September 29, 2017

How NYSUT's Health Care Professionals are speaking out

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

“We have to know the solution. We can’t wait for the world to figure it out,” Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council, told a roomful of council members. “The labor movement empowers and gives voice like no other,” she said.

Goldman is a NYSUT Board member and United Federation of Teachers vice president who represents UFT members who are not governed by the Department of Education. She is a leader of school nurses, hospital nurses, visiting nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and respiratory therapists, among other professions. At the council’s first meeting of the 2017-2018 academic year, she asked both veteran and new members about how they are talking with colleagues about the value of unions.

Many workers do not realize that protections they have on the job, including support for best practices, along with salary and benefits, are a result of years of union effort.

“If we do not brand our work, we will not get credit,” she said. “We have to teach what the value is, what the worth is. We’re partners in the labor movement.”

Unions continue to face unprecedented attacks, including the corporate-funded Janus v. AFCSME, a U.S. Supreme Court case that threatens the ability of public sector unions to collect fair share fees for the services they provide.

Nancy Barth-Miller, UFT hospital nurse, said new employees are invited to attend a professional development nursing conference, where the union message is heralded.

“We invigorate people!” she said. “”We share union gains.”

Recently, she prevailed in a yearslong struggle to add a small group of health care professionals to the bargaining unit, overcoming a dark, anti-union campaign by hospital administrators. The facts about successful legislation and safety measures achieved by the union helped to carry the win, she said.

Raquel Webb Geddes, health care UFT chapter leader, covers five boroughs and two regions. At each union meeting she calls on members to highlight different benefits of being in a union.

“We break it down. We highlight certain benefits each month. We let them know the benefits are not a gift from the employer,” she said.

David Curry, a Plattsburgh-area member of United University Professions higher education council representing State University of New York faculty and staff, is working with the state AFL-CIO labor council in his region to deliver the union message.

“We’re using the Constitutional Convention to energize our base,” Curry reported. “This enables us to broaden the house and work with other unions on common ground.”

People need to know that — among many other threats — such a convention could allow New York to become a "right to work" state where unions are now allowed.

Howard Sandau, a UFT emergency room nurse, said employers at New York University started having focus groups with just four employees at a time, as part of a “vicious anti-union crusade.”

Meeting with employees one-on-one, and speaking with them on the phone, helped to turn the tide toward unionism, he said.

“We’ve organized speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and aides,” Sandau said.

Goldman noted that in all the reports from council members, no group relied on technology and telecommunications to get the message out. Personal contact, she said, achieves the best results.