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Title: Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Ziegler, Gemma, interviewee
Interview conducted by Thuesen, Sarah
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 204 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2008.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-02-20, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0181)
Author: Sarah Thuesen
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0181)
Author: Gemma Ziegler
Description: 217 Mb
Description: 52 p.
Note: Interview conducted on June 22, 2006, by Sarah Thuesen; recorded in Louisville, Kentucky.
Note: Transcribed by Emily Baran.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006.
Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Ziegler, Gemma, interviewee


Interview Participants

    GEMMA ZIEGLER, interviewee
    VINCE ZIEGLER, interviewee
    SARAH THUESEN, interviewer

[DISC 1, TRACK 1]


Page 1
[START OF DISC 1, TRACK 1]
SARAH THUESEN:
Today I am at the home of Gemma Ziegler in Louisville, Kentucky. My name is Sarah Thuesen and today is the twenty-second of June, 2006. I'm conducting this interview for the Southern Oral History Program. Thanks so much for sitting down to talk with me today.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Well, you're welcome.
SARAH THUESEN:
I thought we'd first just talk a little bit about your background. I'm interested to hear a little bit more about how you came to nursing and where you grew up. You're from Louisville originally, right?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I'm from Louisville. I was born in Louisville and was raised maybe less than five miles from here.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh really?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I don't go very far.
SARAH THUESEN:
Have you lived in Louisville your whole life?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yes. I've never gone away from home.
SARAH THUESEN:
And you were born in '46, was it?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yes.

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SARAH THUESEN:
So you have a good perspective on the recent history of the city then?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Oh yeah, I sure do.
SARAH THUESEN:
What did your parents do?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
My father was a builder and my mother was a homemaker and she assisted him in his business. She worked like three days a week at his office. It was just me and my sister, and she lives about a mile from me right now.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh, nice.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, we're very close. And my mom has Alzheimer's. My parents are divorced now and my mother has Alzheimer's and my father has Parkinson's disease. But they're both alive in their eighties. [Phone ringing] [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
SARAH THUESEN:
I'm curious, when you were growing up here in Louisville, did you know any folks who were in unions?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
My dad hated unions. It's interesting. My dad during World War II worked at Reynold's Metals and there was a union there and he was very supportive of the union. But then when he went into his own business, he hated the unions. Then I had an uncle who was an electrician who I think must have—. All I remember was there were some union problems and I think maybe he was a scab.
SARAH THUESEN:
Your uncle was?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, my dad's sister's husband. I remember talk about the unions and like "bad," then of course, hearing about Jimmy Hoffa growing up. So I really had a negative, either a non-opinion or a somewhat negative opinion. But then once I grew up and I married, my first husband was in the Carpenters Union, which was a very good union. So I had a positive

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perspective at that point. But I never really, to be quite honest, during the civil rights movement and all that, I was supportive of the civil rights movement, but I was busy having children and living my life. I was not a demonstrating type of person. I waited and saved all that until I got older. But you know, I just, our family, my friends, we were against the Vietnam War, but we were very docile. I was raised Catholic. I think you are likely to do as you're told and respect authority and I did.
My first husband had a horrible temper and he wasn't physically abusive, but very verbally abusive. So at one point when my children were small, I went to see a counselor and it was a woman counselor. I had wanted him to go with me. He wouldn't go, so I went by myself and we didn't have a lot of money. I told her what was going on and she said, "You need to find a profession. Will he object to your going back to school?" Because I only had a high school education at that time and I think I was like about, oh twenty-four or twenty-six, something like that. She said, "You need to go back to school and get you a degree to raise these children, because he sounds like the type, he's not going to pay child support and you could have a lot of problems. You need to set some goals." So I did. That night I went home and thought about it and the next day, I called the community college here and went back to school. My husband had his own business, a very successful business, but the money didn't matter. It was peace of mind. He was a good person. He just had a lot of problems. Anyway, that's a whole other story.
So I was taking my core classes and sat next to a woman who was in a nursing program. She said, "You should go into nursing." She said, "It's a great profession." I said, "Oh God, I wouldn't—." I asked her what were the classes. She said, "Chemistry." I went, "Oh God, I would never pass chemistry." I made good grades in high school. Grade school and high

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school, I was always an A/B student, but for some reason, I had a very negative feeling that I couldn't do math or I couldn't do chemistry. Just the sound of geometry and chemistry just like freaked me out. She said, "You really should try it. You really should try it." So I applied and was accepted. Out of like six hundred applications, they only took, I think, a hundred and twelve and I got in. So I figured it was meant to be. And I passed chemistry with flying colors and geometry and all the other things I had to take, and pharmacology, and got out of nursing school. I loved it. I loved nursing school.
SARAH THUESEN:
Where did you do those courses?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Jefferson Community College and then I had an AD in Nursing. And of course having children, being around sick kids, you learn a lot just from having children. So nursing seemed very natural to me. Anyway, I had told my husband when I started school, and it took me like six years, six or eight years to get through a two-year program, because I lived out in Oldham County, which is right out of Jefferson County. It is like a suburb of Jefferson County. I actually lived in Peewee Valley and I had to commute between there to school. My son was like four. My daughter was in school. So I had to do daycare with him, pick her up from school. My husband would not help me at all. If he had to watch the children, he called it babysitting. So I was the one that had to arrange, so it took me quite awhile to get through school. The last two years, I carpooled with another nurse who lived out that way. It made it a little bit easier and we'd watch each other's children when we had classes that were different. Anyway, when I started school, I told him, I said, "If things haven't changed when I graduate, I'm leaving." And I did. Things didn't change.
SARAH THUESEN:
What year would that have been?

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GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That was 1975. I think I was twenty-nine. So then I started work and initially, I was making like four dollars and seventy-five cents. Now I just graduated from nursing school. They were putting me on the eleven-to-seven shift. I was going to be charge nurse and they said they were going to give me six weeks training on the floor. So after two weeks, they put me to the night shift and the first night, I had a supervisor with me and the second night I show up and no one's with me. And I'm like, [unclear] . There were two LPNs, but I was still in charge. We had like forty-eight patients. We had two aides. But back then, I mean we did everything on the floor. It was supposed to be a cataract unit. That's when they used to put cataract patients in the hospital. We had GI bleeds. We had people with lung cancer. We had everything. So anyway, I said something and they go, "Oh, you can do it." I learned later on that that's what they do. They put young people in and they go, "Oh, you can do it. Don't worry about it." And they put you in a position that you're risking someone's life, plus your license, plus your psyche. If anything were to happen, how could you live with yourself? I really was just out of school.
So anyway, I did that, but I was making like four seventy-five an hour. I thought, "This is great." I chose to work eleven to seven, because my aunt—I could have gone three to eleven—I had an aunt who was about sixty. I moved to an apartment, let my husband have the house, because he ran a business out of our home. I took the kids and my car and their beds and moved. My aunt lived in the apartment right behind us. Our walls were connected and I put in an intercom system. My daughter at the time was, I guess, around twelve and my son was about seven. I would put them to bed and then I'd knock her on her door and tell her, "I'm leaving for work." She would turn on the intercom and she would listen for them and then she'd go over in the morning and get them up and get their breakfasts. Then I'd get home after and then I'd sleep during the day and be home for them in the afternoon. It was crazy. I hated that shift. But

