, a Home Care member with the Stella Orton agency, knows the importance of knocking on fellow members’ doors to get out the vote. Canvassing in Staten Island to help Max Rose take back his Congressional seat in District 11, Barrie said, “Elections are part of everybody’s responsibility. I came out to volunteer today to get our people to vote because I know how the system works. If we don’t have a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, we won’t be able to make any more progress.”
Rebecca Johnson has worked at Spring Hills Nursing Home in Princeton, New Jersey for 21 years as a Kitchen Aide and Housekeeper. “We all need to make sure to go out and vote this time to protect our rights and make sure we get what we need for our families,” she said. “I don’t want anybody making decisions for me—and that is what happens if you don’t vote.” Johnson was canvassing in central New
Jersey to help Tom Malinowski, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional district, but faces a tough battle to hold onto his seat following redistricting.
One of the many tactics in the extremist Republican playbook is to enact state-level legislation to change district maps, so that the political make up of each district is more favorable to their candidates.
Unshakeable in their mistaken belief that the 2020 election of President Joe Biden was “stolen”, these extremist Republicans are out for revenge.
Baltimore members supporting Wes Moore (second from left) in his race to become Maryland’s next governor.
Tom Malinowski, fights to hold onto his seat in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, with 1199ers' help.
Almitra Yancey, a Customer Service Liaison at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, canvasses in Staten Island.
They are firing up their base of supporters to run for county commissioner positions and to apply to become election inspectors and poll workers. By filling these roles with right-wing operatives, they hope to be able to overturn any future election wins by Democrats—something which they narrowly failed to do in 2020 despite their best efforts.
With these anti-democratic forces at play, it is more important than ever for working people to go to the polls in large numbers on November 8th to make their
voices heard. Make no mistake, voting matters to the day-to-day lives of working people.
For instance, winning a 20-percent wage increase for New York’s home care workers, as well as new laws for the state’s nursing homes, which require owners to spend more money on frontline staff, were achieved with the help of Governor Kathy Hochul, who is also fighting for re-election this November.
As the pioneering actor Sidney Poitier once said, “Don’t vote and the choice is theirs. Vote and the choice is yours.”
Sign up here to get out the vote in your home state.
“I don’t want anybody making decisions for me— and that is what happens if you don’t vote.”
– Rebecca Johnson, Kitchen Aide and Housekeeper, Spring Hills Nursing Home, Princeton, NJ
New NursesJersey Join 1199
The Union welcomes its first hospital unit in NJ as 500 nurses at Clara Maass vote to join.
More than 500 Registered Nurses at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey celebrated forming a union with 1199 in August. As the Union’s first hospital unit in NJ, the victory represents a significant opportunity to grow its power.
Tanya Howard, an RN and worker activist said, “I became a nurse because I love taking care of people. I love what I do, but it was getting hard to love what I do, especially when working conditions were so horrible during the Covid pandemic. Winning our union, we now have a say in how we’re treated and how our patients are treated.”
Lia Devers, another nurse activist, added, “With this victory, we have a seat at the table with management when it comes to decision-making at our hospital. We must continue to stand united to win a contract that ensures better staffing ratios and a say in our benefits, including our retirement options, which will
– Lia Devers, RN, Clara Maass Medical Center, NJ
help us support nurses and our patients, who need us so much in the community.”
This groundbreaking Union victory at a New Jersey hospital came shortly after more than 150 workers at Covenant House in Midtown, Manhattan voted to join 1199. These new members provide lifesaving services and shelter to homeless young people in the Bronx and Manhattan.
“We came together to have a say in our workplace through our union because we felt underpaid, underappreciated and overworked,” said Leticia Hernandez, a Voucher Incentive Specialist. “If Covenant House employees have job security, we can better work toward fulfilling the Covenant House mission of supporting and sheltering homeless youth. By winning our union election, we showed our power.”
