March 6, 2023

The first Western New York Home Care workers vote to join 1199.

NewHope.jpgWhen home care workers at Schofield Residence in Kenmore, New York, celebrated forming a union with 1199SEIU last December, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in home care organizing across the state. When these workers came together near Buffalo to vote ‘Yes’, they became one of the first licensed home health care agencies in Western New York to unionize.

Their victory comes after years of dedicated development of home care worker leaders in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester & Syracuse. In 2022, there were 1,734 workers taking part in activities and advocacy with Healthcare Workers Rising (HWR), which works closely with 1199.

Diana Goudelock was one of the HWR worker leaders who was instrumental during the unionization campaign at Schofield – speaking to other workers who shared cases with her to bring them along.

She’s enthusiastic about making sure that Schofield proves to be the start of a domino effect in Western New York. “We’re the first agency in Western New York to unionize. Hopefully more will come along behind us,” said Goudelock, who hopes to become a Union delegate once their contract is ratified.

Screen Shot 2023-03-06 at 12.24.03 PM.png“Some workers are set in their ways and see red flags when we talk about a union and they worry about retaliation,” she added, “But I ask them what is it about our job that we can’t have benefits? Nursing homes are unionized, we should be too!”

Goudelock used to work as a CNA in a nursing home but prefers home care because of the personal attention she is able to give her clients. She is currently looking after two people suffering from traumatic brain injury, taking care of them overnight. In order to make ends meet, she currently works 84 hours a week.

Monique Parks is another lifelong care giver who has been a HWR member since its formation.

She provides 24-hour care to her father and has seen her benefits slowly eroded over the years.

“With everything going up, it is hard to get by on our wages. I just work, go home, eat, sleep and keep myself clean. That’s all I can do,” says Parks. Her father recently returned home from a two-week hospital stay. During that time, her wages were not paid.

But like so many other 1199 home care members, Parks is dedicated to providing companionship and care, while fighting for fair wages and benefits at the same time.

Last April, HWR members celebrated alongside 1199’s Downstate home care members and community allies when the Fair Pay for Homecare campaign won a $3.60 raise [for Upstate workers] that will be fully realized by Oct 1, 2023.

HWR is not only about organizing and political action. It is also about promoting wellness and providing training opportunities. More than 2,000 caregivers took part in a range of activities including cooking classes, stress management, civic engagement training and caregiver-to-caregiver outreach.

HWR members also benefitted from free Lyft rides – a major benefit in Upstate New York where the distance between cases can be long and public transportation is unreliable or non-existent.

Homecare workers stood up in other ways as well. Coming together in the wake of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo and addressing violence in their communities across New York State.

For the new Union members like Goudelock and Parks, the next mobilization on the horizon will be negotiating the strongest contract language possible with Schofield as they bargain their first contract. For the rest of the HWR members, the recent victory of their co-workers’ union drive provides a model and a beacon for unionization battles at their own agencies.

1199 Magazine: Jan-Feb 2023