Page 6
that's what I had to do. I couldn't afford a sitter and my aunt did it for free. She's still living. She's ninety-six. So anyway, she was wonderful.
SARAH THUESEN:
What hospital were you at during this period?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Initially, it was called St. Joseph's. That was what Norton Audubon was. It's gone through numerous changes. It was at Eastern Parkway, but now it has moved. It moved in 1980. So I was working there probably about two months when they gave us a quarter raise. Then I guess about maybe two, three more months, we got a dollar-an-hour raise. I said to one of the other coworkers, I said, "Do they give raises like this all the time?" I said, "I can't believe I'm making this much money," which it was nothing and it wasn't anything what nurses are worth, but I didn't know. I was just so tickled to be doing something that I loved and actually getting paid for it. She goes, "Oh no, there's a union trying to get in." She says, "They'll do anything to keep the union out." So that's the first time I heard union with nurses.
SARAH THUESEN:
And this was about what year?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
This was the first year I was out, '75.
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay, this was still '75.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
'75, '76. So I worked there and stayed on the eleven-to-seven shift. I worked there about a year and I met my husband. Then we got married in '79.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did he work at that hospital?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He was president of the medical staff. No, he didn't become president of the medical staff until after we were married. He became it in '79 to '80. He was president during the move from St. Joe's to Audubon. I've got a funny story about that one. I quit the floor about six months before we got married and then I worked just in the pool, in the recovery. Oh, I waited until they moved to Audubon and as soon as they moved to Audubon, I started working

Page 7
in the pool and in the recovery room. And I told them, I said, "I will work just in the recovery room." They would call me like nine o'clock in the morning and say, "Somebody didn't show up. Can you come in?" "Sure." I'd go in. I loved the recovery room. I worked there about three months and they started doing this to me. They'd call me at like ten thirty, eleven o'clock and say, "We need you to come in to the recovery room." I get to the recovery room and they go, "Oh, we don't need you here. We need you up on one of the floors." No orientation to the floor. They put me on a diabetic unit one day and the patients hadn't had their morning meds. It's seven, eight o'clock. They wanted me to give the morning meds and give the meds for, I think it was the eleven o'clock meds. I did it one time and I said, "If you all are going to do this, I will not come back. I am not going to risk my license," and dealing with insulin and I'm not used to it. I didn't deal with it when I worked at St. Joe's, didn't deal with it in the recovery room on a regular basis. And these were seriously ill diabetic patients and I just wouldn't do it.
My husband said, "You don't have to work." I was working because I loved doing it. So my husband was on the medical staff and he was going to all the meetings and stuff. And Humana bought St. Joe's. My husband had a run-in with Wendell Cherry, who was one of the owners of Humana, one of the founders of Humana. Humana, I don't know if you know, was founded in Louisville. Wendell Cherry and David Jones used to work for John Y. Brown at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh, okay.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They turned the hospital into kind of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. So anyway, my husband was at meetings and he found out that the hospitals were having a meeting, all the administrators, on how to fight the union. There was a nursing movement going on. I had heard about it. Of course, I told you when I started, they said a union movement. But with getting

Page 8
married and moving and children and working, I was just totally oblivious. I read the paper, but there wasn't anything in the paper about it. It was just word of mouth.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you know what union that would have been in '75?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It was WIN, We're Involved in Nursing. The leader of that and the founder of that was Carol King. Carol is now deceased. She died at fifty-four, wonderful, energetic, just bright smile, personality, plus she was married to an attorney. She worked at Our Lady of Peace and she started that movement. But she had decided that she had gone with the Kentucky Nursing Association. She had a BSN and that was her professional organization and that's where she led everybody. The union movement at that time with nurses was at Our Lady of Peace, St. Mary's, which is now Caritas, and there was another one. I was raised Catholic, Carol was raised Catholic, and we were just stunned later on when we talked about it by how these Catholic hospitals reacted to unions. They were vicious, absolutely vicious, firing nurses. But I don't know that much about that union except for several nurses lost jobs and it was in the courts for years. And by the time it got through, the nurses were long gone.
But Carol was in this nurses' movement. That first nurses' movement was WIN. That was actually like about '75. but then when she started this one, it was like in '79 and she was just kind of pulling it together. She was wanting to go with another union. She was just starting back over to revive the union movement. So my husband told me that the administrators were all having a meeting to fight the union, to work together on busting this union. It made me so mad. So I called her and I said, "I just want to let you know this is what's going on." She invited me to a union meeting. In fact, I think it was that evening at her house. And as luck had it, she lived only a half a mile from me. I went to the meeting and met nurses that are still good friends of mine and I haven't seen them for awhile, but Lee Kaiser, Susie Martin, a very strong

Page 9
woman, outspoken. Lee Kaiser is a male nurse, one of the few male nurses. And Carol, and I can't think of some of the other ones' names.
But we were in her home and when I got ready to leave, she asked me if I would help her organize. I said, "Well, I have no idea what to do." She said, "I don't either," but she said, "We're just trying. We're just trying to do our best." So the first assignment I had—at that time, she had two little boys and one was my son's age, which was about nine, and her other one was, I think, about seven—we were going to go leaflet Baptist Hospital. I'd never done anything like this in my life. So I helped her do the leaflets and she called. She said, "Now what we have to do first," she said, "Because the first thing that'll happen is you stand out there leafleting and they're going to call the police on you and try to scare you and say you're on public property." She grew up in St. Matthews. She called the mayor of St. Matthews and found out where the property line, where public access was on, I can't think of the name of the road, where Baptist Hospital is. She found out how many feet from the center line. We took our measuring tape and we stood there.
Well, we were leafleting and talking to the nurses as they're getting off their shift with our kids. Our kids are holding up signs. We're talking to nurses as they're coming out and they sent out the security to chase us away. This is where I learned my guts from Carol, because I was such a chicken. I thought, "Oh shit, let's get to the car." She goes, "No, just stay right here." He said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to leave." I'm like, "Okay," and getting ready to pack up. She goes, "We are on public property and you have no right to make us leave. We have every right to be here." "Well ma'am, the administrator—." She said, "I don't care." And we looked, you could see the administrators and all the people standing up at the window looking out at this guy chasing us away and we wouldn't leave. So anyway, we stayed until we

