Paving Career Pathways

October 15, 2022

Members are using the tuition benefits fund to dramatically increase their pay.

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There is no doubt working on the frontlines during the covid pandemic took a terrible toll on 1199ers in the healthcare workforce. Hailed as heroes at the height of the crisis, it took far too long for many bosses to recognize their extraordinary sacrifices with concrete benefits like wage increases and bonus payments.

Some members chose to leave the healthcare profession altogether as a result. But the workforce changes occasioned by the pandemic also represented a golden opportunity for other members to improve their skill set and dramatically increase their pay.

Kathy Royal is one of them. She was working as a Nursing Assistant at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, part of One Brooklyn system, when the lockdown began.

As part of a plan that 1199ers brokered with New York State when her hospital merged with Interfaith and Brookdale University Hospital, Union members had the opportunity to continue earning their wages while they were going to school to retrain for a new position. In many cases, these training opportunities have also led to a significant wage boost.

Royal graduated in August from her program to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist. She currently earns about $40,000 and her pay will increase to $80,000 when she takes on her new role in October.

“All I had to do was go to school and get a good grade. I couldn’t say no,” said Royal. “I don’t own my own home at the moment. I rent. The first thing I want to do now is save up to buy a house.” It is not just New York, where members benefit from the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund [TUF]. Many members in the Union’s other regions have taken advantage of it, too. Jacqueline Albernaz, is a Materials Handler, stocking supplies and sorting mail, at Beth Israel Lahey Health in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

"When I first started working at BILH-Plymouth in the Dietary Department, I had just graduated high school and did not know what my occupational aspirations would be,” she said.

“The Occupational Therapists I saw when I was working in the hospital were really compassionate and I felt like I could really make an impact in that role.”

Albernaz’s husband is at risk of contracting a degenerative disease which runs in his family— Albernaz would like to have the skills to help him.

Over the last two years, she completed the prerequisite courses for Bristol Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assisting program and recently got accepted to start this Fall. “In two more years, I will have the career of my dreams with the possibility of continuing my education and becoming an Occupational Therapist,” Albernaz said. “None of this would have been possible without the free tuition provided by the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund. Like Royal, Albernaz is also likely to double her salary by the end of her training period.

Screen Shot 2022-10-15 at 12.38.00 PM.png“In two more years, I will have the career of my dreams with the possibility of continuing my education and becoming an Occupational Therapist.”

– Kathy Royal

The first TUF was created in 1969, putting 1199 way ahead of its time in providing career ladders for members.

“We are very focused on helping people move into higher paying jobs through education.

From GED to PHD and everything in between,” says Sandi Vito, Executive Director of 1199SEIU’s Training and Employment Funds.

The Funds work closely with employers to identify where they have the largest skills gaps, so that members have access to the training and education which is most likely to lead to lucrative career development.

At the moment, there is a great shortage of nurses, respiratory therapists and social workers. Some of the most popular courses are taken by PCTs and CNAs who want to become LPNs or RNs.

“Most members leave college with no debt,” says Vito. “We give members the best chance to succeed that maybe they weren’t given in the first place.”

1199 Magazine | September / October 2022