Lai Yee Chan, a home attendant for Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), helped her patients day and night for over 15 years. During the day, she bathed and fed her patients. At night, she helped them get out of bed and go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. She could not leave her patient for even a second of her 24-hour shift. One day her daughter was locked out of her house, but Lai Yee was not allowed to go downstairs to give her daughter the key. Adding insult to injury, Lai Yee has not seen a pay increase in 8 years, is not paid for the 12 hours of work at night, except for a small fee, and is never paid overtime. Ultimately, workers like Lai Yee are paid about $5/hour, way less than the minimum wage.
In November, 2014, Lai Yee received a check from NYS Department Labor of about $200 for the 6,000 hours of overtime she worked from 2007 to 2013. Lai Yee went to her union, 1199 SEIU, for help. Union reps refused to file a grievance, and lied, telling her CPC was not required to pay overtime because CPC is a non-profit. Lai Yee and a few other workers were frustrated and decided that they wanted to speak out against the wage theft and mandatory overtime. With the support of Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, in March 2015 they filed a class action against CPC and organized over a hundred co-workers to join them. CPC argued that the case should be arbitrated, according to their contract with the Union, and asked the court to dismiss the case. But in September 2015, New York State Supreme Court Judge Carol Edmead rejected the employer’s argument, stating that the contract’s arbitration clause was not specific enough to prevent workers from proceeding in court. She also affirmed their right to pursue pay for all hours worked.
Immediately after, the union shamelessly entered into an agreement with the employer to amend the contract making arbitration mandatory for any wage claims and prohibiting workers from representing other workers or the class. The amendment deprived workers of their right to a fair day in court. The new contract also cut the wages for all 24-hour-shift workers, instead of giving them their wage increase that was long overdue.
The union’s legal staff claimed the new contract was not being used to stop workers from pursuing the lawsuit, yet other union reps pushed hard for ratification of the new contract. Lai Yee and her coworkers felt compelled to speak out against this corrupt deal. When they complained about the amended contract at the ratification meeting, union reps called them “troublemakers” and attacked the workers who filed the lawsuit.
We demand the union stand by the workers instead of standing with CPC! We urge 1199 SEIU President George Gresham to clean house and remove the mandatory arbitration requirement from the union contract!
Do you want to support the home attendants to get justice and fight against mandatory overtime? Here’s what you can do:
- Get your organization to join the Ain’t I a Woman Campaign by visiting https://aintiawoman.org/endorse/
- Send a letter urging 1199 SEIU President George Gresham to clean house: 1199 Healthcare Workers East, 310 W 43rd St, New York, NY 10036
- Sign the petition online
- Speak out against Mandatory Overtime and for the Right to a 40-Hour Week
- Get involved and plan your own activities! Contact the campaign with any ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!