Page 10
did our job and then we left and it was so, what do I want to say? It was enlightening for one thing, but so empowering to think, you know, I would have just walked away. Carol was pretty incredible. She and Kay are two of the strongest women that I've known through all of this and knowledgeable and smart. And Carol was just fun. Through all of this, I've had such a great time. We've had some hard times, but most of it's been exciting.
So anyway, I was working with Carol and we were organizing Our Lady of Peace, that's where she worked part-time, Baptist Hospital, and there was one other one. Maybe it was Audubon. It was Audubon. And we were doing really well, really well, and then all of a sudden, the recession came. Nurses, a lot of them, their spouses worked at Ford. International Harvester, a lot of spouses worked there and that closed, that shut down. Quite a few of our big plants shut down and people were afraid. They needed their money. It just kind of fizzled out. We were talking to unions to find out who to affiliate with. We wanted control, but we wanted to affiliate with a big union. Well, we met with the Teamsters and we were invited to AFSCME, to Philadelphia up to their convention. The funny thing is Kay and her husband were at the convention, but we never met them. So we went to the convention, but we end up going with Tom Woodward. What is that union? Isn't that awful? Kay will know. It was 1199, because they had a lot of hospitals. They had some hospitals in the South and they had organized hospitals before. We were going great guns and we were having house meetings. We'd call up nurses. Our meetings were full. Nurses wanted to organize. But then when this came, the recession came, was that '81?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yeah.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It was just like it fizzled, totally fizzled. People were just terrified and the hospitals knew it. They were threatening people that they would lose their jobs.
Tom was a great guy and

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he had another guy working for him, Danny. I think he has since died maybe. He was a young guy.
SARAH THUESEN:
And he was based here in Louisville?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
No, they were out of Virginia maybe. Kay would know. Kay worked with Tom.
SARAH THUESEN:
When she worked for 1199.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah.
SARAH THUESEN:
And your organization at that point, was that still WIN?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, that was still WIN. Carol and I used to get really frustrated because so many nurses were afraid to come to meetings. We were going really well and we had a lot of cards signed, but there were still some that were just afraid and wouldn't stand up to management. Carol said, "We just need to organize the patients. We just need to get a patients union." So anyway, we just kind of stepped back. Then about 1989—I forgot how I was even going to start it. Did I get a call? I got a call. [pause] Let's see, this is in '89. I think I got a call from someone and asked me to help them to organize. Who was that? Isn't that awful? It's a key point of the story. A nurse called me and said, "Things are horrible. Will you help us organize?" It might have been Soffia. She was a classmate of mine.
SARAH THUESEN:
I've seen her name in a couple of—
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, she's a character.
SARAH THUESEN:
Clippings about the origins of the group.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Soffia.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you remember her last name?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Atherton, but now it's—. She's lives here in Louisville. I have her phone number out there. She's remarried and I can't remember her new name.

Page 12
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay, yeah. She might be a good one for me to talk to.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
She's a character. Oh, she was something. She was the IV nurse and she was our main soldier. She was all over the hospital. She had the union cards under her clipboard for her IVs. Oh, she had a ball. She got a lot of people to sign cards. So anyway, I call Carol and I said, "Carol, I got a call and they want us to help them organize." She said, "Well, are you up to it again?" I said, "Yeah, let's give it a try." One of the doctors at the hospital, can't think of his name either. I can see him. My husband knows him name and I can get him to think of it. Anyway—
SARAH THUESEN:
That's okay.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He called the Courier-Journal and told them that we were going to have a union meeting. What we said, "We'll get—call maybe ten or fifteen of the old nurses, and we'll meet at one of the hotels in one of their little conference rooms and see what we can bat around and see what direction we were going." So this doctor calls a reporter and said he heard nurses were going to have a union meeting. Well, the reporter, Joe Ward, called my home. He asked me about it and I told him that the staffing was awful and that there were serious patient issues and a lot of issues and that we were going to have this meeting. Well, he writes it and puts it in the paper the day before our meeting.
We were going to have three meetings and we figured, seriously, maybe ten persons at a meeting. The reason we ended up having three was because we started getting calls that evening: "So-and-so's coming and so-and-so's coming, but they can't make it at this time," so we went ahead and set it up for, we ended up having to open up to a huge room. We had like three hundred people show up to the evening meeting. At the morning meeting, we had sixty people. Nurses were angry. They were fed up. They wanted the Teamsters. One nurse said, "I

Page 13
want somebody to slit administration's tires." When you look at it, they were wanting somebody to do the dirty work. They just wanted it solved and they wanted somebody else to do it for them. From the very beginning, we go, "You have to do this yourself. Nurses have to do this for themselves." Was it at that meeting we had invited unions? Any union that wanted to come, Kentucky Nurses, anybody, we told them they could come. I think it was in the article. Have you seen the article? I think it was in the article that we were inviting unions to come to talk to the nurses.
SARAH THUESEN:
I haven't seen the particular article you're referring to, no.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It shows me and Carol King sitting together. I don't think I have it. I don't think I saved any of that.
SARAH THUESEN:
I'll see if I can track that down.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Okay, it's a Courier-Journal article, Joe Ward. So anyway, the Machinists came and spoke, the Teamsters, 1199, the KNA, and the KNA woman, I felt sorry for her. The nurses shouted her down: "You all have never done anything for us. You're on the side of management." Nurses, it was like a wrestling match where people yell out things.
SARAH THUESEN:
Could you describe for me just in general what the frustrations were? What were people angry about at that point?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Staffing, staffing, staffing, staffing. That was the main thing. No respect, no respect for your life outside of the hospital, making you stay overtime, calling you in on your day off, pulling. Pulling was a big issue. You're working your unit and they pull you to another unit you've never worked before. And they tell you if you don't go, you get sent home and you'll be written up. It was about the money, but it really wasn't about the money. Nurses never said, "I want more money," and I think that's partly the problem. They didn't really respect themselves

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enough to say, "I deserve a better pay." But they did want respect for their profession and respect for them as people. Their main concerns were always with the patients. The staffing was number one. Then the other things, like the pulling and whatever, even though it threatened their license, their main fear was hurting someone, the dangers. It was just palpable the concerns and the fear and the frustration.
So anyway, we had this huge nursing movement and we were not prepared. So we handed cards. We had planned on handing out cards. I think we ran out of cards. We just asked people to write down on a piece of paper which union they felt would best benefit. The Teamsters came out like ten cards over the Machinists. They were all pretty close. We also said, "Any nurse who wants to participate in pulling this together and helping us organize, meet at Carol's house tomorrow morning for breakfast." So we did that. I mean, we didn't know these other nurses from Adam. We had like fifteen nurses.
SARAH THUESEN:
And they came from all different hospitals?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, all different hospitals, all different disciplines, all different degrees of nursing. We had LPNs and that's one of the things different that we did. We included the LPNs, because KNA would not allow them in. Even the RNs said, "You know, they work side by side, but they do the exact same thing," except hang blood and at that time, I think, do IV, push drugs.
SARAH THUESEN:
And at that initial first big meeting, what was the—. Well, I should back up and say what was the general racial breakdown of the nursing staffs at most of the main hospitals in Louisville?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Very few black nurses.
SARAH THUESEN:
At that time?

