Caregivers Join 1199SEIU and Win their First ContractAugust 3, 2020
It’s been a long journey for justice for a group of caregivers who work at a Mentor group home in South Florida. The workers, who care for people with medically complex needs and people living with a disability, have for years been underpaid and had no voice on the job. Caregiver Nancy Charlestin knew the only way to make positive changes was for her coworkers to unite and take action.
“Several years ago, my coworkers and I got together and wrote a letter to management,” said Charlestin. “We told them we wanted a raise. If they didn’t give us one, we would walk off the job.”
Their words weren’t idle threats. When management didn’t meet their demands, the workers went on strike. It was a bold move for a group of caregivers who at that time knew very little about labor issues or unions. Charlestin recognized they needed support. So, she did research about local unions in the area and discovered 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. She explained their challenges and goals to a union organizer. Not long afterwards, an 1199SEIU leader and organizer joined them at their demonstration.
“We voted to join the union,” said Charlestin. “We now have a bit more security and a path forward to make improvements.”
Now that workers had a union, they were ready for their next challenge. In 2018, Charlestin and a group of her colleagues began negotiations with management for their first contact. It took several years, but recently they reached an agreement with their employer, Mentor.
“We have a three-year contract,” Charlestin explained. “We got some gains. We were hoping for more, but it’s a start. It’s certainly better than before.”
This victory is significant for several reasons. Not only is this the first collective bargaining agreement for these caregivers, they are the first group of Mentor employees ever to unionize.
“I feel good because if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t have made some gains,” said Charlestin. “Now management shows us some respect. It’s not every day that workers stand up to their boss.”