Editorial: Lobbying Lawmakers is More Important than Ever

March 1, 2022

The pandemic exposed weaknesses in our healthcare system, which our testimony can help to repair.

hands_fa.jpgAs proud 1199SEIU members, we all know coming together to bargain collectively gives us the best chance of negotiating strong contracts for ourselves – including the pay and benefits we deserve.

What is less well known is that lobbying our elected representatives and demonstrating our strength in numbers to them also has a significant influence over what we can achieve at the bargaining table.

This is especially true when it comes to members who look after the most vulnerable people in society, whether they work in nursing homes, safety net hospitals or as home care workers.

In New York State, where the COVID-19 virus first exploded in the United States, the weaknesses in the health care system were painfully exposed. But as frontline healthcare workers, who watched the pandemic unfold in front of our eyes, we are now well placed to influence legislative changes.

Now, a combination of robust Federal aid and higher than expected tax revenues has given New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, an opportunity to make real investments in the healthcare sector, especially in us, its human infrastructure.

To make sure members' voices are heard in the corridors of power in Albany when funding decisions are being made, the Union has launched two important campaigns this winter.

The first is the Fair Pay for Home Care Workers campaign aimed at ensuring that workers can earn family-sustaining living wage and consumers can get the care they need.

Medicaid-funded home care workers provide crucial support so that seniors and people with disabilities can live independently in their own homes. But the wages for this vital work have not kept pace with the increasing demand. That is why it is so important for 1199 home care members to give testimony about their working conditions to ensure that lawmakers understand, and the government money to fund wage increases is made available.

At the same time, members who work in hospitals serving New York’s most vulnerable communities are taking part in a Save our Safety Nets campaign. These hospitals have always cared for communities which suffer from high rates of chronic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma – conditions exacerbated by the structural inequality and racism faced by too many New Yorkers.

Now that NYS is in a strong position to make investments, 1199ers are making sure to let our representatives know how important it is to finally give safety net hospitals the financial underpinning they need, which has long been denied.

It is not just New York members who are campaigning for change. In New Jersey, following a successful campaign to secure a path to higher wages for CNAs in nursing homes, members are lobbying to secure legal protection for wages when these homes are sold.

Massachusetts members recently convinced the state’s healthcare provider, MassHealth to provide hazard pay to the Personal Care Attendants who do home care work in that state.

And in New York, previous lobbying efforts won impactful reform in the nursing home industry, including minimum hours of care per resident per day and a requirement to increase spending on resident care and staffing.

It’s good to have a year where we are not campaigning against cuts. With the state flush with cash, now is the time to keep the pressure on to ensure they protect the needs of the most vulnerable and the workers and institutions that care for them.

1199 Magazine: January - February 2022