High Stake For Retirees In Time Of Crisis

April 23, 2020

They continue to raise their voices.

MaryStovalMerril_fa.jpgAs the Coronavirus epidemic unfolds, at least 112,000 members of 1199 are among the most vulnerable in our nation. Those are the members of 1199’s Retired Members Division (RMD).

“We have to be careful, because we don’t have the same immune system as younger people,” says RMD president Mary Stovall-Merrill, stressing that the Union and its benefit funds are doing all they can to meet the needs of retirees during this unprecedented crisis.

“But while doing that, we can also continue to fight for the issues of concern to ourselves and other working people and stand by our courageous sisters and brothers on the frontlines,” she adds.

“I’ll find ways to continue to help,” says Jennifer Montague, a former Brooklyn Brookdale Hospital delegate for 20 years and now a member of the Leon Davis chapter in Broward County, Florida. “I am active in my church, my housing complex and a local food bank,” she says.

“I’ll continue to do what I can to help in this year’s elections,” says Montague, who has been a poll and election worker.

She’s worked for the Joe Biden campaign this year but stresses that she’ll work for whomever is the Democratic nominee in order to unseat the current president. Her sentiments are echoed by Ray Flores, a retiree from Flushing Hospital in Queens and member of the Orlando, Florida’s George Gresham Retiree Division Chapter. “Four more years of the current president and we won’t be able to recognize our country,” Flores says. “During this epidemic especially we need a leader with character, someone who is supportive, not someone who lies and tries to turn us against each other. We will make phone calls and do GOTV work, whatever it takes to get rid of the president.” Flores says he has not forgotten the dismissive attitude of the president towards his sisters and brothers of his native Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“ We have to be careful, because we don’t have the same immune system as younger people, but while doing that, we can also continue to fight for the issues of concern to ourselves and other working people.”

- Mary Stovall-Merrill, Mary Stovall-Merrill, President of 1199SEIU’s Retired Members Division

Renee Lindsay-Thompson was a Bronx Montefiore Hospital LPN until she went on disability in 2008. Today, she is a leader in the newly-formed Atlanta, Georgia, 1199 retirees chapter. She’s also concerned about young people of color and our nation’s criminal justice system. “I care about education, affordable homes and racism in general,” she says.

She’s also politically active. “Last year we worked hard on Stacey Abrams campaign for governor,” she says. “We organized our members to canvass door to door.”

Clifton Broady was a lead respiratory technician at Manhattan’s St Clare’s Hospital, a delegate and a leading member activist before he retired to Rockingham, North Carolina more than a decade ago. “We need somebody in the White House who can bring our country together, especially during this crisis,” Broady says.

In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, Broady proposed that retirees who are physically able should be given an opportunity to assist their brave fellow 1199ers at hospitals and clinics.

“Of course, we have to fight for personal protective equipment and ensure all the necessary safeguards for retirees, but that should be true for all workers,” he stresses.

Evelyn Blissett, a longtime delegate at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital and chair of Brooklyn’s Mattie Small chapter, says that keeping safe doesn’t mean slowing down. “Being active means, for one, providing information to chapter members that they need.”

Besides leading her RMD chapter, Blissett serves on many community committees where she fights for issues for those on a fixed income such as affordable housing and food security.

RMD president Stovall-Merrill notes that in the midst of the crisis and the national elections, 2020 is also a national census year. The Union is working with outreach partners to ensure that everyone is counted, especially members of the most vulnerable communities. She reminds all retirees to stay safe, but also to continue to raise their voices, encouraging them to get online.

“Our retirees should not be afraid of social media. They should ask for help. If I can learn, they can learn. We can learn together. The stakes are so high, that we all have to help.”

1199 Magazine | March / April 2020