New Generation Takes Over at 1199C

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THE NEW Local 1199C leadership team: L-R, Secretary-Treasurer Salima Pace, President Chris Woods and Vice President Elyse Ford.

BY TONY WEST
The torch has been passed to younger leadership in one of Philadelphia’s most-influential unions, National Union of Hospital & Health Care Employees Local 1199C.

At the membership meeting earlier this year, Elyse Ford became vice president and Salima Pace was chosen as secretary-treasurer. In October, Chris Woods, who had long served as vice president, acceded to the presidency by an act of the executive board.

This team has big shoes to fill: those of legendary labor leader Henry Nicholas, who had doggedly expanded unionism in the northeastern region and around the nation since the 1970s.

Nicholas became a dominant force in the area’s growing health-care industry, building Local 1199C to more than 11,000 members, primarily in a host of service jobs and paraprofessional workers. He was also a powerful political force in Philadelphia who played kingmaker in the advances of former Mayor Wilson Goode, Sr., State Sen. Vincent Hughes, Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown – and the city’s current Mayor Jim Kenney.

But Nicholas was meticulously grooming his succession in the past few years. His new team is now fully in place. All are 34 years old.

Woods, began to work with Local 1199C in 2007. He cut his teeth on statewide campaigns to organize child-care workers, longterm-care workers, nurses and behavioral-health technicians.

Ford joined the union in 2006. “We’ve been very successful in growth since then,” she said. “We’ve organized St. Christopher’s, Delaware Valley Memorial and Frankford Hospitals.”

Pace, a native Philadelphian, “fell in love with the union” as a volunteer in 2012 in the “Workers Stand for America” movement organized by IBEW Local 98 leader John Dougherty in conjunction with Nicholas and Woods.

This team has come of age when unionism has been subjected to decades of assault by political conservatives. With the election of President Donald Trump, said Woods, “Washington came out of the gates smashing labor. The U.S. Supreme Court ‘Janus’ decision helped fire up workers,” instilling an aggressive spirit in younger members of the labor movement.

Historically, Woods noted, “The trades have led the way in the labor movement. But they have not prioritized the concerns of service workers.” Woods sees a need for NUHHCE to coordinate with unions like AFSCME DC 47, UNITE HERE and Service Employees International Union to dynamize the labor movement to broader relevance and growth.

Pace expanded on that point: “We need to make friends and relationships with everybody, build a table of allies and partners.”

One interesting partner is Canadian TD Bank, which has proved open to forms of business-labor programs. Another is Peirce College.

The recent Hahnemann bankruptcy was a fiasco for the local health industry that shook Local 1199C. Ford asserted, “We should be doing research on who’s coming into the city with ulterior motives,” referring to Hahnemann’s latest owners, who are Arizona-based.

“When hospitals as well as factories are closing, we’ve all got to figure out a way to work together,” said Woods. “We’ve got to hold onto what was created before us and learn how to grow it in our time.”

Political engagement remains a core mission of Local 1199C. It donated generously to Working Families party’s successful Council at-large candidate Kendra Brooks. Another at-large winner, educator Isaiah Thomas, is a childhood friend of Woods.

Going into 2020, Woods has an eye on Harrisburg. “Democrats are only four seats from a majority in the State Senate,” he observed. “We can’t sit it out.”

The new team at Local 1199C is proud to include African American women in top leadership positions – still a rarity in the labor movement.

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