Marvin Dailey, a Custodial Specialist with 25 years of service added, “Only when we have job security can we best help get our
clients—the kids—the services they need. Being in a union means having a voice to be treated fairly work-wise and wage-wise, and to be respected. The labor movement is growing, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
As well as organizing hospital workers in New Jersey and Covenant House workers in Manhattan—more than 3,300 new home care workers, who are part of the New York State Client Directed Personal Assistant Program (CDPAP), which serves chronically ill and physically disabled residents, voted to join 1199. The new members work with consumers through the ChineseAmerican Planning Council.
Once again, the 1199 home care organizing team went all out connecting with nearly 2000 workers during the pandemic on a one-to-one basis to encourage them to sign union cards. Through digital work and house visits, the home care team never gave up.
“With this victory, we have a seat at the table with management when it comes to decisionmaking at our hospital.”
RNs at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, NJ, celebrate joining the 1199 family.
New members at Covenant House take part in a Union victory party at 1199 headquarters in Manhattan.
A retired 1199 RN did not let a lung cancer diagnosis dampen her love of writing. Instead she published a book about growing up in Brooklyn.
“I started gathering stories over 20 years ago,” says Tomasina Decrescenzo, a retired 1199 RN operating room nurse at the now closed St. John’s Hospital in Queens, who published her first book Two Left Feet in April 2022. “During Covid, I found this big box in my closet [of written stories], and I thought, let me take this out and try to put it together,” she said.
It’s a story about a curious 11-year-old girl and her Italian family growing up in Brooklyn in 1963. Written on an old-fashioned typewriter, the story weaves together sights, sounds, and characters of her neighborhood and historical events of that time in a fictionalized way. “Originally [the chapters] were short stories about my family, my grandparent’s home upstate, and other little things. Some things were made up, but most of them were actual people. I changed the names to protect the guilty,” Decrescenzo laughs.
The title Two Left Feet is a
reference to an old story about Decrescenzo and her mother looking for shoes in the bin and only finding two left ones. “People think about [the phrase] as someone who can't dance, but really, it's more than that,” she says. “It's about those days we all have when I can't do anything right, things aren't going right, or I mess up everything. I wanted it to have the feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, where she has the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion to help her along the way so, by time she gets to the wizard, she realizes she doesn't need his help at all. She had what she needed. We all have two left feet during some part of our life, but it turns out okay."
Decrescenzo always had a love for reading and the arts, which inadvertently led her to become a nurse. “I remember when I was a kid, my mother had this big old medical book and I used to like to memorize it, like parts of the body
[from it]. I guess I always had an interest in medicine,” she says. Decrescenzo worked finance jobs before going back to school as a single mother graduating from NYC College of Technology (City Tech) and moving into nursing.
“As a nurse, I knew I was doing something productive and helping people,” she says. “There’s nothing like that feeling you get from patients when they say, ‘thank you so much for helping me.’ I really did love it and really do miss it sometimes.”
Even through being a nurse demanded long hours, Decrescenzo found ways to be creative. “When I was working, I was always involved in creative things like writing and acting, stand-up comedy, dinner theater shows, all those things. I would work night-time shifts so I could be off during the summer to spend time with my family and be creative,” she says.
Decrescenzo retired early in 2005 after receiving a diagnosis of advanced stage lung cancer. She survived that—along with a more recent cancer scare. She says it’s made her thankful and reminds her to make the most of her time.
“I try to live life like every day is a gift and not to waste time. I try to be productive and do as much as I can every day.” Decrescenzo is currently recording the audio book version of Two Left Feet and doing readings in libraries and other local
places. She also continues making art, painting and acting in dinner theatre. And she appreciates her retirement from 1199. “I enjoyed my years working as a nurse with 1199, it was a good union. I thank God every day for my pension, I know not everyone is lucky enough to retire with a pension. It was a lot of good times, good memories.”
