Retirees Demonstrate Major Stake in League Negotiations

July 19, 2021

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 3.48.17 PM.png

Contracts help protect pensions and benefits for all workers – past, present and future.

League contract negotiations have a profound influence on 1199 retirees. That is one reason why retired 1199 leaders are elected to each League contract negotiating committee. Retirees also bring historical memory and important experience to the talks.

During 2009 negotiations, management tried to divide members by attempting to weaken the structure of the Funds. At the time, the pension funds had suffered major losses resulting from the 2008 economic crash. But retirees on the negotiating committee stressed the importance of taking a long view and taking steps to strengthen the funds. They helped active workers to understand that their future retirement depends on their ability to protect benefits for current retirees.

These benefits—for years of dedicated work—represent deferred compensation, akin to putting money away for later years. As such, they include a generous pension plan (at a time when a declining number of workers have defined pensions) and world class health benefits. Such gains are the fruits of groundbreaking contracts won through organizing workplaces, building community support, and expanding political power.

Many Union activists continue in retirement to help build power by getting out the vote for elections, lobbying elected officials, and taking part in solidarity and community actions. Retirees also pay dues and contribute to the Martin Luther King Political Action Fund. They are among the nation’s strongest voices for retirement security issues such as Medicare, prescription drug coverage, and Social Security. At demonstrations and meetings, they’ve stressed that every generation benefits from Social Security. More than three million children under 18 receive benefits. Social Security will continue to be critical to young workers as workplace retirement plans such as those for 1199ers continue to dwindle around the nation.

The growth of the Union and the continuing retirement of Baby Boomers have made the Retired Members Division – more than 112,000 strong – the fastest growing section of the Union. These members are called upon to assist in virtually every Union campaign – whether about organizing, contracts or political elections.

During League contract negotiations in July 2018, Charles Moore, a surgical tech retiree, joined former coworkers on the Mt. Sinai picket line.

“What we are seeing today means that management doesn’t change and that workers must [continue to] fight for everything we have, and we probably always will.”

Last year during the height of the pandemic, retirees moved to the frontlines of support in many states.

“We seniors are especially at risk,” said Barbara Williams, a Norfolk, VA activist and former CNA at New Surfside NH in Far Rockaway, NY.

She and countless 1199 retirees played a major role in ousting the 45th president from the White House and installing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “1199 retirees don’t need convincing,” said Georgia retiree Renée Lindsay, during the last election campaign. “They are fired up and ready to go.” And those retirees helped win Georgia for the president and both the state’s first African American and Jewish U.S. senators.

The growing number of retirees and chapters along the Eastern seaboard and Puerto Rico means far greater strength for 1199ers.

Today management representatives understand that 1199 represents one of the nation’s most potent forces for healthcare funding and policies in the interest of workers and patients.

Retirees remain on the frontlines for access to quality, affordable health care, advancing social and racial justice, fixing our broken immigration system, and addressing the climate crisis. They are community bridge builders. Many are leaders in their faith-based institutions. Retirees’ activism expands 1199’s power and influence, and that translates into better contracts and benefits for both active and retired members.

1199 Magazine - May / June 2021