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George Gresham: A 2016 North Star Award Honoree

George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU, the largest healthcare union in the nation. He is a powerful leader inside and outside of the labor movement, amplifying support for healthcare workers in his union, and for grassroots activists who have the best interests of working people at heart. Through his decades of union advocacy in local, state, and federal government, George has built a stronger voice for good jobs and social justice.

Born in Virginia, George moved to New York City with his family when he was young. His mother was a homecare worker, and his father eventually got a union job as a truck driver, which helped provide some stability for their family.

George began his career in the housekeeping department at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. He soon moved up to become a clerk in the radiology department and then – through the 1199 Training Fund – studied to become an MRI Technologist. Over four decades, he has held nearly every position in the union, including member delegate, organizer, vice-president, executive vice-president and secretary-treasurer, and was elected president in 2007.

His leadership has secured the highest standards for healthcare workers in the nation, including fair wages, affordable health benefits, dignified retirement, continuing education, childcare, safe staffing and a real voice on the job. George has also led the union’s growth to over 400,000 members throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida.

Under George’s leadership, the homecare workers of 1199 have spearheaded the “Fight for $15,” and won higher wages, benefits like paid sick leave, and a better care system for their clients. On a regular basis, 1199 turns out hundreds of “Weekend Warriors,” union members who give up their Saturday to knock on doors for progressive causes.

George believes strongly that the union movement must work together with coalitions to advance progressive causes, including access to quality healthcare, living wages, environmental protection, and the rights of women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and people of color.

As the consummate organizer, George encourages us to pay particular attention to how movements for racial and economic equality, gender justice, immigrant rights, and climate justice intersect. He has said, “We must engage deeply with community allies, share resources, march side-by-side and support common policy goals. We should seek to understand, learn from and be guided by young activists who are bringing new energy and ideas to a wide range of causes such as gay, lesbian and transgender rights, immigration reform, climate change and Black Lives Matter.”

Through service to several community organizations, George shares his time and talent with causes he truly cares about. He is on the boards of the NAACP, Children’s Defense Fund, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Murphy Institute Labor Advisory Board, Consortium for Worker Education, and Partnership for Quality Care.
 
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