On September 19th & 20th, hundreds of member leaders from across SEIU Healthcare PA met in Lancaster to sharpen their skills, learn more about our shared challenges, and come together to lay out the agenda for healthcare workers over the next two years.
On Thursday morning, President Matthew Yarnell addressed the crowd to discuss the mounting threats to our rights as workers and how corporations and the rich use their money and influence not only to put profits over people but to divide us. But as union healthcare workers, we have power when we come together.
“Whether you are a nursing home worker in Pittsburgh or a hospital worker in Canonsburg, whether you are a nurse in Altoona or a homecare worker in Philadelphia, no matter the color of your skin or who you love or how you worship, progress looks pretty similar – we all need good jobs – we all need healthcare we can afford – we all need opportunities to learn and grow and move ahead in life – and we know that the only way to win the things we need is to stand together to build strong unions. In this era of no rights at work, judges with a corporate agenda, and unfettered corporate greed, our only path to rebuilding worker power is to rewrite the rules so that all workers – no matter what you do or where you work – can join together.”
Several members shared their own stories about strong unions, safe staffing, and fair funding, including Mary Ntemar (Manor Care Yeadon), Monta Cook (Regional Hospital of Scranton), Louise Santee (Phoebe Nursing Home), Maureen Casey (Hershey Medical Center), Yetta Timothy (Gardens at West Shore), Bobby Ozanik (Allegheny General Hospital), Norm Jones (home care attendant), and Gary Margulis (Norristown State Hospital).
Later, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro gave his keynote speech. Shapiro has been a champion of working people, recently holding healthcare goliath UPMC accountable to acting like a real charity when it threatened to deny patients access to their doctors because they carried the wrong insurance card.
“It’s not just that you go out every day and do a great job. It’s not just that you fight for better wages, better working conditions, better benefits, for you and your brothers and sisters,” Shapiro said. “It’s that through your leadership you are advancing causes that we hold so dear. You are advancing protections for workers, you are elevating wages in this country. And you are holding elected officials accountable.”
Members had the opportunity to ask the Attorney General how he can address issues we face every day. Danell Fuller (Brookside Health and Rehab) spoke out about assisting victims of trauma resulting in gun violence that occurs far too often in her community, Venus Russell (Chestnut Hill Hospital) asked how community hospitals can be protected by corporate buy-outs who often turn their focus to profits, rather than care, and Barb Penn from Allegheny Valley Health shared her story about how the opioid epidemic has affected her family.
Friday morning started with an inspiring and insightful panel of women movement leaders. State Representatives Summer Lee and Lindsey Williams, State Senator Maria Collett and Candidate for PA Superior Court Amanda Green-Hawkins have been champions for our core issues and shared their journeys and plans for how to continue building power for working people.
Andrea Leach, an LPN at Broad Mountain and Healthcare PA Executive Board member, told the panel she is considering running for office but is sometimes discouraged by those who don’t think she has the “qualifications” to do it. Representative Summer Lee responded by encouraging all people to value their own skills, experiences, and qualifications because we are a government of the people.
Members also attended a series of workshops designed to provide training and a deeper conversation about how we can work within our own chapters to strengthen our union. Workshops covered a range of topics including creating a better New Member Experience, Healthcare Transformation, and Racial and Social Justice.
In a historic moment for SEIU Healthcare PA, members passed a Resolution, created by the Executive Board, intended to guide our officers, Executive Board, and chapter leaders on how we focus our attention and use our scarce resources to make progress for working people. The resolution lays out a roadmap for addressing not only strong unions, safe staffing, and fair funding, but also Healthcare Transformation, Social, Economic, and Racial Justice For All, and building a Working Class Movement that holds all candidates accountable to lifting up our core issues in every election and policy debate.
Dozens of members came forward in support of the resolution, including Michelle Boyle (Canonsburg Hospital) and Tina Siegal (Clarion Health and Rehab) who shared their own experiences as healthcare workers and how the resolution resonates with them.
Dana Greenwood, RN at Clarks Summit state hospital, spoke on the importance of Fair Funding.
“Health care is a basic human right,” said Greenwood. “When healthcare resources and funds are unfairly distributed and policies do not reflect or follow the needs of patients, we should not be surprised when wellbeing and safety is adversely impacted.”
The event, which is held every two years, is an inspiring, unifying, and energizing experience.
“The most interesting part of the Assembly to me is the people involved and their experiences,” said Altea Pryor, a home care attendant. “The workshops and speeches are very helpful and informative. I see the fearlessness and tenacity of the union. It’s about allowing people to grow and achieve their overall goals to uniting.”