When Margarette Nerette arrived in the United States from Haiti, she sought safety and a new start.
The former human rights activist feared for her life in the political turmoil following the military coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. Leaving her two small children with her sister in Port-au-Prince, Nerette, then 29, came to Miami a few years later on a three-month visa and never went back. In time, she was granted political asylum.
She eventually studied to become a nursing assistant, passed her certification exam, and got a job in a nursing home. The work was hard and didn’t pay a lot, she said, but “as an immigrant, those are the jobs that are open to you.”
A few years later her family joined her, but her children didn’t want to follow her career path. When she was a teenager, Nerette’s daughter, now 25, would ask, “Mom, why are you doing that?” Nerette said. Her daughter considered the work underpaid and too physical.
After many years, Nerette, now 57, left nursing home work for a job with the Florida local of the labor union SEIU1199, which represents more than 25,000 health workers. As the local’s vice president for long-term care, she is keenly aware of the staffing challenges that have plagued the industry for decades and will worsen as aging baby bo …