Remembering 1199’s History: When 1199 Greatly Increased its Power

March 23, 2021

This month (March) 23years ago, 1199 greatly increased its reach and power when members voted by an overwhelming margin to affiliate with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and New York Local 144. Some 30,00 Members of Local 144, predominantly nursing home workers, had voted earlier in the year to merge with 1199.

The merger not only provided 1199 with the protection of SEIU, at the time the nation’s fastest growing union, but also made 1199 – with 150,000 members – the largest union in New York City.

The affiliation immediately reaped benefits. At the time, 1199 was locked in prolonged difficult contract negotiations with New York’s League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. In June, members won a major victory without the need to strike.

Other benefits of the merger included support from SEIU for 1199’s $5 million organizing campaign throughout New York State.

The merger also added to 1199’s already considerable political clout. The Union helped to lead a restructured 320,000-member SEIU NYS Council. The Council’s resources were used to win greater healthcare funding and protection for patients and members.

Another advantage of the merger with Local 144 was having members of both unions fight alongside rather than against one another. Although 144 and 1199 had similar histories and parallel principles, they often found themselves at odds. On many occasions, the two unions sought to organize the same institutions.

Some members who worked two healthcare jobs were members of both 144 and 1199. One such worker said at the time, “Being in one union is the best thing that could happen to us.”