Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reportage: Union Nurse and Healthcare Worker Picket

Registered Nurses & Healthcare Workers Stand Together in Informational Picket and Strike Vote

New York healthcare unions NYSNA and 1199 SEIU unite to battle bad-faith bargaining, Unfair Labor Practices and union busting during two-year negotiation struggle with Fresenius Kidney Care

By John Pietaro

It was a chilly, overcast morning as members of the New York State Nurses Association and 1199 SEIU took the Brooklyn and Bronx streets. Registered Nurses, Technicians, Social Workers, Dietitians, environmental and clerical staff have been in contract negotiations with dialysis juggernaut Fresenius Kidney Care for over two years. Both unions’ negotiation proceedings have been riddled with negativity from the employer, globally the largest and most profitable of dialysis providers. Fresenius boasts a dense network of facilities across the Americas, Europe, the Far East and other regions. Recent reports state that the company’s profits are in the range of $1.5 BILLION.
“Our clinic is staffed short almost every night”, said Stacey White RN, a Fresenius employee and NYSNA delegate. “All I can say is that Fresenius just doesn’t seem to care. Many evenings, we have only two instead of the necessary three nurses on duty--and management has no plan to bring in another. Techs are scheduled the same way. This can jeopardize our patients’ safety”. The union healthcare professionals and technicians have regularly voiced their protest to such dangerous staffing practices.

Bernadette Hankey-Johnson RN, long-time Fresenius employee, felt similarly. “We are always so busy. If the nurses and Techs weren’t so vigilant…” Nurse Hankey-Johnson looked away pensively, tightly clutching a placard reading PATIENTS BEFORE PROFITS.  In the distance others on the line began cheering as truckers’ horns sounded out in support. The thicket of traffic on Atlantic Avenue joined in noisily, excitedly. HONK FOR PATIENT CARE! another placard asked, and passing police cars rang sirens resoundingly.

The unions involved have bargained in good faith toward fair contracts, seeking to maintain union health benefits and pensions, and acquire moderate raises and incremental differential increases for experience. Employees’ last saw raises more than six years back. NYSNA is also seeking a clinical committee to elicit change as needed for safe staffing. However Fresenius continues to present harsh proposals which would take away health benefits and pensions or obliterate union security. The choices have been flagrantly disrespectful.

In 2015 Fresenius closed the Brooklyn Kidney Center, a union facility, and initially stated that the clinic opening in its place would continue to honor the twin union contracts. Though management and the unions met to arrange for the laid-off staff to move to the new site, Fresenius leadership later informed the unions that the company will not honor its earlier promise. The company claims that the site on DeGraw Street in Gowanus is not a replacement but a new operation. Many Fresenius employees remain laid-off after the closure and none have been offered work opportunities at the expansive DeGraw site. NYSNA filed charges of Unfair Labor Practice with the National Labor Relations Board against Fresenius’ actions.

As more staff came out to join the picket, they stated that management, for the first time in memory, had ordered in lunch for them. “But none of us are partaking”, reported Mercedes Anderson-Draggon RN. “Because this lunch they’re offering is not free. The ultimate cost is too high”.

By day’s end, as the strike vote was tallied, it was clear that both NYSNA and 1199 SEIU members were fully prepared for to embark on whatever was necessary: all had voted to authorize a strike. 1199 will be meeting with Fresenius for a negotiation session on April 26; NYSNA activists will be there with them. The outcome of this will be the actual deciding vote as to what comes next. “We don’t want to strike”, one of the unionists told a sympathetic passerby, “but we will if we have to”.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

film review: Thomas Chapin: Night Bird Song

“Thomas Chapin: Night Bird Song—the incandescent life of a jazz great”