Two Left Feet is available at Barnes & Noble.com
“I try to live life like every day is a gift and not to waste time.”– Tomasina Decrescenzo
Retired member, Tomasina Decrescenzo holds the fictionalized memoir she wrote.
Paving Career Pathways
Members are using the tuition benefits fund to dramatically increase their pay.
There is no doubt working on the frontlines during the covid pandemic took a terrible toll on 1199ers in the healthcare workforce. Hailed as heroes at the height of the crisis, it took far too long for many bosses to recognize their extraordinary sacrifices with concrete benefits like wage increases and bonus payments.
Some members chose to leave the healthcare profession altogether as a result. But the workforce changes occasioned by the pandemic also represented a golden opportunity for other members to improve their skill set and dramatically increase their pay.
Kathy Royal is one of them. She was working as a Nursing Assistant at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, part of One Brooklyn system, when the lockdown began.
As part of a plan that 1199ers brokered with New York State when her hospital merged with Interfaith and Brookdale University Hospital, Union members had the opportunity to continue earning their wages while
they were going to school to retrain for a new position. In many cases, these training opportunities have also led to a significant wage boost.
Royal graduated in August from her program to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist. She currently earns about $40,000 and her pay will increase to $80,000 when she takes on her new role in October.
“All I had to do was go to school and get a good grade. I couldn’t say no,” said Royal. “I don’t own my own home at the moment. I rent. The first thing I want to do now is save up to buy a house.”
It is not just New York, where members benefit from the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund [TUF]. Many members in the Union’s other regions have taken advantage of it, too. Jacqueline Albernaz, is a Materials Handler, stocking supplies and sorting mail, at Beth Israel Lahey Health in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
"When I first started working at BILH-Plymouth in the Dietary Department, I had just
“All I had to do was go to school and get a good grade. I couldn’t say no.”
– Kathy Royal, a Nursing Assistant at Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn, who trained to become a Respiratory Therapist.
graduated high school and did not know what my occupational aspirations would be,” she said. “The Occupational Therapists I saw when I was working in the hospital were really compassionate and I felt like I could really make an impact in that role.”
Albernaz’s husband is at risk of contracting a degenerative disease which runs in his family— Albernaz would like to have the skills to help him.
Over the last two years, she completed the prerequisite courses for Bristol Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assisting program and recently got accepted to start this Fall. “In two more years, I will have the career of my dreams with the possibility of continuing my education and becoming an Occupational Therapist,” Albernaz said. “None of this would have been possible without the free tuition provided by the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund. Like Royal, Albernaz is also likely to double her salary by the end of her training period.
The first TUF was created in 1969, putting 1199 way ahead of its time in providing career ladders for members.
“We are very focused on helping people move into higher paying jobs through education. From GED to PHD and everything in between,” says Sandi Vito, Executive Director of 1199SEIU’s Training and Employment Funds.
The Funds work closely with employers to identify where they have the largest skills gaps, so that members have access to the training and education which is most likely to lead to lucrative career development.
At the moment, there is a great shortage of nurses, respiratory therapists and social workers. Some of the most popular courses are taken by PCTs and CNAs who want to become LPNs or RNs.
“Most members leave college with no debt,” says Vito. “We give members the best chance to succeed that maybe they weren’t given in the first place.”
Scan here to find out about job opportunities.
“In two more years, I will have the career of my dreams with the possibility of continuing my education and becoming an Occupational Therapist.” – Kathy Royal
POLITICAL POWERHOUSE H O W 1199 B E C A ME A
Member mobilization tipped the balance in key races.
By the late 1980s, 1199 had grown into a New York City political powerhouse. But even as far back as the 1930s, the Union could be found on the front lines of progressive battles. Its leaders were staunch supporters of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and its coalition members.
In the 1940s, the Union mobilized support for progressive candidates in the American Labor Party (ALP), which captured many legislative seats during that decade, particularly in the New York City Council. Seven-term East Harlem Congressmember Vito Marcantonio was the ALP’s most popular and effective leader.
