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1199SEIU East
SEIU1199 east logo.png
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Founded 1932
Members 250,000
Country United States
Head union George Gresham, president, 2007-
Affiliation SEIU
Key people Dennis Rivera, president 1988-2007
Office location New York, New York

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is a local union of the Service Employees International Union. With a membership of 250,000 it claims to be the largest local union in the world.



Local 1199 of the United Healthcare Workers East was founded in 1932 as a local of the Drug, Hospital, and Health Care Employees Union by Leon J. Davis to organize pharmacists in New York City. The local also included pharmacists, pharmacy clerks and "soda jerks". The union led pioneering pickets and strikes against racial segregation and racially discriminatory hiring in Harlem and elsewhere in New York City during the 1930s.

The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Local 1199's leadership in 1948 for Communist "infiltration". 1199 was a tiny local at the time, however, and during the expulsions of large left-led unions from the CIO in the 1940s, 1199 eventually found shelter under the auspices of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Local 1199 first successfully organized nonprofessional hospital workers in 1958, mobilizing a heavily Black and Puerto Rican workforce in the first flush of the postwar Civil Rights Movement. On 8 May 1959 about 3500 hospital workers began a strike against seven large private hospitals in New York City that lasted forty-six days. This unprecedented action ended when both sides agreed that labor relations in the hospitals would be supervised by a quasi-public agency, the Permanent Administrative Committee. The committee was successfully challenged in 1962; thcal began organizing professional and technical workers in 1963, and in the same year won the right to collective bargaining under provisions of the state's labor relations act. In 1965 it was granted the power to represent workers throughout New York State, won a contract in 1968 that for the first time secured a minimum salary for workers of $100 a week, and in 1973 began to organize registered nurses.

The union's first campaign outside of New York City was the formation of District 1199B in Columbia, South Carolina in 1969. The union led a strike there that never led to a contract, but had success in creating new 1199 districts in Upstate New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Serious faction fights broke out within the flagship New York local and among other 1199 locals after the retirement of the union's original leadership. An initial attempt by the national union to merge with SEIU in the early 1980s prompted the local to leave the RWDSU to form a short-lived National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees during the 1980s, but its constituent locals soon thereafter sought mergers with other unions. Internal disputes persisted until 1988, when Dennis Rivera became its president. Rivera oversaw the local’s 1998 incorporation into SEIU and a tremendous growth in membership as it integrated smaller SEIU chapters and conducted new organizing drives.


Martin Luther King, Jr. famously described 1199 as "my favorite union," and his widow Coretta Scott King became the honorary chairman of 1199's organizing campaigns as it sought to expand outside of New York City beginning the late 1960s.

More recently, Patrick Gaspard, a former executive vice president for politics and legislation at the union, was the political director for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.[1] Gaspard later was associate personnel director on the Obama transition team.[2] In addition to collective bargaining for its 300,000 members along the East Coast, 1199 utilizes its substantial budget to lobby and make political endorsements across party lines.


  1. ^ McAllister, Jarred (June 27, 2008). "Haitian American labor leader Patrick Gaspard in key job with Barack Obama". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 2009-08-10. Retrieved 2009-08-07.  
  2. ^ Gray, Geoffrey (November 9, 2008). "Hope for O Gig? Gaspard's Your Guy"". New York Magazine. Archived from the original on 2009-08-10. Retrieved 2009-08-12.  

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