Editorial: We Must Celebrate our Victories in 2021January 6, 2022
While we continue to build strength for the battles to come.
The willingness to stand up for ourselves and our co-workers up to and including withholding our labor when necessary–no matter how long our odds of winning seem to be–is the hallmark of 1199SEIU membership and has been from the very beginning.
This year, we have been able to celebrate several significant wins after long, tough fights. In January, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were inaugurated, after a bitterly contested election. Their win came in no small part thanks to the massive phone-banking and canvassing effort mounted by 1199ers. In September, tens of thousands of 1199 members upheld and improved our master contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. The year culminated with a hard-fought victory for 33,000 New York nursing home workers.
Nearing Thanksgiving, the profit- minded nursing home owners were still refusing to agree to a contract that valued the work of the caregivers they called “heroes” only months before.
While many of us were preparing food to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, these health care heroes, reluctant as they were to leave their residents, were forced to prepare to strike. The strike looming, the owners agreed to a fair contract only 36 hours before the stoppage was due to begin. Without backing down, and standing strong, members were able to reach a tentative agreement on November 29th. (See also the article “Year in Review” (page 12-14) for a list of other key victories won by 1199 members this year.)
It is important to remember that all these wins in 2021 took place during the worst pandemic the modern world has ever known. Making time to attend chapter meetings, informational pickets and walk-ins to defend and extend our benefits has been harder than ever—as we simultaneously deal with the upheaval in our families and workplaces that COVID-19 has wrought. But in spite of recognizing our power and unity that we have demonstrated again and again over more than 60 years, management continually attempts to divide and conquer us.
Back in 1958, our then 5,000-member pharmacy union took on Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. This victory set the stage for the organization of 3,500 maintenance and service workers at seven private, nonprofit hospitals in the following year. The hospitals, led by some of the most powerful and wealthy New Yorkers, were Mount Sinai, Beth Israel, Lenox Hill, Flower-Fifth Ave., and Beth David (the latter two have since closed) in Manhattan; Bronx (now BronxCare Health System); and Brooklyn Jewish (now Interfaith). The workers were among the city’s most exploited. The media characterized the campaign as David versus Goliath at the time.
Since that first fight, 1199 has grown steadily, with each new organizing campaign, into the largest healthcare union in the country. Our membership is made up of people from a wide variety of different ethnicities and faiths. A significant number of us have family members who faced the appalling discrimination of the Jim Crow era. At that time, the Union fought back, alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to improve civil rights for people of color. Like our battles with management today, the war is far from over to create a fully equitable society.
One thing is for sure though. Members of 1199 will continue to stand together and fight for what’s right. And by doing so, we will continue to sustain our families with some of the best wages and benefits in the country.