Clerical Associate 3 Olivia Crum-Owens, Local 1549 Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera
I wanted to be like Nurse Hardy on the TV show General Hospital, so I enrolled in SEEK, a jobs program, at Hunter-Bellevue to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. I did well, but nursing was not like TV.
I became an Office Aide at Harlem Hospital in 1972. From my very first day, I knew my rights because I took time to read the contract.
Back then union dues were 50 cents a week. The Local 1549 president and someone from Wells Fargo Bank would come to our worksite every two weeks to collect union dues. Today we pay more than the $3 a month we did back then, but I still believe union dues are worth every penny.
I transferred to Elmhurst Hospital in 1978; this way I didn’t have to take three trains just to get to work.
A coworker once thought she could block me from using a certain bathroom. She told me it was for whites only. I was not having that. I called the union, the NAACP and got a good lawyer. When it was all said and done, we won. After that Local 1549’s Delsie Butler appointed me shop steward.
I enjoy helping others, so me and the union are a good match. I believe being a shop steward is like being a Social Worker; being a Social Worker is like being a minister or a doctor—you have to help and you have to heal.
People have all types of issues and worries. You have to give kind words to help them through the day, help them carry their burdens. That’s why I call everyone “Pumpkin.” I offer a listening ear, a shoulder, support—whatever is needed.
You can’t fight for the members unless you know them. Know when they are telling the truth. Know the difference between a gripe and a grievance. Know the contract.
I’m very involved with DC 37. I am co-chair of the Labor Caucus, a union delegate and chief shop steward. I also served on the selection committee to help find Elmhurst’s new chief executive officer. I’ve worked with about five or six different CEOs in my 40 years here—they affectionately call me the mayor of Elmhurst Hospital.
I saw in Israel Rocha a very open-minded, warm person. He is willing to learn about unions and work with us all. He joined labor in Albany to lobby for more funds for Elmhurst—he is the only CEO I’ve known to ever do that.
We work together to make Elmhurst the best. I’ll be retiring this spring after 45 years. We’ve worked hard to build more trust between labor and management. Respect and dignity are key.