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SAVE OUR UNION EVENT

1199's Save Our Union - Well Attended Event - Live Streamed 1

PROUDLY WE LOOK BACK AT LOCAL 1199 AND REJOICE IN ITS ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

On October 25, 2019, an overflow crowd packed 1199’s union headquarters on 43rd Street in Manhattan. 

All were there to celebrate the Save Our Union movement of the 1980’s. “It’s the achievement of a lifetime,” said Steve Kramer, Executive Vice President.

Leaders, at times, tried to quiet the audience but electric waves of joy swept through the health care workers’ reunion.  Many had not seen each other in 30 years!

The American Movie Company crew captured the jubilant medical workers’ event and Live Streamed it.  We are in the history books!

The night opened as members lined the aisles shouting “We’re Gonna Roll the Union!” and mounted the stage.

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Betty Hughley

“The historic nature of this Save Our Union victory is even more clear and impressive when you consider that rank and file members, with no money, no office, and no staff, won an election for 75,000 workers in 5 boroughs and 80 hospitals and nursing homes, against an incumbent with a staff of 80 plus, support from the employers, who picked all the polling sites,” said Bob Muelhenkamp, a former 1199 national organizer.

A Memorial was held for Save Our Union (“SOU”) leaders who have passed away. A huge wreath of white flowers was carried onstage and trumpeter, Mark McGowan,  played ‘Amazing Grace.’ As names were read by Betty Hughley and Pat Harris, hundreds in the audience grew teary-eyed.

Ms. Hughley, head of the committee that organized the event, quoted Charles Dicken’s “Tale of Two Cities”.  She said that the lessons of the SOU era were relevant to challenges that union members and the nation face today.

1199's Save Our Union - Well Attended Event - Live Streamed 3

“The historic nature of this Save Our Union victory is even more clear and impressive when you consider that rank and file members, with no money, no office, and no staff, won an election for 75,000 workers in 5 boroughs and 80 hospitals and nursing homes, against an incumbent with a staff of 80 plus, support from the employers, who picked all the polling sites,” said Bob Muelhenkamp, a former 1199 national organizer.

A Memorial was held for Save Our Union (“SOU”) leaders who have passed away. A huge wreath of white flowers was carried onstage and trumpeter, Mark McGowan,  played ‘Amazing Grace.’ As names were read by Betty Hughley and Pat Harris, hundreds in the audience grew teary-eyed.

Ms. Hughley, head of the committee that organized the event, quoted Charles Dicken’s “Tale of Two Cities”.  She said that the lessons of the SOU era were relevant to challenges that union members and the nation face today.

For decades, the SOU movement was downplayed to avoid factionalism.  The audience hushed as Tom Cloutier, rank and file member, presented a factual outline of the campaign from 1983-1986.  He was composed and spoke eloquently from the heart.

George Gresham, President of 1199, added,  “We like to boast that 1199 was Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite union.”

He recounted his rise from a delegate at Presbyterian Hospital to being picked by Dennis Rivera as the next President.

Dennis Rivera, President of Local 1199 from 1989 to 2007, appeared via video providing a historic perspective on factional strife, which dissipated after he took office.

Two panels followed, facilitated by Bob Muelhenkamp:

A ‘Facts’ panel featuring David Kranz, Aida Morales, and Lenore Colbert was well received.

“My family, two aunts, cousins, my mother, were all working at hospitals, “said Ms. Morales. “We were all unemployed at the same time during the 1984 strike, which dragged on for 47 days.”

“There was absolutely no preparation for the strike,” Mr. Kranz recalled. Ms. Colbert sadly said  that after speaking up at a delegates’ meeting in the 80’s, Ms. Turner, former President, threatened her, saying, “I’m going to slap your face.”

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At the next panel, “What Have We Learned?” Pat Harris urged members to attend meetings, to discuss issues and to strategize.

Steve Kramer said that the idea that “Everyone, no matter what race, religion or creed, is equal,” is key to organizing.

Pat Forde said in the SOU movement he learned to think critically and separate “facts from fiction.”

“Bottom up, bottom up, bottom up!” roared Eddie Kay, using the call and response technique of preachers. The crowd roared back, ‘That’s right!’ Kay added, “It’s the only way!”.  He recalled instances when 1199 was a vanguard for the labor movement and elaborated, “Kramer worked 18 hour days to unionize Presbyterian, then 19 hours, and that’s why they won!”

Mr. Kay, a former Union Wide Coordinator and leader of SOU, led numerous rank and file labor rebellions. After a hard fought nursing home struggle that won $600,000 in back pay, he made the boss give the check directly to the workers! That gesture was widely appreciated.

“Rise up! Rise up! Rise up!” Henry Nicholas from Philadelphia urged 1199er’s.

1199 SEIU, at over 400,000 members is the largest health care Local in the United States.  It was a pharmacists’ union founded in 1932, and led by Leon Davis for 50 years.

In 1959, 1199 expanded the civil rights movement into the economic sphere, fighting for hospital, nursing home and home care workers, providing upgrading, benefits and wage increases.

In the 1980s, 1199 divided into factions. The leadership between 1982-84 withdrew the New York Local from the national organization.

Rank and file groups re-empowered members from 1983- 89, through countless  struggles and successfully stopping Medicaid cuts.

The Save Our Union slate won the union election in 1986, supervised by the Department of Labor.

At 1989 contract negotiations, 1199 won major wage and benefit gains, staging strikes and massive demonstrations of tens of thousands of workers, led by 4,000 Campaign Captains.

Save Our Union members, all dedicated to the struggle, ended the evening by singing, “Solidarity Forever,” locking hands and raising clenched fists.  It was a stirring, moving experience.

This Article was written by Lionelle Hamanaka 

1199’s Save Our Union – Well Attended Event – Live Streamed

by | Nov 5, 2019 | Featured | 0 comments

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