1199ers to League Bosses: This Is No Way to Treat Our HeroesSeptember 13, 2021
Despite management disrespect, League members are united around goals of protecting pensions, healthcare, and wages.
In early July, 1199SEIU members and the League of Voluntary Hospital and Homes kicked off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Union members entered negotiations expecting challenges, but also with the hope that their unprecedented contributions during the pandemic would set the tone for collaborative and productive talks.
“We put our lives on the line every day. We are healthcare workers—frontline healthcare workers—and we didn’t have the luxury of quarantine,” said Christopher Rogers, a CNA at Archcare at Ferncliff Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. “It’s time that we are recognized for the heroes we are.”
So far, management, led by League representative Marc Kramer, has yet to do that in any meaningful way. Bosses have made clear that while the bargaining sessions may be virtual, their disrespect and dismissiveness are anything but. On August 11, after four rounds of talks and nearly a month after receiving the Union’s proposals, management had yet to offer counter proposals or address in any significant way workers’ concerns around wages, health care and pensions. 1199SEIU President George Gresham was resolute during the bargaining session.
“It sounds to me like you are not convinced that we need a fair and decent contract,” Gresham declared to management’s bargaining committee.
“We want you to know that we don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to. And if we keep going this way, we are not going to end up with a contract, we are going to end up with a strike.”
1199’s agreement with the League is the “gold standard” among the Union’s CBAs. And this contract, as much as any in recent memory, demonstrates why. League hospital and nursing home members were the first line of defense in the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic’s first wave. They are among the hundreds of thousands 1199 caregivers across New York State who risked (and in many instances gave) their lives day in and day out to protect and care for gravely ill patients.
“We all know the impact that COVID- 19 has had on healthcare. But I will tell you that it is 1199ers who have fought for our institutions even before the pandemic. We have always been the backbone of our institutions.”
– Gina Torres, a radiological technologist at Wyckoff Hospital Center in Brooklyn.
From the beginning of bargaining, management has talked out of both sides of their mouth—singing the praises of “hero” caregivers while crying poverty and telegraphing their intentions to give as little as possible to the very workers who have long sustained their hospitals and nursing homes. Weary, incredulous 1199ers slammed a management presentation portraying empty coffers and the dismal state of healthcare. More than anything, the bosses’ PowerPoint evidenced their unwillingness to settle the fair and decent contract caregivers deserve.
“We all know the impact that COVID-19 has had on healthcare,” said negotiating committee member Gina Torres, a radiological technologist at Wyckoff Hospital Center in Brooklyn. “But I will tell you that it is 1199ers who have fought for our institutions even before the pandemic. We have always been the backbone of our institutions.”
Throughout negotiations, bosses have asserted that their pension and benefit contributions are above “normal.” Management has repeatedly tried to dodge responsibility to workers, instead shifting blame to state and federal governments and health insurance companies —and even the IRS—for their inability to keep promises.
Bosses also contended that workers who do the vital work of precepting new employees are simply providing basic information, like directions to the bathrooms, and are continuing to push back on benefit improvements for workers at off-sites.
Workers aren’t buying it. Negotiating Committee Member Theresa Gatling reminded her 1199 family that management’s stance amounts to classic union busting.
“To them, we are only numbers on a chart, not the heroes they put on billboards,” says Gatling, a clerical worker at Northwell Health Care at Home.
If management thought they were going to weaken workers’ resolve with acrimony and scorn, they were mistaken. Their contempt has only served to strengthen 1199ers’ unity.
“To them, we are only numbers on a chart, not the heroes they put up on billboards.”
– Theresa Gatling a clerical worker at Northwell Health Care at Home
Throughout August, workers planned a robust calendar of actions—from sticker days to walk ins on the boss— leading up to Aug. 26 informational picketing at scores of institutions. If management doesn’t mean business in these negotiations, workers are prepared to show them that they do.
“They didn’t come here to negotiate,” said South Oaks negotiating committee member Charlene Coleman.
“They came here to pacify us.” Theresa Gatling was clear that workers are fully prepared to show management that their tactics won’t work.
“We are ready,” she said. “And on Aug. 26 we [are going to] get our members out on that informational picket line by any means necessary.”