“ You Have to Show Up. The Union Is What the Members Make It.”

December 17, 2019

New Jersey retiree Charles Gordon says good patient care starts with a strong union.

RetireesGordon_fa.jpgSir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And retired delegate Charles Gordon has always been ready to stand up for the rights of working people and the future of his union.

By the time Gordon retired in 2005, he had worked as a CNA at Windsor Gardens Care Center in East Orange, NJ for nearly 30 years.

“Whenever there was a call [to action], I would go,” recalls Gordon.

In his long career as a union delegate, he traveled all over the U.S.— from Washington, D.C. to Detroit, MI.

“I would get on a plane, train, or get in the bus or a car to go wherever the Union needed me to be,” he says.

Gordon went to so many rallies for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy that the politician would call out in the crowd: “Hi Charlie!” He’s also met New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Booker (a current presidential candidate) and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, where he worked as a security guard for a lumber company, Gordon was already a union man when he came to the U.S. in the early 1970s.

When he wasn’t out campaigning for union-friendly elected officials, Gordon was taking an active role on picket lines and at contract negotiations.

“If it wasn’t for the Union, the management at the nursing home would ignore the workers. I don’t know what would happen to us. When we went to the hotels to negotiate, I always shouted the loudest. We know that management is collecting Medicaid money. We have to fight for our share,” says Gordon.

“I would get on a plane, train, or get in the bus or a car to go wherever the Union needed me to be.”

- Charles Gordon

He even spent time in a prison cell during the 1980s after being arrested for lying down across the driveway of the nursing home during a strike. During the action, Gordon and other workers blocked trucks delivering food to the facility. Gordon also wasn’t shy about calling out any co-workers who didn’t join picket lines, particularly his West Indian sisters and brothers.

“I see you there from Trinidad, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Anguilla, hiding behind the curtain,” he’d admonish them. “You mean to tell me that I am out here fighting for you, for better pay and benefits. Come down and join the line tomorrow!”

Gordon also made sure that every part of the bargaining unit was involved in every action. “When I saw that the working conditions in the kitchen were bad, I went to the dining room to talk to those workers,” he says.

Gordon never let his union activities interfere with his dedication to his patients and their care. He was often asked by management to sit down and talk to patients, tell them stories about where he was from, and to get friendly with their relatives.

Sometimes, though, his political and professional roles overlapped. Gordon looked after the aunt of New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne at Windsor Gardens. Once, in the mid-1980s, a confused resident went for a walk outside Windsor Gardens and no one could find her. Gordon walked out after her, showing photos of her to people along the way. He eventually caught up with her three miles away from the nursing home. Once he explained who he was, the resident agreed to return with him.

Now 81 years old, Gordon has scaled back his political campaigning somewhat, but is still active in Union efforts. In November he was out knocking on doors in Bergen County for New Jersey’s 1199-endorsed candidates. Gordon says he’s trying to be an example for younger members and those still on the job.

“You have to show up,” he says. “The Union is what the members make it.”

1199 Magazine | November - December 2019