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Activists step up organizing effort

“The most important thing is getting members to that first meeting and making them feel they are a part of DC 37.”
— Ali Rivera, Local 371

Member Action Team activist Ali Rivera created a button with the MAT logo.

Millions of Americans were in a state of disbelief on Nov. 9 when they realized Donald J. Trump was moving into the White House.

SSEU Local 371 member Ali Rivera was one of them.

After the shock, activists around the country began mobilizing against Trump’s policies. More than a million protestors showed up at the Women’s March on Washington in January. Responding to Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, activists flooded airports in solidarity with Muslim Americans.

Those demonstrations also sparked a new level of activism in Rivera, who works as a Hospital Care Investigator at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital Center.

“That was the power of organizing,” said Rivera about the massive demonstrations.

Prior to the election, Rivera had little interest in activism.

That began changing when activists from the union’s Organizing Dept. started holding lunch time meetings to recruit members for its Member Action Teams. The MATs were established in 2016 by the DC 37 Organizing Dept. to organize members from all of the union’s locals to be the voice of the union at the workplace.

Rivera attended the department’s first meeting in October and then signed up for the union’s activist training sessions.

After Rivera completed the training, he joined Bellevue’s MATs and was selected as the team captain.

“I got bitten by the organizing bug,” explained Rivera. He recently created a website for the team ( Rivera also created a button with the blue MAT logo.

Activist teams are growing

The son of a retired union bus driver, Rivera now spends his lunch hour talking to members, inviting them to meetings and spreading the union message. “My father thinks it’s so cool that I’m involved in the union,” he says of his father, Luis.

As one of the largest public hospitals in the country with close to 2,000 DC 37 health-care workers, staying connected with members at Bellevue is a challenge.

At the MAT meetings the group started the process of mapping (outlining the workplace), which helps identify DC 37 members at the hospital. The team has a dozen members, but their goal is to double members participation in the next couple of months.

“We have a great team with Sharon Gross and Ricardo Reed,” said Rivera. “They are the veterans here and they do a good job communicating with everyone.”

The Organizing Dept. also had several lunch-time meetings in the Bronx, at the Jacobi Medical Center.

Christian Cruz, a member of Municipal Hospital Employees Local 420, attended one of the meetings and after speaking to the organizers he decided to sign up. He was also one of the 100 activists to attend the first MAT conference on Feb. 11.

“We have some issues on the job that need to get addressed, so it’s important to get involved,” said Cruz, who works as a Nurse’s Aide/Transport.

Like Bellevue, Jacobi is a sprawling complex. The Bronx hospital has 14 buildings. Patients have to be transported within the hospital and sometimes to different buildings by members like Cruz.

But there’s less staff now. Cruz has seen many members retire but few new workers hired to take their place. That is one of the issues he’s concerned about. He’s also concerned about changes to the Affordable Care Act and the financial state of public hospitals like Jacobi. “We have to make sure our members know the issues and that we have a strong voice in the hospital,” said Cruz.

At Jacobi, with many employees retiring and becoming less active as they get ready to retire, Cruz felt it was time for younger members like himself to become more involved.

One of the objectives of MAT is to train a younger generation of union leaders like 28-year-old Cruz.

“If we’re going to build a stronger labor movement, it’s going to be with the help of our younger members,” said Barbara Terrelonge, director of the DC 37 Organizing Dept. Terrelonge was encouraged by all the new faces she saw at the department’s February conference, which both Rodriguez and Cruz attended.

That younger generation known as millennials, born between 1982 and 2000, also views unions more positively than older Americans, according to research by the Pew Research Center. More than half view unions positively, according to the study. There are 83 million millennials in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making them the largest generation represented in the workforce. One out of every three are millennials.

Reaching out to this segment of workers at Bellevue is a priority for Rivera. “That’s why I created the website, to reach our younger members,” said Ali.

He’s also working on a Facebook fan page and has been researching ways to use other social media platforms.

“The most important thing is getting members to that first meeting,” he said, “and making them feel they are a part of DC 37.”