The election of John Sweeney as president of the AFL-CIO has paved the way for one of the country's largest healthcare labor unions to rejoin the national labor federation.
The union, known as "1199, the National Health & Human Service Employees Union," announced Feb. 20 at the AFL-CIO's executive council meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla., that it had been granted a national charter as an AFL-CIO affiliate.
This 1199 represents 117,000 workers in the New York City area and is separate from some union locals using the 1199 designation. Members work mainly in hospitals, nursing homes, drugstores and home-care agencies. Two-thirds are minorities and three-quarters are female. Those are the kinds of workers the AFL-CIO wants to target in its newly aggressive organizing drives.
In a statement issued at the executive council meeting, 1199 President Dennis Rivera said no labor organization can afford to remain outside the larger movement.
"Those of us in the healthcare industry cannot stand alone as we face the stark crises of federal, state and local budget cuts; of the restructuring that is currently taking place; of the invasion of profiteers, who would sacrifice quality healthcare by cutting staff, driving down wages and eliminate job training all for the sake of greater returns for their investors."
Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, said 1199 has a very dedicated rank-and-file membership.
Rivera and Sweeney are a good match because of "the way they see the world, the way they approach solutions," DeMoro said. Sweeney and 1199 have a highly political outlook and will combine their resources to elect public officials favorable to labor, she predicted.
Formed as a drugstore union in 1932, 1199 led an organizing drive in the 1950s among New York's not-for-profit hospitals. In 1963 it staged a 46-day strike at seven hospitals that resulted in the passage of favorable state legislation.
Nearly 41,000 members contribute $5 a month to a political action fund. The union claims credit for forcing New York Gov. George Pataki to back away from proposed dramatic cuts in state Medicaid funding.