In a year when union organizing nationwide saw a dramatic resurgence, thousands of healthcare workers seized the moment to come together with 1199SEIU and build their labor power. At press time, the latest figures from the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] showed a 53-percent increase in petitions filed for union representation in 2022 compared with the previous year.
Phelps Memorial Hospital workers celebrate joining the 1199 family
Nearly 1,000 RNs at Phelps Memorial Hospital in the Hudson Valley and Clara Maass Medical Center in New Jersey organized to protect their licenses, improve staffing, and ensure patient safety. Another 3,500 home care workers at the Chinese American Planning Council in New York organized to win fair wages, secure benefits, and the power to protect Medicaid funding.
In Long Island, over 200 nursing home workers at Maria Regina Residence, risked their jobs to win a voice in their facility, while more than 300 workers at Covenant House in New York and Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts voted ‘Yes’.
Solidarity between new 1199 members at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Starbucks union activists in Boston
Some 2,000 new Union delegates took their oath of office on June 14, alongside the newly-elected 1199SEIU leadership team, being sworn in at a ceremony in Midtown Manhattan.
1199SEIU President George Gresham officially began his sixth three-year term, while Milly Silva was confirmed as the Union’s Secretary Treasurer for the first time, becoming the highest-ranking Latina in the Union’s history..
President Gresham saluted the assembled delegates for bringing us through the pandemic, saying, “You worked through the most frightening of times, you came to work fighting this invisible enemy and we thank you for the sacrifices that you made."
Maryland member, Katrina Johnson, speaks at the swearing in ceremony in Manhattan.
Strength and Solidarity
Members joined together with dancers and musicians for a march through Midtown Manhattan on June 12, in celebration of Boricua pride during Puerto Rican Heritage Month. On August 14, members marched again, this time for healthcare heroines and heroes of Dominican descent on the 40th anniversary of the New York City Dominican Day Parade.
The following month, union kids from the 1199SEIU Social Cultural Committee donned vibrant outfits for the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) Junior Carnival on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn—the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Later in September, 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. It was the biggest turnout in memory, organized in recognition of the newly-formed Amazon Labor Union’s historic win on Staten Island, and the equally impressive union organizing by Starbucks Workers United, Trader Joe’s United and many others.
Parade season rounded out on September 18, with the African-American Day Parade in Harlem, celebrating Black heritage, culture, unity, and power.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul poses with a Union member at a Manhattan rally ahead of the election.
In 1199 states, members helped to win three key governor’s races, electing New York Governor Kathy Hochul to a full term and flipping Massachusetts and Maryland blue with the election of Governors Maura Healy and Wes Moore. With Weekend Warrior help, John Fetterman won his Senate race and Josh Shapiro was elected governor in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania. In New Jersey, Democrats Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill were reelected to Congress. After a sustained lobbying campaign in Albany, 1199 Home Care members in New York State won a $3/hr over minimum wage boost in April, amounting to a pay increase of at least 20 percent. Shortly after this victory, nursing home members in NYS ended the suspension of their hard-won minimum staffing and spending laws after applying pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul. By the summer, the NYS Governor was also persuaded to expand the $3,000 pandemic bonus payments to include essential support staff such as housekeeping, transport and dietary, who had originally been left out. 1199 nurses, too, were celebrating in June when a bill to ban mandatory overtime was passed. Florida nursing home workers and hospital staff won a $15 minimum wage in late June following intense member lobbying in the state capital, Tallahassee. This victory will mean higher wages for thousands of workers.
Spring brought more than 400 members at Guthrie Corning Hospital a new 3-year contract including a 9.5 percent wage increase, more than 150 job upgrades, and a minimum wage commitment of $15 per hour.
On-call pay and shift differentials were negotiated to recognize and attract caregivers who work non-traditional hours—and to ensure the hospital remains the leader among Corning healthcare facilities in rural Upstate New York.
Rite Aid members in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey ratified another three-year contract in July, after a tough round of negotiations, which includes annual three-percent raises and a dollar per-hour increase in the night differential. Management came after members’ health care benefits, but 1199ers fought back and won minimal increases to premiums and copays for both current employees and new hires.
At the same time in Western New York, 1199ers at 12 for-profit nursing homes mounted a coordinated campaign to take on six for-profit ownership groups. After a series of one-day strikes in mid-July, members won higher starting rates, wage scales, and a $15 minimum for all service workers.
By mid-October, more than 6,300 healthcare workers at the Kaleida Health hospital system, also in Western New York, won wage increases of at least 12-percent; annual service worker bonuses of up to $1,500; and more than 500 new positions to ensure better staffing ratios.
In Massachusetts, members secured a new Personal Care Attendant contract that raised wages to $18.00 an hour for nearly 60,000 home care workers in the state. More than 2,000 members working at Cape Cod Healthcare negotiated a new contract that includes a minimum of 10 percent wage growth.
The Heroes We Lost
This year, the 1199SEIU family mourned the passing of some of its most celebrated heroes. Among them was Edward “Eddie” Kay, former EVP and the dean of labor organizers. Kay, who died on Feb. 15 at age 89, was profiled in the March/April issue of this magazine.
Edward “Eddie” Kay
Another towering hero in the Union’s history was 1199’s first Latina EVP, Sylvia Gutierrez Grant, who died peacefully at home on July 20. She was 88. 1199ers, both active and actively retired, gathered Nov. 16 at the Union’s Manhattan headquarters, to celebrate her life.
A large percentage of the celebrants were retirees who had worked with Gutierrez Grant in the 1980s campaign to win back leadership of the Union and return it to its democratic progressive path. The Save Our Union slate ultimately won leadership in 1986. After serving in various key capacities, Gutierrez Grant retired her post as EVP and new organizing director in 2002.
Former 1199 President Dennis Rivera addressed the celebration via Zoom from his home in Puerto Rico. He praised his “dear sister’s devotion and commitment.” He credited her also for playing a major role in 1199’s enormous growth. As stated in her obituary, “Under Sylvia’s stewardship, 1199 organized tens of thousands of new members.”
Sylvia Gutierrez Grant
“She was a fierce fighter for women’s rights,” said former VP Ana Vazquez. “She gave strength to every sister and also inspired our brothers.”
Former National 1199 Organizing Director Bob Muehlenkamp called Gutierrez Grant “the heart and soul of Save Our Union and 1199.”
Bruce Edward Popper, former 1199SEIU VP from Rochester, passed away Nov. 23, after a long battle with cancer. He was 71. During his 45- year tenure as an organizer and VP, Popper’s name became synonymous with 1199 and the upstate progressive movement.
Bruce Edward Popper
His life-long commitment to justice, equality and labor rights are reflected in the range of the many commissions and boards on which he served. Popper’s contributions were so considerable that upon his retirement in 2019, he was presented with the key to the city of Rochester.
“Bruce combined an unparalleled level of duty and devotion with a friendly demeanor marked by empathy and respect for others. He demonstrated that workers are the lifeblood of a community and through them all things are possible,” his obituary read.
Rhadames Rivera Corazon, an 1199 VP, passed away on Feb. 12 of this year at 69. Born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, he spent his formative years in both places and devoted his entire life to the fight for justice and against U.S. colonialism.
Rivera began work with 1199 in the 1980s and rose to the position of VP. He was a foremost champion of labor and international solidarity—and he was an outstanding teacher.
“He taught me that my job as an organizer is to work myself out of a job by empowering the workers to the point that they don’t need me to take on the boss,” says 1199SEIU organizer Samuel Sierra. Rivera’s last assignment was to work with Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), 1199’s sister union in Puerto Rico. On word of his death, tributes poured in from leaders and activists throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.