Page 15
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Mmm hmm, and probably more now, but very few. Shirley King, who is African-American and she was at Carol's house, I'm pretty sure she was there. Those days were just like one big blur. I hardly got any sleep. It's like somebody putting fast forward on. I mean, it just happened so fast. It was just like being stunned. Pat Hardy, who's name later on changed and then I think she changed it back, she was there and she had just come off an eleven-to-seven and came to Carol's meeting at her house. By that time, at the end of the meeting, some of us stayed and even though the Teamsters came out ahead, we were just afraid that most nurses would think, "Teamsters, oh gee, truck drivers." Machinists were right behind them, so we go, "Machinists." So we invited them to this meeting and we told them that we wanted to remain—oh I know, we were trying to come up with a name for our organization and Pat Hardy came up, "NPO," because when a patient's in the hospital, they can't have anything by mouth, so there are stickers all over the hospital on patients. It means "Nothing by mouth." And she says, "We're tired of their pushing their agendas down our throats," so we named it Nurses Professional Organization, NPO. She did that on hardly any sleep, came up with that acronym for us. And we figured it would keep our nursing organization and the movement on people's minds when they see it all day long. So anyway, the Machinists promised us that they would bring in professional organizers to help us, assist us in organizing. The local people here were wonderful.
SARAH THUESEN:
The local Machinists?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Mmm hmm. Butch Hinton was incredible. He's now deceased. There were a couple of them, though, that undermined us. But Butch Hinton, he was the president. There was Ron Harsh. He had another local, so he didn't do that much with us, but Butch Hinton was the one that took over. Butch was a very powerful man in the Machinists Union. He was very wise.

Page 16
He felt he didn't have the ability to organize this size movement, so he called in their international. And to be quite honest, it would have been better if Butch handled it, because he was a people person. He was easy to work with. He listened. They sent down Warren Mart. They sent some other guy in. I've tried to forget his name. I can't remember right now.
SARAH THUESEN:
It's Warren Mart?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Uh huh. They sent another guy in who, I think, had an assignment in Hawaii and they pulled him off that to come to Louisville, Kentucky and I think he was not happy. They split me and Carol up and then they called in Kay. She was the best thing that happened with that whole Machinists thing. I knew immediately she knew what she was doing and she related really well with all the nurses. People couldn't believe she wasn't a nurse, because she's had that experience. Kay will remember his name, but they put this other guy who was supposed to be in Hawaii, they put him with Carol King and another person to organize Our Lady of Peace. They put me with Kay to organize Audubon. And they put this other, I can't think of his name, he has gray hair, Kay will know, to organize Suburban.
It wasn't long. Kay and I were so busy. We just worked, seriously, from morning to night. My husband hardly ever saw me. I'll tell you how bad it was. My mom had cataract surgery and I had to pick her up from the eye doctor and take her home. She had asked me to drop her by the grocery store and I said, "Sure." And I was anxious to get back, because we had all this stuff going on. My son called me in the meantime and said, "Mom, I need the car this afternoon." So I told my mom, I said, "You wait here. I'm going to pick up Beau." Well, I got home and started talking to Beau and I said, "You know, I've got a meeting tonight. Why don't you just drop me off at the office and you take the car and then Kay can bring me home tonight?," totally forgetting my mother. I left her at the store. So I come home from work late

Page 17
that night and my son goes to me, "Mom, did you forget something today?" And I go, "What are you talking about?" He says, "Think. Did you forget anything?" I go, "No." He says, "Does the word grandma mean anything to you?" But that's the pace. It was just craziness. We just were working so hard on our campaign.
SARAH THUESEN:
And this was the first election campaign?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
This was the first election. We were going great guns. We had committees in each unit. We had team leaders, co-team leaders. They were strong. They were taking on management. There are so many stories I could tell you how they took management on in meetings and stood up. Soffia took a cartoon around. It showed a man in a hospital bed with bandages on him and his leg up. One of the nurses had drawn it and put, "Poor Bill Heburn." He was an administrator. "The nurses beat up on him so bad in the meeting, he had to be hospitalized." And stuff like that. Seriously, I mean, we were just winning like crazy.
So right before, I guess, I don't remember the dates again; Kay probably will. Kay likes to get, I think, around seventy percent cards signed, seventy-five percent cards signed. We were like at sixty-five, sixty-six, and I guarantee you she'll remember the exact number. I don't remember that anymore. Warren comes and tells us—oh wait a minute. Back up, back up, back up. About six weeks before this, Carol King jumps ship. She had a run-in with the other organizer. I think he was having sex with one of the people on her committee and she was married and it was getting around the hospital. And she said, "It's just getting a bad reputation." It was in a ballfield somewhere where they had just had a union meeting. I mean, she was just like, "This is just going to destroy our reputation." It was something like that. I know it had to do with sex and one of the people on her committee. And I think she had it in

Page 18
with him. Then Carol jumps, never called me. She jumped ship and was telling people, "Don't vote for the union."
From the very beginning, I could see the men who had Our Lady of Peace and Suburban, they hated Kay. In our meetings at the union, I could see that. They never did it to me. I had a run-in with Warren Mart one time. I'll tell you about that. But other than that, they never did it to me, but they always did Kay, because she was on the payroll. I was a volunteer. Any of her ideas, they would put it down. Anybody with half a brain could see her ideas were much better than theirs. And Kay and I haven't always seen eye to eye, but she knows what she's doing. You have to recognize that.
So anyway, Warren comes to us when we're at about sixty-five percent and says, "Our Lady of Peace and Suburban are ready to go to an election." Kay said, "No, they can't be." He said, "Yes. They said they've got seventy-five percent of the cards." She said, "Warren, they do not." He said, "Well, that's what they told me." Do you know how unions do the charts?
SARAH THUESEN:
Sort of.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You put the unit, like ICU, you list all the nurses, the shifts they work, and then as you get their cards signed, you yellow them out. When you get all yellow, you can look at the chart. Well, Kay had been noticing, she's very astute, that their charts were getting yellowed awfully quickly. She knew they hadn't been doing that well. And we had been getting tons of press through all of this. They were calling us and anytime there was a nursing story, they would call us. The TV stations would be there. It was just all the time. Every week, it was like we were on television all the time. We were handing things out and doing demonstrations. Let me think. So one night after he told us that, he said, "You've got to be ready to go with Audubon." She said, "Warren, we only have sixty-five percent." He says, "In two weeks, you

