Our Retirees: Jacynth StewartApril 21, 2022
A former Union Delegate whose lifelong commitment to political action is far from waning.
For Jacynth Stewart, political awareness was nurtured from a very early age. Growing up in Jamaica, Stewart recalls: “My parents used to take me to all their political meetings as a young child and I would sit on their lap and play pretend like I was voting,” the now retired 1199SEIU Delegate remembers, “I would put my finger in the ink and stamp it on a piece of paper.”
Stewart moved to the U.S. as a teenager, finished school, and started working in the kitchens at Beth Israel Medical Center in 1984. “During my first week we went on strike. I was like, this can’t happen now, I just got here! I told my Mom about it, and she said, ‘don’t cross any picket line with 1199!’
“So, I was out on the line, 47 days, and every other weekend. I even brought my daughter with me, who was three at the time. I got threats from management saying they were going to terminate me, but the union said, ‘don’t worry about that.’ That was my first experience of 1199.”
Later that same year she was elected as a Union Delegate.
The Union nurtured Stewart’s natural leadership and enthusiasm for education, justice and advocacy –- supporting her to become Chair of both the Delegates Body of Beth Israel and the Jobs Committee. “I liked the Jobs Committee because we got to hear appeals from members. If they got suspended or fired, if they had issues going on with the contract, we would hear them first and decide if it needed to go to the appeal board for arbitration. We also were there to make sure the contract we had was enforced. It felt good to keep management on their toes, telling them they can’t just implement what they want or change this or that, you’ve got to follow the contract.
“When members didn’t know their rights or what was in the contract, we got to educate them. And we were there to monitor who came into the hospital – we made sure they were union members and if they weren’t, we’d sign them up.” Stewart also helped members during nursing home mergers, assisted organizers in preparing members for bargaining, and often went to Albany and DC to do lobbying.
Since retiring as a Diet Clerk at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in 2017, Stewart has not cut back on her union activism. Instead, she has taken on new roles with 1199’s retirees. She’s worked in organizing retiree chapters, phone banking to register retirees to vote, encouraging them to come to 1199 rallies and show their support and been involved in the Retiree choir. “I tell retirees to get active! There are so many different ways for them to be involved. There are classes they can take (cooking, exercising, yoga, etc.) and trainings they can do.
Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you have to stay at home and look at the walls.” She’s also a member of the Childcare Committee, letting members know about the opportunities within the childcare fund of summer camps for their children and scholarships.
Even though she’s no longer working in the hospital, Stewart often provides advice to current Union Delegates. “I still get phone calls from former coworkers asking me questions! And when retirees have questions, they call me. I enjoy meeting with members, especially new ones in the shops, and I help educate them about being in the union. The best part is education: letting people know the history and value of the union, so you know the power you’re negotiating from and a part of. 1199 was foundational, it paved the way for a lot of unions and union reform.
Being a part of a union is not just about your paycheck, it’s political action, advocacy and education. You’re a part of all of these things when you’re in a union, so get involved!”