Henry Nicholas

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Henry Nicholas

Henry Nicholas is an International Vice President for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

President, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees since 1981; elected International Vice President in 1989. Began career as health care worker in New York City, and led organizing campaigns that built Local 1199 into a major labor organization. Member of numerous boards in areas of rights, job training and health care.[1]

With an annual salary of $176,354, Nicholas presides over District 1199C and its 11,358 members, as well as the national union, the 42,565-member National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees, a division of AFSCME.[2]


One of 10 children, Nicholas grew up in a small farming community just outside Port Gibson, Miss. - a town on the river that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant declared "too pretty to burn" during the Civil War.

"We were sharecroppers," Nicholas said.

"You got the fourth bale of cotton, you got the fourth bushel of corn, you got the fourth peck of potatoes," he said. "With a big family like ours, you couldn't make it. You were in debt to the farmer-owner for life."

Like others in his situation, he saw the military as the way out. After his discharge, he found his way to New York, where he landed a job as an attendant at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Union beginnings

When a union organizer came around to Mount Sinai in 1959, "I was scared to death. There was no unions in Mississippi," Nicholas said. "That's probably why I became the best organizer in the labor movement - because I understand the behavior of employees.

By chance, Nicholas had hooked up with a left-leaning union formed by Jewish pharmacists who had a long civil rights history. In the 1930s, the union picketed against discriminatory hiring in Harlem. In 1962, Stokely Carmichael, an early activist who helped popularize the "black power" slogan, showed up at an 1199 rally at Beth Israel Hospital in New York.[3]


Nicholas rose through the ranks, and the union continued its affiliation with the civil rights movement. When there were marches, 1199 sent a contingent, and when 1199 needed help organizing public-sector workers in New York, Martin Luther King, Jr. appealed to then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Three weeks before King went to Memphis, where he was assassinated on April 3, 1968, he gave a speech to 1199 members in New York.

"I don't consider myself a stranger. I've been with 1199 so many times in the past that I consider myself a fellow 1199-er," he said, adding that when he became discouraged, he thought of 1199. "It gives me renewed courage and vigor to carry on."

After the speech, Nicholas escorted King to his hotel six blocks away.

"As we walked about a block from the hotel, he moved behind me and asked me to move in front and suggested that there were some crazy brothers out there and that he was a target," Nicholas said. "And so without hesitation, I stepped in front of him and marched him to his hotel. It was a position I was willing to accept.

"I understood the fight was connected and there was nothing too great to give to the cause of justice."

That was March 10, 1968. When Nicholas heard that King had been killed, he flew to Memphis and helped organize the silent march of 42,000 people held there in honor of King a few days later.

Nicholas was among the mourners at King's funeral in Atlanta.

A year later,Ralph Abernathy, the civil rights leader who had shared King's hotel room in Memphis and who had rushed to his side when King was shot on the balcony, went to jail while helping Nicholas and other 1199 leaders during a 113-day hospital strike in Charleston, S.C.

In 1970, the union sent Nicholas to Pennsylvania to organize hospital workers. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, showed up at rallies for workers at Hahnemann University Hospital and Temple University Hospital, among others.[4]

DSOC member

At the the Fifth Annual Convention of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee held in Philadelphia May 22-25, 1981, gay activist Harry Britt was elected Vice Chair, as were Trudy Robideau, Marjorie Phyfe and Rosemary Ruether. Others elected included Mike Rivas, Chair of DSOC's Hispanic Commission and William Winpisinger, head of the Machinists Union.[5],

Michael Harrington, DSOC national chairman, told a press conference that one~third of the 250-odd delegates from 50 chapters around the nation were trade unionists and one-third women. DSOC also has 50 elected officials among Its membership. The labor constituency, Harrington said, include "many staff members" of unions such as the UAW, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (lAM) in additon to shop stewards and" active unionists

Support by the liberal labor establishment was also emphasized. by the fact that among featured convention speakers were William Winpisinger;, lAM president and vice chair of DSOC, Martin Gerber, vice-chair of UAW, Henry Nicholas, president District 1199 and. Marjorie Phyfe, Machinists Non Partisan League and David Livingston.


Labor Research Association Luncheon Sponsor, 1982

According to the Communist Party USA newspaper Daily World, Oct. 21, 1982, p. 4, "Salute Black Caucus at labor luncheon", Henry Nicholas, president, National Union of Hospital and Health Employees, was a sponsor of the event scheduled for November 21, 1982. The Labor Research Association had been cited several times by congress and the government as a CPUSA front organization.

