Editorial: We’re on the Move

February 22, 2023

The time has come to demand what we deserve.

Screen Shot 2023-02-22 at 8.48.15 AM.pngThere’s an old saying that if you want the rich to work harder, you pay them more. If you want the poor to work harder, you pay them less.

Sadly, the truth of that adage is being demonstrated over and over again in the healthcare industry these days. Hospital CEOs rake in ever more bloated “compensation packages”, while insisting there is no money available to pay a living wage to all their employees.

Instead of recognizing that the key to stemming the healthcare resignation epidemic is to increase wages and improve benefits, many employers instead resort to union-busting tactics like hiring agency workers to fill their staffing gaps.

It’s time for us to fight back! No longer should we have to face the triple threats of Covid-19, Influenza and the RSV virus every time we go to work, without any extra compensation in return. These are extraordinary times, and as extraordinary people who are stepping up, looking after the sick and vulnerable members of our community — we deserve a lot more recognition than we are getting.

We celebrated with our co-workers in the New York State Nurses Association when they won substantial pay increases at private sector hospitals in New York City. Now, it is time to fight for what is our due.

As we go to press, it is clear that we will have a monumental battle on our hands when it comes to getting the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes – in whose institutions more than 90,000 members of our union work – to reopen the contract they settled with 1199SEIU roughly a year-and-ahalf ago.

We will need to mobilize beyond what we have ever known. These are exciting times, but also very challenging times. The New York State Governor — whose recent election owes a lot to 1199 members’ work in getting out the vote — unveiled her draft budget on February 1. It wasn’t pretty. What Governor Kathy Hochul proposes to spend on healthcare falls very far short of what is needed in this moment.

The Union has a lot of work to do in order to ensure that League institutions — and the many other settings in which 1199ers work — have sufficient state money for significant wage increases.

NYS lawmakers recognize the healthcare funding shortfall. They need to make it their business to convince the Governor to allocate more. That is why the Union is planning to mobilize thousands of members for a mega-rally in Albany on March 21, the likes of which the NYS capital has rarely seen before.

This is about our future and the future of our families. We may have overcome chattel slavery, but too many of us are still tied to jobs that do not pay enough for us to be able to advance our families.

In The Third Reconstruction, Dr Peniel Joseph’s book about America’s centuries-old struggle for racial justice, the author reminds us that unions like 1199 — whose members have always stood together across racial and ethnic divides — can play a crucial role in building the kind of inclusive democracy the country so badly needs. (see Building a Multiracial Democracy p. 16) We know we are going to have to struggle to win what we deserve. Working people have always had to struggle to improve our lives. But ultimately, the only thing that can stop us is ourselves —taking part in walk-ins, info pickets and rallies is the responsibility of every single member. We will not win unless we show our strength.

1199 Magazine: Jan-Feb 2023