Editorial: We Choose Our Battles at 1199

April 19, 2022

But we fight to win

Screen Shot 2022-04-19 at 12.13.13 PM.pngWhenever 1199ers go to bat, whether it be against an employer who is testing our resolve, or to demand that our elected representatives to do what’s right for working people, we always do our homework first.

We don’t make frivolous demands at the bargaining table, and we don’t call for legislation that is impossible to implement or enforce.

When the Union campaigned for New York State nursing home reforms—after the cracks in the system were so tragically exposed at the height of the pandemic—we made sure that the laws we advocated would be easy for the state to implement.

Two new laws were passed last year after a massive 1199 campaign. One calls for nursing home owners to spend 70% of their dollars toward direct care and make sure that 40% of that money is spent on the frontline staff. The other law requires that each nursing home resident must receive an average of 3.5 hours care per day.

Whether or not an individual home is complying with the new rules can very easily be revealed by looking at data that these institutions are already routinely providing to state officials.

And yet, these laws which were supposed to be implemented on January 1, were postponed for three months after industry lobbyists convinced the new Governor Kathy Hochul that they needed more time.

It was only when 1199 invited the NY Attorney General, Letitia James, to our headquarters to hear first-hand accounts from our members about the consequences of insufficient spending on patient care—and held a press conference about it— that Governor Hochul changed her mind and implemented the reforms on April 1.

At the same time Union members were maintaining the fight for nursing home reform, 1199 home care members recognized that the state had unexpectedly large tax revenues combined with an influx of federal funding. The need for home care is exploding throughout the state and yet there are not nearly enough workers to meet the demand because the wages have been kept far too low. Knowing that there was enough money in the NYS coffers to fund fair pay for home care, 1199ers pressed our case.

When the Governor at first announced she would only provide funding for a one-off bonus for home care workers in her budget, the Union launched a statewide campaign. After months of concerted lobbying by members who travelled repeatedly to Albany, combined with a far reaching advertising blitz, the Fair Pay for Home Care campaign won permanent raises for NY home care members of at least 20 per cent.

Home care members, some of whom had never spoken publicly before, and in some cases didn’t feel comfortable speaking in English, got up to the microphone again and again and made their voices heard.

And it is not just members in New York who are feeling our power. Nursing home members in Florida convinced their legislature to pass a budget including a $15 minimum wage for all Florida’s nursing home workers.

Let’s not forget, we are just over two years into an unprecedented pandemic, which took a particularly heavy toll on frontline healthcare workers who make up our Union’s membership.

The pressures that many of us faced at work were tougher than we could ever have imagined before COVID-19. There was also the constant fear of bringing the contagion home to our families.

But instead of bowing to this pressure, 1199ers channeled our anger into action and raised our voices louder than ever.

The illustration for this Editorial was drawn by Maria Skliarova who was recently forced to flee her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine. She is currently living as a refugee in Poltava.

1199 Magazine | March / April 2022