New Bus Ads in Albany Provide First-Hand Accounts of What It Means to Be a Member of Healthcare Workers Union 1199SEIU

May 16, 2019

Albany, NY:  There will be some new faces on CDTA buses and in bus shelters this month. The ads, paid for by the healthcare workers union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, portray Hudson Valley healthcare workers who convey how their personal lives have been positively impacted by being an 1199 member. The campaign is called “Because I’m an 1199 Member …”

In one ad, Scott Rider, a radiology tech, who used to work at Albany Medical Center (AMC) without a union, and now does the same job at Putnam Hospital with a union contract says, “When our twins were born premature, we didn’t have to worry about medical bills.” 

Sheila Ennist, who works in the pediatric ward at Vassar Brothers Medical Center says, “My son doesn’t have to worry about college debt, with the help of 1199 scholarship programs.”

Unaffordable health benefits and the struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of living while wages remain stagnant are some of the reasons AMC employees are talking about becoming 1199SEIU members, and negotiating a legally-binding contract. The RNs at the hospital voted to join the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) a year ago.

Karen Scribner, a 20-year employee at AMC, is a PCA in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). “Everything is going up. The cost of housing, the cost to run a household and feed and clothe a family. When you add health insurance deductibles and copays to that, we are always struggling.”

Scribner continued, “I love my job, and I know what I do is extremely important. Many of us feel this way.  We see a contract, a collective bargaining agreement, as a solution to these issues. Imagine if we all could count on keeping up with the cost of living. We would be contributing to the economic health of our communities.”

Zohra Hechehouche works in Labor & Delivery and currently, with postpartum women. An AMC employee for 28 years, she owns a small house near AMC, in the New Scotland Avenue neighborhood, which has rental properties, as well as owner-occupied homes. “My co-workers and I want to make things better,” she said of the efforts to have a collective bargaining agreement. “Rents are unaffordable. Rental properties are not being kept up. And homeowners like me can’t afford to do much home improvement, not to mention maintenance. We just want to do better, for our families, for our patients and for our communities.”

An optimistic person, Hechehouche is looking forward. “First thing, every worker at AMC should be able to pay the rent and live in a safe place. That’s not the case for all of my co-workers and that has to change.  No healthcare worker should hurt like that. And every healthcare worker MUST be able to afford health insurance and not have to worry about going broke if they or a family member gets sick.

"After 28 years of dedicated employment, I would like to not have to worry about just getting by. I want to be able to go to the store and buy some seeds and flowers and plant them and make my neighborhood beautiful."

Why 1199SEIU?

Mark Bergen is an 1199SEIU union wide Vice President, who for years has worked side by side with thousands of direct care and support staff in health care institutions, guiding them through the process of joining a union. 

“As far back as 1932, our union has had the same mission. To ensure that healthcare workers can do their jobs and live their lives with respect and dignity. That means everyone’s job is valued.  It means every healthcare worker should be able to pay the bills, raise a family, and have a secure retirement.” 

At a state legislative hearing on affordable rent and tenant protection last week, several people testified that in the last decade, Albany housing costs have exploded by 31%. AMC employees say that wages have not kept up with those rising costs. Furthermore, adding to distressed neighborhoods, community leaders reported that the homeless rate has gone off the charts to almost 27% in the same time period the rents increased.

Bergen said, “The fact is that in regions like Dutchess County, where most of the healthcare institutions are unionized, healthcare workers are able to take care of themselves, their patients, and their communities. The ads you will see in the next few months feature some of those workers, and others in the Hudson Valley where 1199 membership has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 15-20 years. We can see the positive impact that has had on a stable workforce, quality care, and families and communities.  I think the last line of each ad says it all:  “The staff at AMC deserve the same.”