9:12 AM Eastern - Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Retiree Members Paved the Way, and We're Still Fighting #default

When I started working in a hospital as an admitting clerk 36 years ago, it was a poverty-level job. I was paid only a couple dollars an hour, and we didn't have healthcare, a retirement or access to education funds. We had to endure management harassment and fight to win all of the standards that now make jobs in New York hospitals some of the best middle-class jobs in America. I spent many bone chilling, snowy nights out on the picket line trying to warm my hands over an oil drum fire. We had no money coming in, we were surviving on pure hope.

Because of those hard struggles, I am now enjoying a secure, dignified and comfortable retirement in Fort Myers, Florida. Through 1199, I was able to save up, I have a pension with a guaranteed monthly payout for the rest of my life, and retiree healthcare to supplement my Medicare.

But I am not just resting on my laurels. Recently, I've once again become active in my union along with my fellow 1199 retirees. Last week, we travelled together to Naples, Florida to speak up for quality patient care at the Health Management Associates shareholder meeting. HMA is the only publicly traded hospital corporation in the country that uses just a single factor to determine executive pay, and that's profit.

My fellow retirees and I waved signs, handed out flyers, and spoke to the press. Another
retiree and I were able to go into the shareholder meeting and raise questions directly with the executives inside. We sent a strong message to HMA that hospital executives should be paid based on the quality of patient care as well as profits. The two go hand-in-hand, you cannot have a financially successful hospital company unless you put the interests of patients first. We were on every television station and in every daily newspaper in the area, we retirees really got our message out.

Later this summer, I will be involved in helping to make sure President Obama wins the state of Florida. He has taken important steps to offer affordable healthcare to all Americans and repair our economy that was wrecked by George Bush, the big banks and Wall Street. We need to make sure he has a second term to finish his important work for the 99%.

Being a retiree leader is a new experience for me, and this is my first convention. I am still trying to take it all in and understand all the information that is being presented to me. But I know one thing for sure, our union is a way for us to give back, and to contribute to the good of our hospitals, our communities and our country.

I am speaking to all SEIU retirees and members when I say, do not take your benefits, rights and protections for granted. The generations who came before you fought hard to win the standards and protections you enjoy today. And all of us need to get up and get involved in order to protect and expand those rights. Do not accept second hand information and don't think someone else will do everything for you. Experience the power of our union for yourself, and then add your own talents, spirit and hard work.

I am the proud grandmother of two, and they are the main reason I am so passionate about our union. The younger generation is the first in many decades that is facing a harder future than their parents. It will take all us - current members and retirees together - to turn the tide. Join me.

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