1987 Rainbow conference/Board

At the 1987 National Rainbow convention in Raleigh North Carolina, a new board was elected, which included Henry Nicholas.

Fattah mentor

Henry Nicholas talked about running for Philadelphia mayor as an independent in the November 1995 election, against Democratic Mayor Ed Rendell.

"When I am a candidate, I expect them all to come out," Nicholas said. They would be hard-pressed not to because I'm not just any candidate. I'm a candidate who paid dues already."

Nicholas wouldn't make his final decision until after the May primary.

If he runs, he puts his latest political protege, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, on the hot seat.

Nicholas helped Fattah beat U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell, who was Rendell's candidate in the congressional race in 1994.

It's hard for Fattah to represent the city in Washington, D.C., without being at peace with the mayor, and Fattah is a practical politician. He didn't want to talk about Nicholas last week.[7]

DSA convention

At the Democratic Socialists of America National convention in Philadelphia in 2001, Henry Nicholas, President of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (AFSCME/1199C) presented an award for low-wage organizing to Vicki Milhouse and Michelle Cooper of the United Child Care Union, the first such union in the country.[8]

Pro Democracy Convention

The Pro Democracy Convention was held June 29th To July 1, 2001. It started with a National Town Hall Meeting, Annenberg Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Come to a National Town Hall Meeting! Hear speakers representing a wide range of communities, including academics, labor leaders,

lawyers, organizers, and elected officials, speak out about Election 2000, recommendations for electoral reform, and how we all can build the movement to expand democracy in the U.S. Partial List of Invited Speakers and Presenters:

Labor Campaign for Single Payer

In 2009 Henry Nicholas, President AFSCME 1199 served on the National Advisory Board of Labor Campaign for Single Payer.

Town Meeting for Jobs Not Wars


A Town Meeting for Jobs Not Wars, was held Saturday, October 30th, 2010, from 9 AM to 3 PM. Community College of Philadelphia, Bonnell Hall, Auditorium BG-10

Speakers were:

Sharpton rally

Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, along with AFSCME and partners in labor, civil rights, and clergy from across the country, held rallies in over 25-cities on December 9th. 2011, to "bring attention to the growing economic disparity in these cities, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state".

The 25-city rallies will call attention to key issues that have not yet been remedied such as the disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos, and other minority groups, and the growing wealth gap.The rallies will be held in cities that are most impacted by joblessness and attacks on workers’ rights.

Philadelphia speakers were;[11]

Endorsed Obama

National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees website

In 2012, Nicholas, and his National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees endorsed President Barack Obama, for a second term of office.

External links



  1. AFSCME profile, accessed March 1, 2011
  2. Philly.com, From racial injustice came a union visionary, By Jane M. Von Bergen, Inquirer Staff Writer. Posted: September 04, 2012
  3. Philly.com, From racial injustice came a union visionary, By Jane M. Von Bergen, Inquirer Staff Writer. Posted: September 04, 2012
  4. Philly.com, From racial injustice came a union visionary, By Jane M. Von Bergen, Inquirer Staff Writer. Posted: September 04, 2012
  5. NAM Discussion Bulletin no 35, Spring 1981 page 38
  6. Peoples Daily World, June 11, 1981, DSOC meet urges butter, not guns, page 5 and 18
  7. [http://articles.philly.com/1995-03-13/news/25698068_1_henry-nicholas-chaka-fattah-first-black-mayor, Nicholas' Hat In The Ring? He Eyes Ed's Seat Amid Skepticism Ads by Google by Cynthia Burton, Daily News Staff Writer Staff writer Dave Davies contributed to this report Posted: March 13, 1995 Philly.com, Nicholas' Hat In The Ring? He Eyes Ed's Seat Amid Skepticism, by Cynthia Burton, Daily News Staff Writer Posted: March 13, 1995]
  8. http://www.dsausa.org/convention2k1/DLWinter2001.pdf Democratic Left, Winter 2001]
  9. [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/internetdemocrats1/message/4715, internetdemocrats1 · Internet Democrats1, National Town Hall Meeting Posted By: impeach_bush@...Mon Jun 4, 2001]
  10. [political allies *ActionCalendar: Town Meeting for Jobs Not Wars]
  11. website, National Action Network (NAN), Along With Labor & Civil Rights Leaders To Attack Joblessness & Voter ID Laws That Are Threatening People’s Voter Rights Across the Country on December 9th in 25-City Rally For Jobs & Justice