A documentary by Stephanie J. Castillo –

Film review by John Pietaro

Have you had the chance to see this moving, enticing film on Thomas Chapin (1957-1998), the brilliantly artful saxophonist and flutist? It was shown in various locations in Manhattan, from City Winery to Lincoln Center, and also in festivals around the nation and globe, but somehow got passed my watchful eye. Until now. Just caught a screening in Flushing, Queens last night, and it was well worth the trip from my Brooklyn home base. Sadly, Chapin’s all too brief career was also easy to miss, though he was a busy player on the mainstream scene and also hailed a champion downtown, quickly moving to the front of the Knitting Factory stage during the later ‘80s and ‘90s. As per the onscreen testimony of Michael Dorf, Knitting Factory founder, Chapin was the first artist to be signed to the now sought-after Knitting Factory record label and the main attraction of the overseas tours he produced under that banner.

Here was an alto player of constant invention and a wonderfully listenable tone (I couldn’t help but notice some similarity to that of David Sanborn) who thrived in settings from Lionel Hampton’s big band, of which he was musical director, to the incendiary realm of Machine Gun. Throughout the screening, I kept wondering how I could have not caught on to this deeply talented musician back then, even as I haunted the downtown venues and played at that original Knitting Factory location on Houston Street.

Award winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo was actually Chapin’s sister-in-law, so had access to not only family members for interview segments, but close friends and musical allies with the saxophonist, offering viewers a much fuller understanding of the man than could have otherwise been possible. I’m glad she did. The documentary is a thorough examination of every facet of Chapin’s development, success and challenges. Though the story ends with the terribly young death of the protagonist, his final passing from a vicious strain of leukemia occurred only after achieving his wish to perform onstage one final time. The footage of that event, and surrounding interviews, carries every viewer into the moment and the effect, simultaneously a lamentation and celebration, is stirring.

“Thomas Chapin: Night Bird Song” is not to be missed, especially if you were downtown during the heyday of East Village creativity. Or just wish you were. It hits screens in DC and Charlottesville later this month. On May 6 the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music hosts a concert of Chapin compositions performed by many of the musicians who worked with him over the years. See the above website for details.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

CD Review: Iconoclast, "Driven to Defiance"

"NYC Jazz Record", April 2017
CD review by John Pietaro
Here’s a duo born of Downtown when that geographic designation meant much more than simply “below 23rd Street”. And well before the bistros and condos. This is grassroots music, as pure as the old Palace Hotel. Driven to Defiance? Iconoclast was bred on it. Alto saxophonist/violinist Julie Joslyn and drummer Leo Ciesa create explosive free music and soaring melodies that mingle gorgeously on an unpredictable playlist. The duo is a grand array of sound now celebrating their 30th anniversary. And there’s much to celebrate.  “Nothing Untold” is a 6/8 Ciesa statement played on toms with timpani mallets deftly variated with subdivisions and bending tempo building toward a mournful alto melody. One hears the Middle Eastern influence within a complete and incisive work. Like many of the original Downtown artists, Iconoclast recognizes the strength in relatively short statements as established by the punk and no wave bands they shared many a stage with in the ‘80s-90s.  Of note is “One Hundred Verticals”, a slow boil into gripping fire music. Joslyn’s violin playing is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s foray into that instrument, albeit with a modern classical outline ever present. Searching, possibly archaic tunes make frequent appearances as do other melismatic themes. At times while Joslyn is serenading, Ciesa carefully drops in broken blues piano, tabla-like drumset parts or a mix of classic New Thing and devastating industrial percussion. “You’re So Very Touchable” is a warm love song with a sensuous alto resounding over delicate drumming, but no Downtowner worth their salt would allow this emotion to ruminate; “Spheres of Influence” barks at the ear with the impact of a time when avant garde jazzers jammed with punk rockers in unheated squats. And Joslyn’s spoken word is used to dramatic effect on “Part of the Hour”, a work of expressionist, surreal poetry with a very strong Ciesa piano score that feels like ‘30s Hanns Eisler.

For more information, visit This project is at Michiko Studios Apr. 7th. See Calendar. 

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

  Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation , Let’s Save the World Suite (Composers Concordance 2022) --originally published in The NYC Jazz Recor...