Fighting for Workers' Rights in Florida

February 15, 2024

A new Delegate cuts her teeth in a national campaign against a giant corporation.

Fighting for Workers Rights in Florida for people comes naturally to Jennifer Parker, a Unit Secretary at HCA Florida Osceola Hospital, located on the outskirts of Orlando. “I generally like helping people, and I like to see them doing well,” the 23-year HCA veteran says.

It turns out that being an 1199SEIU member in Florida is also a natural fit for Parker—she discovered the union thanks to the mentorship of her organizer, Janelle Manigault.

“I started having issues with my boss and Janelle would help and guide me to handle those situations – she was behind me every step of the way,” Parker says.

“I saw then that I wanted to be involved with 1199.” Manigault quickly saw Parker’s leadership potential and encouraged her to become a Delegate almost two years ago.

“Being a Delegate has given me more leeway and say so when someone’s in trouble. I have more [resources] available to help them; it’s opened up so many doors for me.”

Parker has strengthened her leadership and advocacy skills by being on the bargaining committee for the recent contract fight with HCA Healthcare. After joining a national campaign with partner locals across the country, Florida 1199ers won a landmark contract with the healthcare giant in August, which included significant wage increases for the lowest earners.

“I’ve seen a ton of changes at the hospital since I started, a lot of them were not good,” says Parker, who was 19 when she began working at HCA (then owned by Columbia) back in 2000. During the contract fight, she flew to Nashville, Tennessee in May 2023 for a rally at HCA’s headquarters with a delegation of Florida 1199ers. “I wanted to take part because of how they were treating us, by not giving us fair wages for so long,” she says. “It felt amazing taking this action because it meant something. We went in the middle of negotiations and so many people showed up. We knew we had to show management we were not going to back down. We actually saw them on the roof watching us with binoculars and we didn’t care—it was great.”

The persistence paid off when they settled the contract with one of the highest wage increases in HCA’s history. “It was the first increase I’d gotten in nine years,” says Parker, who is also proud to have played a role in helping her coworkers have a better quality of life. After the contract victory, Parker kept up the fight, using her skills in the Florida Reproductive Rights ballot initiative and helping to secure the victory of Florida House Representative Tom Keen. “I try as much as I can to get out and make my voice heard,” Parker says. “I have people ask me, how can I be like you? I’m mentoring a friend who’s trying to be a Delegate, so I’m showing her the ropes a little bit. I see a little of myself in her and how I was at the beginning, so I can train and guide her and hopefully she can become a Delegate too.”

As far as what keeps her motivated, Parker says it's the victories, the camaraderie, and sharing the benefits of being a part of the union. “When you see and feel the victories, it gives you encouragement to keep pressing on,” she adds. “When I’ve worked with a member and given helpful advice, when people come to me with their issues and I’m able to get them what they need, all of these are wins—and it keeps me fueled and keeps me going. They become family members; you become close to people and lean on each other. It’s a good feeling that you’re a part of something that gives you a voice and helps you stand strong. It’s great being a part of something bigger and knowing you have strength and a voice to accomplish more and stand up for everyone else when they can’t speak up for themselves.”

People don’t always recognize what goes on behind the scenes to achieve what’s been achieved, Parker says. “I know because I fought for it; I educate people so they know what the union is doing for them. I let my fellow employees know that the reason they have what they have at HCA is because of 1199, and I tell them to spread the word so everyone knows.”