Obama Cites Case of Bronx Nursing Aide
Senator Barack Obama was giving an address by satellite to the Service Employees International Union convention on Wednesday, when he unexpectedly began talking about a nursing home worker from New York City who died last month.
The worker, Audrey Smith-Campbell, died on May 13 after she had an asthma attack. Her family said the attack was caused by her employer cutting off the workers’ health insurance and the resulting inability to afford her asthma medication.
Ms. Smith-Campbell and 220 other workers at the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Care Center in the Bronx went on strike on Feb. 20 to protest the nursing home’s decision to stop paying for their health insurance. The strike continues after more than three months.
Ms. Smith-Campbell, who had worked at the home for 29 years as a certified nursing assistant, was known as one of the most dedicated strikers, picketing day after day. Describing her as a “66-year-old grandmother,” Mr. Obama said, “For 82 straight days she kept marching, she kept standing strong, right up to the day that an asthma attack took her life.”
Her daughter, Yvonne Young, said she had an asthma attack on Mother’s Day, shortly after she picketed that day. She died the next day. Ms. Young said her mother simply could not afford the $600 a month for asthma medication once the health insurance was cut off.
“We cannot accept this kind of injustice in the United States of America,” Mr. Obama told the 2,000 delegates at the S.E.I.U. convention in Puerto Rico. “We cannot tolerate this outrage of workers having to go on strike to get the benefits they promised.”
The nursing home’s owner, Helen Sieger, accused the union — 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East — of “using this woman’s death to gain support.”
“This shameless act screams of desperation and guilt,” she said.
In his remarks, Mr. Obama, now the presumptive Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, who has the union’s endorsement, said, “Audrey is no longer with us, but her spirit is with us.”
He added, “It’s driving me on this campaign.”
Mrs. Sieger sought to hold the union responsible for the termination of health benefits, saying that she had offered 1199 an interim agreement that would have offered health insurance.