Page 19
have to be ready." So when everybody left, she and I came back and we got into their drawers and counted their cards. They only had like fifty percent. They did not have anywhere near what they needed. They were lying. Kay tried to tell that to Warren. He would not listen, threatened to fire her.
SARAH THUESEN:
Why do you think he was trying to—
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I don't think he knew. I think they were buddies. They had come up through the ranks together. They covered each other's back. Kay was an outsider they brought in and he wouldn't question them. I don't think he wanted to see it fail. And I think it's because she was a woman. I hate to say it. One other thing happened. I was at home one morning getting ready for work and they were all staying at the Holiday Inn. Kay and all the other Machinists from out of town were staying at the Holiday Inn in hotel rooms. She called me. She used to ride into work everyday with Warren. Well, they picked up the newspaper and a newspaper reporter had called me because there was a nursing decision by the Kentucky Board of Nursing about a nursing issue. He had called me and asked me my opinion on it, so I told him what my opinion was on it. I've never had any problem with the press, never misquoted me, always had a good relationship with them. If I tell them something to investigate, they always did really well. So anyway, Kay said they were down getting coffee and Warren sees where I talked to the newspaper. He lit into Kay, "She talked to the newspaper without going through me? That better not ever happen. You tell her she's not allowed to talk to the newspaper. That better not ever happen again. All PR goes through me."
So I'm home. I got out of the shower and my hair is wet. Kay calls me crying. He has threatened her job if she lets it happen again. I said, "Kay, calm down. What's going on?" So she told me. I couldn't get dressed fast enough to get to the NPO. I went flying into his office:

Page 20
"I'm going to tell you something." I said, "Don't you ever, ever try to tell me who I can talk to, when I can talk." I said, "My husband doesn't tell me and no man, nobody is ever going to." So I lit into him. He goes, "Oh Gemma, Gemma. I didn't mean that. I swear to God, I didn't mean that. Kay misinterpreted me." He never said anything else to Kay about it and he never said anything to me. Kay said to him, she goes, "Gemma has the best rapport with the press. You're stupid if you don't put her in charge of PR." And I did. I don't know why, but I really had a good rapport, and Carol King did too. I think it's because we're local people or loco.
Kay had no choice and then she had to try to, because she'd been telling the nurses all along, "We don't go until seventy-five percent." So she had to present it to the leadership of the nurses, like thirty or forty nurses, why we were going at sixty-five percent and try not to knock the union down. Because Kay is not one, this is why you're probably not going to hear this story or the other one I'm going to tell you, because she doesn't like to knock the union in front of anybody. But I think the unions need to hear this so they know what they need to do to straighten it up, because that's why they're losing. It's the back-biting and the one-upmanship and all the other stuff they do.
So here's the worst part. Kay had no say in talking to the NLRB people. They wouldn't let her do any of that and it's our campaign. So we're lucky they let us go and Kay had promised the nurses all along, "This is your election. When we got to the NLRB, we all go up there together to file for the election. Anybody who wants to go, we go, we do this. We are together on all of this." So Warren goes, "You're crazy. I'm not taking all those people." She says, "Warren, I've told them they can go." He didn't want to take anybody. And she wanted us all to go into the meetings with the NLRB. Well, they go in there. We sit in an outside room

Page 21
and Warren wouldn't let the nurses. I didn't care if I went. It's not my election. The nurses, the leadership should have been in there to know what's going on.
Kay went in and Warren was agreeing to throw in respiratory therapy, physical therapy, x-ray technicians. It was like, Kay knows the number again, probably a hundred and twenty more people. And we didn't have them. We haven't been organizing them. We're only doing nurses. He agrees to this stipulation. They had a break. I'm in the bathroom. Kay comes in sobbing. She goes, "Gemma, all our hard work's gone down the drain." I said, "Kay, we'll organize them. We'll just blitz and we'll organize them." And we just worked around the clock, but you can't get that many people and the election was set for two weeks. Oh, and the reason we went, because we knew that Our Lady of Peace and Suburban were going to lose. We couldn't let them go to election before us. So I mean, it was just hell. It was hell. Here we put months of our lives and our energy and these nurses are depending on us, and here it's being all screwed up by people who are going to pack their bags and leave when it's over. Oh, my God. It was awful. It was just awful. And we had to kind of protect the nurses. We didn't want them to panic and freak out. It was just a horrible situation.
SARAH THUESEN:
Why did they add in these other groups of workers?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
The management wanted it and Kay told him, "We don't have them." He goes, "Well, it's not that big a group." She says, "Warren, I only have," I think it was sixty-five percent. Like I told you, she'll know the exact number and she'll probably be able to tell you everybody who signed a card. And he said, "Well, this way we'll get the stipulated meeting." He would not listen to her. So we went to the election and lost eleven.
SARAH THUESEN:
Eleven votes?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Eleven votes.

Page 22
SARAH THUESEN:
Wow.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Eleven votes. It wasn't the hospital that did it to us. I mean, they did their dirty anti-union stuff. But it was the union that brought us down on that one. We would have won. Of course, Suburban lost hugely as well as Our Lady of Peace. They just barely, I think they got like thirty-three percent or something like that. Again, Kay will know. It was horrible and we were devastated. It was amazing. When the nurses came in, they were crying because they had lost. They were coming in going, "We're going to go again. We're going to go again."
SARAH THUESEN:
Were you prepared to go again at that point?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, if they wanted to, I was going to. And you know, I didn't choose to be a union person or to be an organizer. In my list of things I wanted to grow up to be, it wasn't even anywhere in there. It wasn't even anywhere on the horizon. But I found I loved it. I loved energizing other people to see the possibilities of what they could do. I loved letting people know what their rights were. I loved hearing about, when we heard that Bill Heburn was going to have meetings to meet with the nurses, Kay and I got on the phone and we organized all the nurses to have our strong voices at each and every one of his meetings. And I mean, they just pummeled that guy; they really did. The things they asked him, he couldn't answer. They made him look like a fool. And it just did my soul good to see these nurses, who were so afraid to speak before, to go in and do that. It was just exciting. I wasn't there, but just hearing them come back and seeing their faces, it was just thrilling.
SARAH THUESEN:
He was the CEO of Audubon?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He was the CEO. Shortly after that, he was gone.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh really?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He was gone.

Page 23
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you know where he went?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Kay does, I'm sure.
SARAH THUESEN:
During this time, you probably already said this and I just missed it, but were you pretty much working on this full-time? Were you doing any nursing during this time?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
No, wasn't doing nursing. I always tell people one of the reasons I never went back into the hospital after working what little bit, I tell nurses, I go, "I have not worked many years in the hospital. If you're looking toward me as a nurse, I am a nurse and it's in my soul and I believe in us." And I did work at Fraizer Rehab for about a year or so. But I was in an abusive situation once in my life and to me, it's no difference the way they treat nurses in the hospital. It's an abusive situation. You have no control over your life. And the lack of respect and the way they talk to you and treat you like a child, I won't put myself in that position. Yes, I was working full-time there. We were probably working ten, twelve hours a day. We were working weekends. Even when I came home, I'd have stacks of paper I'd be working on and going through, and making phone calls and catching nurses that were getting up and going to work.
SARAH THUESEN:
And this was all on a volunteer basis?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
All volunteer, never got paid a dime, didn't want it. It wasn't about money. So then we stayed with the Machinists for awhile and I can't remember what happened, what the straw was. Oh, they threatened they were going to fire Kay. It was right after the election. They were going to fire Kay. They were going to blame the downfall of the election on Kay. So Kay, right before she left, a group of the leaders, when the Machinists went home that night, we came back and we took our computer disc and the stuff that was our nursing stuff, books and things that we kept there to help nurses, because we had to file grievances during this, because they were trying to fire nurses. They said they did something wrong and we were doing grievances

