Editorial: Awakening

April 26, 2023

The gloves are off now.

unity_fa.jpgThe time for a reckoning has come. In the early days of the pandemic, when hundreds or thousands of members were going into work—many of them literally risking death for themselves and their family members each day—everyone was focused on the job at hand of saving as many people as possible. Now roughly three years later, many of us are still mourning the loss of family members, co-workers, as well as our patients and residents. Recovering from this kind of trauma is a long, slow process. Members will carry the scars of working on the frontlines for the rest of their lives.

But the giant that is 1199SEIU was not sleeping during this terrible period, we were fighting for PPE and hazard pay. We were also regrouping in order to come back with more strength and force than ever.

For 1199 members in New York, the recent state budget was personal. When more than 15,000 members made the trip to the state capital in Albany on March 21st, they wanted Governor Hochul to understand that her budget was a moral document. The lives of some of the most vulnerable patients and residents that 1199ers take care of across the state were literally on the line, if she did not allocate enough money to healthcare. The Union does not make permanent friends with elected leaders – only allies in the constant fight to ensure quality healthcare for all.

Many of our employers, facing their own financial struggles in the wake of the pandemic, have been slow to compensate members for the tremendous sacrifices they made. But in early March, the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes -- the employers association whose institutions employ roughly 90,000 of our members when taken together – agreed to meet the Union at the table to renegotiate our contract. (See Resetting the Standard, p. 17) After four days of tough bargaining, management agreed to honor members’ chief demand to substantially increase our pay.

This new League agreement is expected to set a new standard for members in all the 1199 regions from Upstate New York, all the way down to Florida.

In Baltimore, Maryland, 1199ers at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown campus were recently able to negotiate dollar increases, which amounted to increases of more than 10 percent for the lowest paid members with the most seniority Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) in Massachusetts were also on the move. Like home care workers in other regions, these members look after vulnerable clients in their homes. The wages of the 58,000 PCAs workers in Massachusetts are paid through MassHealth and directly tied to state funding. So, 1199 PCAs headed to the State House in Boston to deliver a joint letter to Governor Maura Healey, who took office earlier this year, after Union members worked hard to ensure her election.

Just like our employers who are only going to heed our legitimate demands if we demonstrate to them that it will cost them more to resist. 1199ers need to constantly remind our elected officials just who we are and what we are prepared to do if they fail to respect healthcare workers and the essential jobs that we do.

1199 Magazine: March / April 2023