Strong Unions Equal a Strong Middle Class

From Brexit in the U.K. to President Trump’s victory here at home, recent events convey that the world is tilting right. The McKinsey Global Institute recently reported a trend toward the decline of incomes for middle class workers. Some 70 percent of households in the 25 wealthiest nations saw their earnings drop in the past decade. The authors estimate that “while fewer than ten million people were affected [by flat or falling incomes] in the 1993-2005 period, that figure exploded to between 540 million and 580 million people in 2005-2014.”

The report also noted that unionized workers fare better in these convulsive economic times compared to their non-union counterparts. A strong labor movement is among the most important factors for protecting workers in times of economic crisis. Sixty-eight percent of workers in Sweden belong to a union which bargains for wages increases.

However, labor in the United States is enduring a long decline. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.7 percent of America’s workers were union members in 2016. There has been an associated decline in middle-class incomes and increase in wealth inequality. Workers will face more hurdles with expected unfriendly appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the rollback of protective rules and regulations, and the expansion of right-to-work laws.

1199SEIU continues to buck the trend; between November 2016 and March 2017, over 2,100 workers voted to join 1199. Workers are showing their strength and organizing their workplaces. They are engaging in direct action campaigns, agitating for pay and benefits, showing militancy and increasing Union membership to build a stronger middle class and reduce wealth inequality.

In January, 500 workers from Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, NY voted 262-174 to join 1199.

“I got involved in the union committee after listening to a lot of stories from colleagues around the hospital about being badly treated. People were seeing their benefits being changed for the worse in the middle of the year and we had nowhere to turn,” said Regina Heaney, a patient access admitting clerk.

Although Mercy workers faced an anti-union campaign, they persevered. The institution is now facing federal charges. “Finally, we can stand together and support one another,” says Heaney. “We now have a say in our conditions, which we never had. We have hope for the future, and that is something they cannot take away from us.”

At Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, MA, 85 technical healthcare workers joined 1199SEIU in March. They joined an existing bargaining unit of 170 Nashoba 1199SEIU members. Workers were facing a significant increase in their monthly premiums for the same medical insurance but had not received a wage increase in many years. Their pay lagged behind rates for the same positions elsewhere.

“We’re excited to join 1199SEIU because we gain a voice to better advocate for ourselves and our families while providing the quality care we know our patients need and deserve,” said Gar Bernas, a Nashoba respiratory therapist.

Workers at HSG Chevy Chase Nursing Home in Maryland, also voted to join 1199 in March because they were victims of wage theft. Paychecks were often short, the time clocks recorded the wrong time and workers would not receive their legally mandated holiday overtime pay. HSG workers finally had enough.

“I want to have the ability to stand together with my co-workers and fight for justice!” affirmed housekeeper Evelin Morillo. “We need better wages. We need to be paid for the hours that we work and extra when we work on a holiday.”

At press time, workers at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston overwhelmingly voted 237-70 for 1199 representation. The victory caps an organizing effort that began in late January and includes about 500 administrative, housekeeping and food service workers, and medical interpreters.

“I have been an employee at Faulkner for more than 50 years,” said Mary Panciocco, a unit secretary. “I came from a union background and know firsthand the difference unions have made for my family. Over the years I have seen a lot of changes at Faulkner. With 1199SEIU, I believe we will be able to have a voice in those changes.”

1199 Magazine | March/April 2017