Page 24
and trying to keep them from losing their license. I can't even tell you what it was like. But we got all the stuff that was ours. We got all the names and everything off the computers, which we figured—oh, I ought to tell you this. We packed our stuff. we rented a little tiny apartment about two blocks from NPO. It was a rinky-dink little apartment. It was probably a nudge bigger than this living room. I think it was a hundred and seventy-five dollars a month. We pooled our money and we rented it.
SARAH THUESEN:
Where was the NPO headquarters at this time?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It was in a really nice building on Poplar Level Road about a half a mile from Audubon Hospital. This was about a half a block from there. We didn't want to move very far and it was an upstairs apartment, no air conditioning. One of the nurses donated an air conditioner. I had a home computer, I brought that, we used that. It wasn't much of a computer.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That's my cat. He's deaf and that's why he meows so loud. It was a pretty sorry little place, but it was ours and nobody was going to tell us what to do. Butch, who I hated to do it to Butch, he had nothing to do with all this other stuff, but he called me and he wanted to have a meeting. So he and like five other Machinists came up, I said we'll meet at our place, and he wanted us to come back. We wanted Kay back, because Kay had left town.
SARAH THUESEN:
So that's why you'd gotten a separate place, just sort of in protest of them firing her?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, firing her and we weren't going to be pushed around anymore. At this point, I told the nurses what went on, what really happened about the NLRB. Some of them, like maybe five of them, close, they knew what happened. I said we'll meet up here. So they came and we had about twenty of our nurses. They wanted us to come back and I didn't say it, the

Page 25
other nurses that work in the hospital whose jobs and lives were involved around this, they said, "We won't come back unless you bring Kay back." And they said, "No." Then Butch said, because Warren Mart didn't come to this meeting, but he had told Butch, they wanted those discs back with all those names on it. Soffia, I'll never forget, she stood up and she said, "We got those names," and oh, we got the cards. We took all the cards. She said, "We got the cards by the sweat of our brow and you are not having them back. These are our cards. They may have the Machinists' name on them, but we got them by the sweat of our brow and you are not getting them back." And at that, they left. So we're on our own in this little apartment. The first thing that happens, about three weeks into the apartment, our ceiling crashes in and falls on our only computer and our computer crashes and we lose all the names anyway. So anyway, that was back before we knew a whole lot about computers. Are you familiar with the Binghams?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yeah.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Sally Bingham?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yes.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
We contacted Sally Bingham and asked her for a grant to bring Kay back. Well, what we asked her for, Kay, and she probably is still going to do it, Kay was thinking about doing a book on the election. So she gave Kay, I think it was like eleven thousand dollars, maybe seven thousand dollars. It was enough to bring Kay, because see Kay had a husband. She couldn't stay down here and we didn't expect her to pay for her own airfare back and forth. We were trying to find a way, so Sally Bingham gave us the grant. But another union person we knew knew Sally and Sally knew that it was really to bring her in, but hopefully someday she would write a book about this. So Sally Bingham gave her the grant. Kay came back and we worked out of this little office. We started collecting dues. It wasn't very much, but we

Page 26
collected dues, and started our next campaign. But then we decided we needed a major union to affiliate with, because to go up against these hospitals, I mean, you've got to have some money for literature and mailings. So we ended up going with AFSCME, which they were wonderful. AFSCME International was wonderful. We had some problems with—. One of their attorneys, we loved. Oh, what's her name? Mary. She worked at the Supreme Court for awhile after she left AFSCME. She gave us such wonderful advice.
SARAH THUESEN:
Maybe I'll ask Kay.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You know, maybe she was the one that was with the Machinists. Ask Kay. I can't remember. Isn't that awful? They gave us the resources to start another campaign. They were extremely generous with us and they put me on the payroll; I didn't ask to be. I think Kay must have asked them. We had a secretary. We had three office staff.
SARAH THUESEN:
Had you moved to a new—
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
We moved to the Medical Arts Building and we were going great guns.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did AFSCME have a pretty big presence in Louisville at that time? No?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That was the problem was the other local. They resented us. We were getting all the publicity. Ron Reliford, do you know Ron Reliford?
SARAH THUESEN:
Uh uh.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He's an African-American man, nice man, but he is a backstabber.
SARAH THUESEN:
What is he affiliated with?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
AFSCME, the local here.
SARAH THUESEN:
What's the other local?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They're like, they have the zoo workers, they have city workers. I'm going to go ahead and tell you what Ron did to us while we're on the thing. The international was really

Page 27
good to us and even after we lost the election, they cut our money off and then Kay and I both were working for free, volunteers, but they did send us enough money that we could keep up the office and the presence. Because that's what happens to unions. I mean, they come and they have a big campaign and everybody puts their job on the line and then they leave and then the nurses start getting fired or retaliated against and we didn't want that to happen. And there was a lot of retaliation afterwards and we've had to file, I couldn't tell you how many grievances we filed, how many nurses lost their job. I would say, I think it's like ninety-nine percent of the time, we got their jobs back. We never had a union, but we were very successful in filing grievances. We would take it to the streets. There are so many other stories to tell where we've been—I mean, great victories in the newspapers. We'd go the press, we'd go to the streets, and we would expose what they were doing to a particular nurse. And whether or not she was active in the NPO or not, if someone was wrongly fired or—what do I want to say?—accused of something, we would take their case on. And we've spent hours and hours over different hospitals, over in Indiana; it's amazing. We were like the union that really wasn't a union and nurses consider us their union. So anyway, what happened, after we lost the election but we won the Supreme Court decision that—are you familiar with that?
SARAH THUESEN:
No.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Okay, well maybe I should go back and I'll tell you about that later. Let me go back to where we were. So we start organizing again and we're doing great and the hospital hires union-busters to come in, threaten people's jobs. It was Joanne Sandusky, who you talked to her, you know her story, what they did to her. Little frail Joanne, a lactation specialist, they escort her out. Oh, she was devastated. She was devastated. Ann Hurst, you know, they went after her. They went after our president.

