Jan Bregman’s quiet tenacity paved the way for union rights and gender equality.

Jan Bregman retired last October after 18 years as a monitor tech at HCA-affiliated Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL. Her low-key manner belies a tenacious spirit that eight years ago made Bregman instrumental in bringing the Union into Northside.

“The administration didn’t want the Union, and I just thought it was a good idea to have the Union. Then everyone would be treated fairly,” she says. “If someone was fired they had nowhere to go except to the administration. What was that going to do?”

Fairness and equality are among her most deeply held beliefs. “We were all created equally. Do unto others what you would have them do to you is the way I was raised. Why would I want anyone treated in a way I wouldn’t want to be treated?” she affirms.

And she is a woman who clearly lives by example. In the early 1970’s she and her husband Mark were living in Exeter, PA when they applied to community’s volunteer fire department. The town needed ambulance drivers. Mark was accepted, but Jan was turned down.

“I got a lot of flak from them,” she says. “I wasn’t an activist or anything. I just wanted to help out.”

“Do unto others what you would have them do to you is the way I was raised. Why would I want anyone treated in a way I wouldn’t want to be treated?”

So guided by her innate sense of equality, Bregman went about the work of making change. She later found out there were other women who had applied and were also turned down. “[The department] said I could not work there because I was a woman, but the federal government came out and said you cannot discriminate against women; you have to treat them the same as men,” she says matter-of-factly. “We found out who owned the mortgage of the fire department, so we talked to the bank and the bank told the department they could lose their building and equipment if they didn’t follow federal law. They finally admitted me.”

The law may have been on Bregman’s side. Not all of fellow volunteers felt the same way. “I was treated worse than the new recruits. We would gear up and one time someone turned off my breathing apparatus. I had hard time breathing and finally someone turned it back on. They did not want me there,” she recalls.

She persevered, eventually becoming an EMT, CPR instructor and monitor tech. Bregman and her husband moved to Florida 18 years ago. Though she’s now retired, she knows women workers still have a lot of unfinished business.

“I’m very thankful to have had these opportunities. I am thankful there are younger ones to carry it on. Women are so involved. There is nothing to hold anybody back, especially [for] a woman. You can be a director of a hospital. There are so many avenues [now],” she says. “My philosophy is, ‘nobody is going to hold me back’.”