Thousands of 1199SEIU home health aides and other 1199ers marched shoulder-to-shoulder September 16 through Manhattan to dramatize their determination to obtain a union contract for 4,500 aides employed at Bestcare and People Care agencies.
Marchers assembled near the offices of the People Care on West 32nd Street. They carried placards that read “Be Fair to Those Who Care,” and “People Care, Shame on You!” Other signs read “Bestcare, Shame on You!” Following the march, they rallied one block away from Bestcare headquarters.
The spirited and orderly march stretched six city blocks and, although it took place during rush hour, drew support from many onlookers and pedestrians.
Members handed out leaflets explaining their plight and asking New Yorkers to contact People Care, Bestcare and Prestige Home Care (another agency that has refused to negotiate a fair contract.) “Help us provide quality care to our clients and decent lives for our families,” the leaflet read.
“We are healthcare workers who can’t afford to get sick,” said Delores Jackson, a homecare worker from Personal Care. “I’m marching because I care about my clients and they support me 100 percent, but I’m a single mom and it’s just so hard for me.” She said she’s been working at Personal Touch for 12 years but has never had a vacation.
Another marcher, Bestcare aide Rosa Robles, said that she has to work 70 hours a week to make ends meet for her and her 10-year-old son. “I have carpal tunnel syndrome and I need surgery, but I don’t have health insurance,” she said. Robles and other members at the rally said that they didn’t want to leave their clients, but would be willing to strike to achieve justice.
Members cheered 1199SEIU President George Gresham and Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda’s assurance that a fair contract was among the Union’s top priorities. “We’re here today to let Bestcare know that if we don’t get a fair contract we’re going to shut them down on the 24th,” Castaneda declared to loud applause. September 24 is the deadline the Union has given to Bestcare and Prestige to negotiate a contract.
“You give loving professional care to your clients,” Gresham said. “And you work alone. “But we want to tell you, that when you decide to take on your employers, you have 300,000 sisters and brothers behind you.”
One of those sisters was Sulie Bennett, a CNA at Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home in the Bronx. “I’m marching with my Union sisters and brothers because today it’s them and tomorrow it’s us, Bennett said. “When other members are injured, we all bleed. This is our fight, too.”
Rally speakers included legislators who promised to use their power to require the homecare agencies to use a larger percentage of their Medicaid and Medicare funds for the workers’ wages and benefits. Many of the aides earn the minimum state wage, $7.15 an hour with no benefits.
1199SEIU’s home health aides are employed at 25 agencies throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. Besides the aides who work at agencies that refuse to negotiate, another 17,000 have been working under expired contracts.
Said Bestcare aide Barbara Ruple, “We’re not going to put up with this any more and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get what we deserve.”
Members and supporters are asked to call the targeted agencies to tell them that home health aides deserve a living wage and health insurance. Call People Care CEO Bruce Jacobson at 212-631-7300, Bestcare President Bernhard Schiel at 516-731-3770 and Prestige Home Care owner Estrella Chan at 212-675-8412.