1199 was a loyal supporter of Rep. Marcantonio and his political allies. One letter from President Leon Davis to members in the Congressmember’s district read, “Vito Marcantonio has championed the cause of the American people.”
Gloria Arana, a Manhattan Mt. Sinai laundry worker and key leader of the hospital organizing campaign in the late 1950s, recalled in a history of
1199 that a co-worker once took her to a Marcantonio campaign meeting in 1944. When she told the representative of the abysmal working conditions, he suggested she and her coworkers try to organize a union.
The second “Red Scare” following WWII was designed to weaken the labor movement by purging it of its most progressive and militant leaders.
But these attacks failed to diminish 1199’s support for pro-labor candidates. That support was reciprocated when 1199 embarked on its hospital organizing campaign. In addition to civil rights, religious and civil liberty organizations, notables in both major parties including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Sen. Herbert Lehman, Reps. Adam Clayton Powell and Emmanuel Cellar, as well as City Councilman Stanley Isaacs, supported the organizing campaign.
In 1962, 1199 endorsed Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for re-election. In 1963, the governor introduced the bill that extended collective
bargaining rights to workers in voluntary hospitals.
During the same decade, 1199 supported President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the candidates who stood behind his historic legislative agenda. Some of the groundbreaking bills included the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Immigration Act, Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, and legislation to protect the environment.
As the 1960s drew to a close, 1199 embarked on its national organizing campaign. Its first action in Charleston, South Carolina, failed to win Union recognition. But for the first time, African-Americans were elected to the State Legislature and to the City Council in greater numbers.
In the late 1980s, 1199 emerged as a major political force in New York City. The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for president on the Democratic Party line brought together progressives from across the city and state. The state campaign was headquartered at 1199
Even as far back as the 1930s, the Union could be found on the front lines of progressive battles.
Nydia Velazquez (left) who became the first Puerto Rican woman in Congress, celebrates with former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, the first African American elected to that role.
Chuck Schumer surrounded by 1199ers who helped propel him to his Congressional victory in the ‘nineties.
Members and their families turn out in huge numbers for Barack Obama in 2008.
and led by then 1199 President Dennis Rivera. Thousands of 1199ers helped get out the vote, and Rev. Jackson carried the city. Many of the leaders and activists used the Jackson campaign as a launching pad one year later to help elect the city’s first African-American mayor—David Dinkins. 1199 was also at the center of those efforts. The Union’s financial contributions and much vaunted ground operation helped candidates such as Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who defeated a nine-term incumbent in the 1992 Democratic primary to become the nation’s first Puerto Rican woman in Congress.
In 1997, Chuck Schumer
relied heavily on 1199’s endorsement and support to defeat powerful three-term Republican incumbent Al D’Amato—who had considerable backing from other unions— and take his seat in NY’s 16th Congressional District.
In 2003, the Union backed staffer Annabel Palma in her successful bid for a City Council seat representing The Bronx. In 2005, 1199 helped former staffer Melissa Mark-Viverito become the first Latina to represent El Barrio (East Harlem) in the New York City Council. In 2014, she became the first woman and person of color to serve as New York City Council Speaker.
One of the greatest triumphs of 1199’s electoral work came in 2008, when tens of thousands of Union members and their families mobilized to elect Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, and help Democrats make big gains in both the Senate and House.
Retirees, particularly in New York and Florida, played a key part in all the campaigns. In recent years, 1199ers in the Carolinas and Georgia have also made vital contributions. The late Lena Hayes, past president of the Retirees Local, once said in an interview in which she rallied other retirees, “Elections are not a spectator sport, but audience participation.”
– Lena Hayes, former president of the Retirees Local
“Elections are not a spectator sport.”
1199 leads NYC unions as they mount a massive solidarity event for emerging unions at Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe's and others at the city’s Labor Day parade. See page 6.