Page 28
SARAH THUESEN:
Was that Patty Clark?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Patty Clark. Quite a few other people, nurses that they went after and really scared people. And you know, I've forgotten a lot of it. Kay will fill you in on the all the—. And I'm sure Kay has the—do you have the Supreme Court ruling on the case?
SARAH THUESEN:
The text of it?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Mmm hmm.
SARAH THUESEN:
No. Oh, well I have, I'm not sure what you're referring to.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Oh, it's the sixth circuit court. It was the sixth circuit court.
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It wasn't the Supreme Court. It was the sixth circuit.
SARAH THUESEN:
Then I think I do. The one that involved, well, they put a bunch of cases together, including Ann Hurst's and I believe—. Is this the one you're referring to?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah. And the fact that they say that they have to have another election and they have to make those people whole.
SARAH THUESEN:
Yes.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yes.
Well after that, the hospital refused to have another election and they were not wanting to negotiate anything on these other nurses, dragging their feet on everything. And Norton was wanting some bond money from the city. Are you familiar with this story?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yes, well John Cumbler filled me in on the basic details, but you could tell me a little more.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They wanted bond money to do whatever with it. I don't know what they wanted to do with it. I can't remember now. But they were going to the city for millions of dollars. Kay was the one who saw it in the paper that they were going for bond money and she said, "We

Page 29
need to go after them on this. We need to go to those hearings. We need to put pressure on them. We need to talk." She had it all organized. We talked to AFSCME or someone at the AFL-CIO. They sent down this wonderful lawyer who helped us put it all together, can't think of his name, a young African-American guy, very nice-looking, smart, just brilliant. He worked with us, but the original idea to go after this was Kay. We needed one more vote and Darryl Owens, who's African-American, we talked with him and he was leaning toward us. We found out later from someone who works in his office that Ron Reliford came in and told him not to vote for us.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you know why he would have done that?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I think he hated us because we got—I think he was just jealous. It's a terrible thing. We had heard he said, and his girlfriend—
SARAH THUESEN:
Reliford's girlfriend?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Reliford's girlfriend, who was in AFSCME, she was so hateful to us. She hated us. I was in a regular Louisville Central Labor Council meeting and she told me, I can't remember. She came up to me and said, what dis she say to me? It was really nasty. I can't remember now. She was just vicious and she was on AFSCME payroll, too. Every union president, every union organizer, whenever we had a demonstration, at one time or another, they always showed up. He never showed up unless it was right before it was ready to close. He'd say, "Oh, I was running late. I couldn't be here," but generally, he didn't show up at all. He had no presence, no support. A couple of his members, his men that were in that org—, and one woman, they were very supportive, but he as a leader was not there for us and we knew it. We knew in our hearts that's what happened, but we didn't have any proof of it until, I think he since has retired, and

Page 30
someone who worked in Darryl Owens office told Kay that she saw the letter that he had written to him.
SARAH THUESEN:
Just to clarify what that city council—had the city and county merged at that point?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
No.
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay, so it was a city council vote, right?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah. What were they called? They weren't called city council. I can't remember what they were called.
SARAH THUESEN:
The commissioners?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Commissioners.
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay. You were wanting—
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Them to hold off the money until they agreed to negotiate—
SARAH THUESEN:
An election or to hold an election?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
No, to negotiate contracts with us. We said, "Forget the election. They violated the rights. We can never have an election there again. We want a contract and if they want that money from the city, then they should negotiate with the nurses." We needed one more vote, one more vote, and we had the other votes, excerpt for Irv Maze. He said he would and he turned on us.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you remember comments that were made by any of the city commissioners at the time about why they wanted to support Norton and give them the money they were requesting?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
First, Irv Maze told us that we couldn't stop it, it was a done deal. He told us that to our face. So we go out and do research and it wasn't a done deal. It had to pass all the commission. But I think he was trying to get us out of his office and we'd go home with our tail

Page 31
between our legs and not come back. Well, we researched it. It had to go before the whole committee, so it wasn't a done deal. He lied to us. One that supported us was Russ Maple. He supported us. He felt it was the ethical thing to do, since they violated our rights so egregiously, that they should negotiate with us. There were, was it three commissioners? I think it was three commissioners. Isn't that awful? You're going to think I'm really stupid, but I swear—it wasn't that long ago.
SARAH THUESEN:
It's easy to forget details like that. Was the general feeling that among the folks who wanted to support Norton, or the general argument, that everything needed to be done to support them since they're providing so many jobs in the city?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
No, Irv Maze, he never said anything like that to us. Our mayor, who's supposed to be the union mayor, at one time we went to see him about another issue. A group of nurses went, me and Kay, and he told us that we need to distance ourselves from the union. We would get more support if we distanced ourselves from the union. Our mayor told us that.
SARAH THUESEN:
Wow.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He said, "You need to get someone like Kathy Mershon to represent you." At that time, Kathy Mershon was a top dog in Humana. She was like the top nurse. She was the vice president of nursing at Humana. It was like here we are, union people, and he's telling us we need to distance ourselves from the union, that, "You're not going to get public sympathy," is what he told us. This is the mayor who gets tons of money. I'll tell you another one, Steve Henry. Steve Henry, oh, he'd come to our meetings. He was running for office and wanted our support. Let's see. He ran for lieutenant governor. He's physician and he's an orthopedic physician down at University. The nurses came and told us that he told them not to sign union cards, that the union wasn't a good thing to have in the hospital. So they came and told us.

Page 32
So Kay and I are at a meeting at the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council and Steve Henry's speaking to the union members. I wanted to raise my hand and confront him then, but out of respect for the other union people and I think Kay was afraid I was going to do it, I waited until he left. And I followed him out of the meeting and Kay was, we went out of the meeting. I got him by the front doors away from the meeting and I said to him, "I heard you say—." "Oh, I never said that." I said, "Well, we have some very strong union nurses who are honest, hard-working women who said you told them that." "I never said that. Oh, I never said that." I said, "You'll never get a vote from me again. How do you have the audacity to come here, try to get a union vote, and then talking out both sides of your mouth?" Well, I had no use for him. He got all red in the face and left. I didn't realize there was no much politics in unions and all of that.
You know, if there wasn't the fighting amongst each other, we'd be successful. Just like Ron Reliford, it would have brought his local, those people, with the numbers it would have made everything better. He wanted to hold onto that power. I think he thought our union would be much bigger than his and we would overpower his. It's a power thing. I'm not concerned about power. I've never been concerned about power except empowering nurses to be able to deliver the care. So that's the other reason why I believe Norton would have—. They needed the money for the project. I can't remember what the project was, but it was already ready to go. They were just waiting on the money. If Ron Reliford hadn't done that, we may have a contract. So those are the two incidents where our own union—. You know, with the hospitals we know our enemy. They're easy to fight if you know the enemy, but it's hard to fight them when you don't know. It was very disheartening for me. I kind of gave up after that. I thought,

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"Why just keep on?" It took a lot out of me, it really did. All those years and your own people do it to you.
SARAH THUESEN:
What year was that city commissioners' vote?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
It wasn't that long ago, maybe like 2000. Again, Kay will know. I'm going to be Joanne Sandusky. [interruption]
SARAH THUESEN:
I think where we left off, you were talking about how frustrating it was when the city commissioners didn't vote the way you'd hoped. Quite recently, there have been some signs of renewed progress, Jane Gentry's big settlement, the discussions of cooperation with the California Nurses. Do you think things are starting to turn in a new direction?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You know, Jane's recent victory was really from before, because all the work was done previously. I mean, we worked on that for years. Oh my God, our hearts and soul was in that case. It takes that long to get through all the different hoops you have to jump through to get a victory. But it was a wonderful victory. And I guess you know, they tried to take her license and we won that. They denied her unemployment. We appealed, we won that. The California Nurses Association, I want to be hopeful. I just don't know if it's—. I know Kay wants me to be more involved, but I gave so much of myself and it was just so disheartening. Kay just never gives up. But I want it to be successful. I really, really do. It's needed. Oh my God, a union's needed in the hospital so much. The California Nurses, that would be a dream to have an organization here like there. I don't know if I could do anything to help. We've got to get the leadership inside. So many of our people are gone. So many of the nurses when we started in what is that, '89—

