We first met Stephanie Anderson – along with her husband, Shan, and kids Courtney and Shanto Jr. – in the heart of our herd, riding so responsibly right down to calling out turns and signals to riders behind that we encouraged them to join our volunteer squad. Born and raised in Buffalo on Humboldt Parkway and now a Cheektowaga resident in her third year on squad, Stephanie works day and night – as explained below – as an organizer for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, representing healthcare workers at the largest hospital organization in Western New York.
We shine the spotlight back on Stephanie and her union work in advance of this coming Monday’s free and inclusive Labor Day Ride starting from the Colored Musicians Club (145 Broadway, 6:30pm start, see below for the many pandemic-induced changes to Slow Roll).
What inspired you to become an activist?
For me personally, it was working in healthcare. I started working at Gates Circle, and then in the year it became Kaleida, family health insurance was gonna skyrocket, and I remember trying to figure how I was gonna afford it. At that time, SEIU was reaching out to my coworkers to organize us. I realized what the union was gonna be able to do for me – increase my pay, secure affordable healthcare for my family that included two small kids at the time, and more job security – and the department I was in needed a union delegate, so I became one to represent our group.
I always tell people, one of the main reasons why I remain a union delegate – and now as an administrative organizer representing my entire bargaining unit of the largest clerical group for Kaleida Health – was because I knew that management would always have to answer my questions. As a union member, I’m afforded info – we do info requests, and they have to provide it for you. There’s always a way for me to be very well-informed and be able to communicate that info back to my members.
How do you advocate for your labor community?
I advocate for healthcare workers who basically are the front line, ensuring that our members who are working with patients and residents have have everything they need so they can take do their work safely, such as proper PPE. Working with management of healthcare organizations to ensure that they also are following all the government guidelines and regulations that we’ve seen in these last few months – this stuff is new to everybody, some of the stuff we’re doing as we go along.
I was part of the team with Kaleida and SEIU to negotiate extra hazard pay for our members who are currently taking care of residents, and we just negotiated a tentative contract for the Schoellkopf Nursing Home in Niagara Falls.
I’m just so honored – I get a little emotional – so honored to be the advocate, to be able to advocate for the nurses, the PCAs and CNAs, the environmental workers, who go to work every single day and are so dedicated to it. It was hard for a lot of em in the beginning of the pandemic, and it still is, they’re so concerned about their families because we didn’t know in the beginning what this virus was, but they’re so dedicated that they kept going.
My heart goes out especially to the nursing home workers – they’ve suffered the most, because they’ve lost so many residents they took care of for years. They’ve become family – they remember birthdays, they’re the ones they see first thing in the morning and the last ones they see at night, and they continue to go to work. I’m honored to advocate for them and make sure they’re getting what they need and deserve.
What part of the labor movement resonates most with you?
People are working so hard these days just to make sure that their families are provided for, and so we continue to make sure that people are receiving affordable wages. It’s sad to know that there are a lotta people who go to work every day, not only working a full-time job and overtime, but still working two or three jobs, and now because of all of the changes and uncertainties in schools, parents now have to teach their children at home and try to balance that with work and family, which is very challenging.
My fear is that we’re gonna see a lotta mothers – especially single mothers – have to make the difficult choice of quitting their jobs to sacrifice for their children to get an education, which will keep them at a poverty level. Whether married or single, this is gonna negatively impact women – as my boss says best, even a married woman is a single mother, because most of the time, the mother takes the days off when the child is sick or has a doctor’s appointment. And I think that’s what we’re gonna see, see women have to leave the workforce to take care of their children and therefore remain at the poverty level, and that’s gonna cause a negative impact on healthcare – many people are not gonna be applying for these jobs because they need to be at home.
How has the pandemic affected your work and life?
For me, I’m working every day, there are no off-days for me. Although I’m working from home, I honestly feel that I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked since I’ve had this job, because healthcare is 24/7. SEIU as a whole has worked hard to reach out to our members, do wellness checks and call our members daily to check in on em, because we have members who’ve been put on furlough, people who are working from home because offices have been closed, people who have been working with patients and residents who’ve been impacted by the virus.
In your opinion, what is Buffalo’s greatest asset and most urgent problem?
Our biggest asset is that I truly, truly believe we are the City of Good Neighbors. I was born and raised in Buffalo, and it has been really hard seeing how it seems people are not getting along right now – the protests are heartbreaking, but at the end of the day I truly believe we still know how to come together, because we’ve done it so many times.
I look back when people have reached out to look after their neighbors – I mean, if there’s a snowstorm that hits tomorrow, everybody will be outside trying to dig everybody out so they can get to the grocery store, because that’s what we do.
Right now, there’s so much passion because people are hurt – I know I am – but at the end of the day, we still look out for each other, we will not let other people be without. I’ve seen it so many times as a child growing up and as an adult, we look out for each other. I remember the Blizzard of ’77, the October Surprise storm, how people dug each other out and helped however they could, and I think that’s probably where that saying came from, because that’s really when you start to see us working together – we’re not gonna let anybody be stuck in a snowbank, we’ll make sure that the kids are gonna be able to stand at the bus stop and get on the bus safely.
That’s probably what we need to make everybody get along – we need a big snowstorm.
Our most urgent problem is the unrest, this racial divide that we’re seeing. We have to figure out a way to communicate our differences – even though we don’t agree on everything, we can figure out a way to get along and get back to that mentality, it’s still there. I think the virus has been a distraction – people are just not focusing on what the true issue is. We just have to sit down as a community and figure out how we can heal as a community.
How can people get involved in the labor movement?
If you’re a union member, there might be an opportunity to be a delegate or steward and be the voice of the members. Attend union meetings and know what your union is doing to improve working conditions – sometimes we don’t know what our members need.
And then in their communities, people can help their community members register to vote and encourage them to be part of their block clubs, because I do think that ties into the labor movement, because it’s about your community. Right now at SEIU we’re very politically active, because we recognize that the funding hospitals and healthcare organizations receive is through federal and state funding, so we’re making sure our members are registered to vote, because many people don’t realize how important it is. We talk about local elections, too, which a lotta people don’t wanna talk about. We always remind them of what’s happening locally, in your town and community, because everything starts from home.