Tyrék D. Lee, Sr. named head of largest healthcare union in Massachusetts

January 25, 2016

Tyrék D. Lee, Sr. has been named to the top Massachusetts leadership post for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the most politically active and fastest-growing union in Bay State, following the promotion of Veronica Turner. 1199SEIU members include hospital, nursing home, homecare, and clinic employees.

While 1199SEIU remains the fastest-growing union in Massachusetts, Lee has vowed to emphasize a “doubling down” on the union’s organizing and recruitment efforts.

1199SEIU is the largest union local in the country with more than 400,000 members across the East Coast.

Lee, who joined the union in 2002 as a telephone operator at Boston Medical Center, will make history as the first African American man to lead a major statewide union in the Commonwealth.

“I know firsthand what it feels like to work full time but still have to choose between paying rent and buying groceries,” said Lee, a Boston native “As a movement and as healthcare workers, we have significant momentum right now on key issues like wages, earned sick time, racial, social and economic justice and key policy initiatives that will ensure millionaires pay their fair share and that will protect community hospitals.”

A vice president with 1199SEIU, Lee played a key role in the union’s organizing, political, coalition building, and he has helped to advance the Fight for $15, leading 1199SEIU members who have secured new contracts at Lynn Community Health Center, South Boston Community Health Center, and Whidden Hospital. As part of the national Fight for $15 movement, Lee recently helped lead negotiation teams that secured all workers at Boston Medical Center a starting minimum wage of $15/hour. That announcement coupled with other $15 victories secured by 1199SEIU members have triggered a domino effect within the industry, prompting other major employers to adopt or pledge a pathway to a $15/hour minimum starting wage for employees.

20160113_Leadership_TyrekLee_EVP_Headshots_ScottEisen_001.JPG“I will work hard day and night to make sure we’re ending the practice of paying poverty wages in Massachusetts– in the healthcare industry and beyond,” said Lee.

Lee, 38, of Randolph, has been active in the union for more than a decade, moving from an elected delegate up to senior leadership. He has been a Vice President of 1199SEIU since 2010.

As a labor leader, Lee is Secretary-Treasury of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council, a vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and a Greater Boston Labor Council executive board member.

Born in Boston and raised in Cleveland by his grandmother and great-grandmother, Lee overcame a variety of challenges on his way to becoming a union leader. He moved back to Dorchester with his mother at the age of 13 and attended many different schools during his childhood. He became a father of three by the age of 20. When he accepted a job as a telephone operator at Boston Medical Center, not knowing it would become the launch pad for his career in social, racial and economic advocacy.

“There are often so many obstacles facing men and women in our communities – from racial and social challenges, to immigration and poverty – even as they fight to secure a living wage that can support their families,” Lee said. “As a leader of the largest healthcare union in Massachusetts, I’m looking forward to standing with the millions of people across the Commonwealth who are working hard to overcome these hurdles to make a better life for themselves and their families. Like every resident of the Commonwealth, they deserve dignity in the workplace, their communities and access to a living wage.”

Lee completed his high school diploma in 2005 through the union’s worker education program, now the largest healthcare training fund in the state, and completed Cornell University’s Union Leadership Institute in 2011.

Lee takes over for Veronica Turner, who will join the multi-state leadership team of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and continue to influence health policy in Massachusetts. Since taking over as Executive Vice President in 2010, Turner led highly successful organizing drives at many of the region’s hospitals and has raised standards for worker across the industry while playing a key role in Massachusetts politics, advocating for improved healthcare funding and new regulations to protect patients.

Turner was also a driving force in the Raise Up coalition that helped to secure an increase in the minimum wage and a 2014 victory at the ballot for earned sick time. Most recently, Turner helped 1199SEIU secure both a historic agreement with the Baker administration that will ensure a pathway to a starting wage of $15/hour for the state’s 35,000 homecare workers.

QUOTES OF SUPPORT FOR TYRÉK D. LEE, SR.

“Healthcare is a cornerstone of Boston’s economy, and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East plays a vital role in ensuring that one of our city’s largest industries offers good, quality jobs that can support working families. I thank Veronica Turner for her work over the past several years, and I welcome Tyrek D. Lee, Sr. and look forward to working with him.” – Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh

“Tyrék D. Lee, Sr. started his career as a phone operator at Boston Medical Center and has brought his commitment and talents to BMC and its patients for many years since. He’s a strong advocate for the BMC employees who are represented by SEIU and is always a constructive and broad thinker. His approach is balanced and positive, and he’s consistently focused on working toward the best outcomes for all stakeholders, including patients.” – Kate Walsh, President and CEO, Boston Medical Center

“As a personal care attendant and 1199SEIU member, I am thrilled that Tyrék D. Lee, Sr. will be our new Executive Vice President. He is a natural born leader who has inspired and helped secure major victories for healthcare and homecare workers across the state, including in Western Massachusetts. This is a huge moment and a great choice for our union.” – Kindalay Cummings-Akers, Personal Care Attendant from Springfield, Mass.

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