On June 12 at a midtown Manhattan hotel, with a ceremony that ranged in tone from solemn reverence to emboldened jubilation, over 2,000 rank-and-file Delegates were sworn into office, along with 1199SEIU’s President George Gresham and Secretary –Treasurer Maria Castaneda. Both were overwhelmingly re-elected to their positions for a third term in Union elections conducted in March and April.
Also sworn in were regional Executive Vice Presidents and rank-and-file members of the Union’s Executive Council. The 2,000-plus Delegates who took their oaths of office were from New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and the Hudson Valley. (Swearing-in ceremonies in Florida, Maryland-DC, New Jersey, upstate New York and Massachusetts will be held in the coming weeks.)
Marcia Dixon, an RN at Brookdale Medical Center in Brooklyn for 20 years, is a first-time delegate and attended the swearing-in with her co-worker and fellow delegate, RN Scheena Tannis. “I do believe it’s time now after being there for quite a while for me to step up,” said Dixon.
“I’m the person between management and the Union. I can impart certain information to nurses and to my institution and they can see it’s about collaboration, doing the right thing and following protocol. We are here to do a job. We know it’s a patient-centered environment. We want to do our best. If the patients are happy, everybody benefits.”
The swearing-in was attended by many friends and guests of the Union including members of the New York City Council, numerous management representatives and leaders from the progressive community.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, 1199SEIU’s candidate in the city’s upcoming mayoral contest, came to congratulate the new Delegates. “This is a great union. It changes everything it touches,” said de Blasio. “This is a union that never stops fighting.”
The evening included the presentation of a plaque to photographer labor photographer Dan Miller, who took the iconic picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at 1199 headquarters in March 1968, and performances by the young people’s theater group the Impact Repertory Theater Company, and Willie Rogers, from gospel music’s Soul Stirrers. Rogers performed Sam Cooke’s anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
The keynote speaker was the Rev. William J. Barber, III, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. Barber is a close ally of 1199SEIU and a staunch labor supporter. He’s also one of the fiercest and most outspoken opponents of right-wing ideologues and their relentless attempts to co-opt government.
Barber charged the delegates with the responsibility to fight for justice for all of society, and with all the fire of a Sunday sermon, told the story of Queen Esther and her willingness to battle King Haman so her people could keep their freedom. “In America Haman still lives,” said Barber. “There is a plot afoot - from the right-wing hatred of Obama to programs denied to Black and Brown people and women.”
“I’m so excited and that’s an understatement,” said two-year delegate Myrtle Williams, an LPN at Peninsula Nursing Home in Far Rockaway, Queens. “Rev. Barber truly spoke directly to me. And I’m very much encouraged by President Gresham. They’ve really given me reasons for being here. I feel rejuvenated. I can go forward because I’m not just here for Peninsula or even 1199; I’m here to fight for the whole United States.That’s really how being sworn in again made me feel.”