Delegate Profile: Charlie HilarioMarch 6, 2023
A long-term activist decides to lead by example.
Charlie Hilario has been an 1199 activist for more than two decades, volunteering to take part in the Union’s political campaigns from the very beginning. During his time as a Delegate at NewYork- Presbyterian Hospital’s main campus in Washington Heights, he’s led so many new members through their orientations that he’s lost track of the exact number.
At a recent orientation with a contract administrator, Hilario had a moment of overwhelming clarity when he got to the part about the importance of contributing to the union’s PAC — Political Action Committee.
“I told the member that the Republicans and the Democrats all have super PACs,” Hilario recalls. “The real estate industry has a super PAC. So, as Union members, one of the best ways to get what’s fair for us is to use our PAC. It is the 1199 PAC that makes us a powerhouse in the political world. By using our PAC fund, we have the tools to get what we deserve.”
But the new member still wasn’t convinced. So, Hilario explained how much of the money that pays for the wages and benefits Union members negotiate at the table comes from government funding. To make sure both national and state representatives continue to allocate vital dollars to healthcare, Union members need to demonstrate their political power again and again.
Hilario further explained how he was one of the many 1199 members who went to Albany on Union chartered buses to lobby Governor Kathy Hochul and the legislature to pass her proposed $3,000 bonus for hospital workers who worked through the deadly coronavirus pandemic. When transportation, housekeeping and food service titles were left out of the initial bonus allocation, 1199ers made their voices heard in the New York State capital once again – and won.
This last example from Hilario convinced the member to consider making a regular 1199 PAC contribution. That’s when Hilario, 54, and an 1199 union member for more than 20 years, announced he was increasing his own automatic PAC contribution by $50 a paycheck – and he expects that amount may grow.
“When he said, 'let me think about it,’ that was what inspired me to step up,” Hilario says. “You gotta lead by example. And by next year, I’m already planning to raise it a little more.”
A laundryman at Presbyterian charged with making sure fresh bedsheets and linen get to where they need to be, Hilario said he’s seen the difference 1199 has made for members at the hospital — from job security to benefits like tuition reimbursements and no copays on most doctor visits.
“People used to be hired and have to work a long time as part time help, with no benefits,” he says. “The union fought and now when people come in, they have a full-time job with benefits. The union did that.”
Hilario adds, “People get to work with peace of mind because they have job security. A lot of people in other jobs don’t have that.”
Born in Brooklyn, Hilario has lived in Washington Heights since he was five-years-old. Though there have been tough times – he was once homeless and lived on an apartment roof for two weeks – Hilario says he always knew hard work would get him through. “I got a job with McDonalds and was soon named employee of the month,” he says. “After that, I got a factory job and was named employee of the year.”
He started at New York Presbyterian Hospital in 2002 in the food service department, and after a year there, he moved to the hospital laundry. Hilario loves delivering linens around the hospital, where he knows everyone, and everyone knows him. “I like that I work at one of the top hospitals in the city,” he adds.
Hilario has been active in union lobbying efforts from the very beginning. In addition to traveling to Albany and DC, he’s boarded buses to meetings and election rallies in Philadelphia, Pa. and many other cities. He’s scheduled to return to Albany later this month, to lobby legislators on the latest New York State budget.
“In 2004, the union sent me to Orlando for the ‘Push the Bush’ campaign,” Hilario recalls. While he flew to Orlando, he prefers riding the bus with fellow 1199ers.
“I love being on the buses,” he says. “We’re on there laughing and singing and dancing, getting ready to do what we came to do.”