Kingsbridge Heights Nursing Home

NEW YORK--Thousands of 1199SEIU members came out March 15 to a rally to support 220 striking members at the Kingsbridge Heights Nursing Home in the Bronx.

Workers say they were finally forced out on strike February 20, after their medical benefits were cut off just before Christmas.

Kingsbridge is rated one of the most profitable nursing homes in New York City. Health Department figures show that in 1999, Kingsbridge made more than $3 million in profits, with Kingsbridge owner Helen Sieger getting a $700,000 paycheck, according to the Daily News.

Workers feel that Sieger is out to bust the union. They have been unable to negotiate a new contact with her since 2000, and many report that Kingsbridge has been bringing in contracted nurses, who are forced to sign agreements ahead of time that they won't join the union.

Poor working conditions and understaffing are other major concerns. "The nurses are overworked and getting sick, because they are forced to work all of the time," Pauline Dejean, who has worked at Kingsbridge for 12 years, said in an interview.

Solidarity reigned at the rally of Kingsbridge's multi-racial workforce, with members sporting flags of various nations, from Poland to Jamaica. Strikers reported that many non-union workers have refused to cross the picket line. Ursala Leefoon, a non-union dietary supervisor, was at the rally to lend support. "I need to help [the union] out. [Management] thinks they are above the law," she said.

Members of 1199SEIU came to the rally from as far away as Maryland, and 1199-organized nursing homes around the New York City region have been holding food drives to provide the strikers with groceries.

"This country is headed nowhere," said dietary cook and 31-year Kingsbridge veteran Jerald DosSantos. "There's no more middle class. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer...We need more rallies like this. We need all the unions to come together to hold the politicians accountable."