THE WORK WE DO: NURSING HOMESJune 16, 2023
As the 1199 Magazine was going to press nursing home members in New York were preparing to reopen their contract to negotiate parity with fellow members in the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. Alongside the League, there are two other major consortia of owners who negotiate contracts with 1199 members. They are known as the Greater New York (GNY) nursing homes and the “Group of 65”.
After nursing home members in the League used their collective power to win raises of 7, 6 and 5 percent over the next three years, members at GNY and Group homes—recognizing that their work was of equal value—decided it was time to demand wage parity. The 1199 Magazine caught up with several members in the GNY and Group homes to learn more about their jobs.
1. “These patients are like my second family,” says Sheryl Ricketts, a CNA at Five Towns in Woodmere, Long Island, which is part of “Greater New York.” Ricketts added:“When I come to check on them, I try to motivate them. I love to care for the elderly. My aunt was a nurse back in Jamaica. When I came to this country back in 1998, I went straight to CNA school.”
The work is not always easy emotionally. Tears well up as she remembers one of her residents who was always friendly and happy to see her. “Then one day he was gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye,” she says, adding that sometimes losing a resident feels like losing a family member. “I love my residents.”
For many residents, the staff feel like their family too, especially if their own family no longer visit them. Sometimes they get depressed, and Ricketts tell them jokes and reassure them that she will always be there for them.
2. "I love working here. It feels like family,” says Kiss Delva, who is a Housekeeper at Belair Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at North Bellmore, Long Island. “I enjoy bringing light to the patients faces when I see them. It doesn’t even feel like I’m at work.”
As a contract captain at Belair (which is part of the “Group of 65”) Delva knows just how important the Union is for making sure that members are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. “We are a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to caring for the elderly in our society, says Delva, adding the care he and his coworkers provide is not just practical, but we also “lift up their spirits.”
3. Katharine Gerber always knew she wanted to be a nurse. “When I was a teenager, I was hospitalized for a hip operation at Mercy Hospital. The nurse there stayed with me overnight. As soon as I got better, I became a candy-striper,” she remembers. She became a nurse in 1978 and now 45 years later, she has never looked back.
“They have been good to me here at Five Towns,” she says, “I got married and had kids and they never had to go to childcare. I was able to change my shifts to 4pm-midnight when they were young. It is more flexible than hospital work.”
She has been a Union member since 1989, “when I was young, skinny and single. The union is fabulous. My whole family have used the medical benefits. I have two daughters aged 26 and 29. The youngest just came off 1199 benefits and got new ones after becoming a Vet Tech. They are not nearly as good.”
When the 1199 Magazine visited Five Towns, Gerber had just been awarded Employee of the Month as she was “well known for her compassion, humor and patience.” She earned a BA in psychology, which she says helps a lot when working with geriatric patients.
4. For 27 years Mario Amaya has worked as a Housekeeper at Belair. “Before coming here, I used to take care of my grandfather. That gave me the urge to help older people.” Amaya is an active union member who rallied in Times Square with his fellow 1199ers during that last contract battle with employers. “I always participate. I want to be involved. We were the essential workers during the pandemic and that needs to be recognized.
“You have to have heart to work here. It is not just for the money. If you focus on money in your life, you will be frustrated. It is much better to focus on helping people.”
5. When James Gayle began working in Five Towns kitchen 20 years ago, he learned that it was a Kosher facility, which means there is meat on one side and dairy on the other with a neutral area in between.
“They were surprised to find out that I grew up in a Kosher household, so I walked right in and felt at home,” he remembers, “It is a different skill set, there are so many laws that you have to understand.”
He became Lead Cook and before long around 20 members sat down with him and asked him to become a Delegate. He agreed, saying: “There are those that speak up for themselves and those that can’t. The only thing I ask is that members tell me the whole truth.”
When he’s not supporting his fellow members as a Delegate, he writes and performs songs. “I was going to play one of the songs I had written with my son at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris," he says, “But after the January 6th insurrection, almost all the entertainment was cancelled for safety reasons, so I never got the chance.
Scan the QR Code to see his performance. Gayle is playing bass and his son, Jacob, is on the guitar.
6. Sasha Marriott worked at Belair for nine years and became a Delegate last year. She started out as a CNA, then trained to become an LPN. Recently, she completed her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), all with the help of the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund. She hopes to continue her studies and become a Nurse Practitioner.
After a brief stint at Jamaica Hospital, she has returned to Belair because it is “better organized” and she enjoys taking care of older people. Now six months pregnant with her first child, the hours are more family friendly too. “I wanted to be a Delegate since I had worked in several different job titles at the Belair. The CNAs are the first eyes on the residents, who can report things to me so I can provide wound care or in some cases call in the Nurse Practitioner.”