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[END OF DISC 1, TRACK 1]

[DISC 1, TRACK 2]

[START OF DISC 1, TRACK 2]
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They should be doing, you know? She was like upset with them because they weren't, but I just don't know. I don't know if the—. It's still bad in the hospital, the understaffing.
SARAH THUESEN:
So you're saying that the conditions haven't changed that much?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Oh no, the conditions haven't changed. Besides the working conditions, it's the respect. The nurses just don't get any respect. Have you heard the New York Times did an article about Columbia? Did you know about this?
SARAH THUESEN:
No.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They came down and we worked with two of them. They've won Pulitzer Prizes, these two writers. They came down. I can't think of their names. One of them now covers the opera and the music up at the New York Times. I can't think of these names. Kay will remember. They came down and they were doing a story. That's when Columbia owned the hospital. It was right after Primetime. You heard about us being on Primetime?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yeah.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That was kind of fun. We were telling them that there was a new thing at the hospital. They were trying to, I think it was an anti-union thing, it started out as the hospital was doing this anti-union thing to build nurses up. What they were doing was if a nurse, an aide, a patient told the manager that another nurse was doing a good job, the manager would take a basket of pretzels and crackers, and I think that's all that was in there. You know, those little snacks you get on the airplane? They come in the little things, peanuts. She would bring that to the nurse and she would give the nurse one of these snacks. I'm serious. I'm dead serious. We heard about it and we went, "Oh, my God. We can't believe. That is so degrading."

Page 35
It gives them a pat on a back, makes them feel better. Well, one of the nurses found the manager's instructions on how to give these out. It was a three-page thing sent down by management, Kay has it at the office, about how to give these. First, the employee tells you. And it says, "Do not leave the basket at the nurses' desk." They were afraid all the nurses would eat it. "Hold onto the basket. The nurse is allowed one." I'm not joking. "Look them in the eye and tell them ‘Great job."’ Well, after the New York Times were down and we spent a lot of time with them and we also had some of our nurses testify on Capitol Hill, have you heard about that? In Congress.
SARAH THUESEN:
No.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Okay, there's just so many stories to tell. That's a whole 'nother thing about the trucks. So the reporters were gone for probably a month or two and they did their story. It was a big expose on Columbia. One of the reporters called us down and they said, "We got to tell you that we told the guys in our newsroom about the crackers story and they couldn't believe it," he said, "Until we showed them the papers." He said, "Now anytime somebody does a good article, they keep crackers in their drawer and they throw it across the newsroom at each other."
SARAH THUESEN:
That may still be going on at the New York Times.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, maybe at the New York Times. There was a thing, Joint Commission is a joke. I don't know if you've heard. Do you know who Joint Commission is?
SARAH THUESEN:
Uh uh.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Joint Commission, it used to be JCH and now it's JCAH, Joint Commission on Accreditations of Hospitals. They are a joke themselves. They are a private organization that reviews hospitals for the government and they're supposed to do surprise visits, just come into the hospital and inspect everything. We found out the hospital knows a year in advance that

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they're coming. So the hospital gives nurses check sheets on, "If they ask you this, this is what you say." They clean the hospital like it has never been cleaned before. They have people come in extra. They hire people. But also, one of the things they do and the nurses at the hospital told us they've been doing this for years—the Joint Commission comes in like every two years, every three years—every time Joint Commission comes in, three tractor trailers back up to Audubon Hospital and they load on those tractor trailers things that aren't supposed to be stored at the hospital, equipment that is broken, non-functioning, beds with broken rails, incubators that don't heat up properly. They load these tractor trailers up before Joint Commission gets there and then they hightail it across town, park on the other side of town, and sit there. And Joint Commission's there three days. When Joint Commission leaves, they bring it all right back.
SARAH THUESEN:
Wow.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
So Kay and I get our cameras and we stake the place out. We got pictures of the trucks and of them loading them up. I got a friend to go with me into the hospital and I showed him the hall where they were loading stuff up and he got video cameras to go in of them loading it up. Then three days later, we followed them. Kay and I followed the trucks across town off Westport Road where they parked them. Then Vince, my husband—that's another story—who's a doctor at the hospital, he follows me. He and I go out and sit the morning Joint Commission is supposed to leave and we sit out there and watch them. It was his day off. We watched the trucks. Sure enough, they start pulling out to go back to the hospital and start unloading. So we got it all on camera. We had a little newsletter and we put this in the newsletter about Joint Commission. Kay has a copy of the newsletter. So we get a call from Congressman Dingle's office. They somehow heard about this and wanted the nurses to testify.

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So they testified in Congress and we had the congressional testimony, but nothing was ever done. They still do the same thing. They still load up those trucks. Nothing's ever done.
SARAH THUESEN:
About what year would that have been going on?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I'm thinking '93. Then something else we found out, when Joint Commission comes, the legal notice is in the paper. It notifies they're coming and anybody in the community can go to the meeting. So we went and we told this, I'm guessing maybe five, six years ago, all this stuff that the hospital was doing that wasn't right. They still got a clean—. I mean, we told them that the nurses were doing respiratory therapy with only ninety minutes of training and they were given the answers to the test. We told them that; nothing was done. I was going to tell you something else. We went to Congress. We worked extensively with his administrative aides on the testimony and putting it all together. It was also about the understaffing in the hospitals and that sort of stuff. And we've written numerous legislation on staffing, trying to get it passed here. It's impossible.
SARAH THUESEN:
You hear so much about the nursing shortage in America and an outsider to this story might think that that would give you tremendous leverage in this situation. Why do you think that hasn't helped more?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
One, there's not a nursing shortage. I don't care what anybody says. It's a shortage of nurses willing to put up with the conditions. There are nurses. They're leaving right and left. They'll go into other areas. Other things have opened up for them. They retire. They sell real estate. Soffia's daughter's a nurse. She builds houses now. There's lots of nurses, but they're not going to put up with those conditions. The leverage, they don't care. They just don't care. They don't care what we do. They'll come up with something. They don't look at the big picture. They live from day to day and they'll just make whoever's there stay and work longer.

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They just don't care, they really don't. It sounds petty when I was talking about the crackers, but going back to Nurses' Day, they give nurses a sippie cup for Nurses' Day with the hospital's name on it. One nurse said, "I'm waiting for them to give us a feedbag to hang around our necks so we don't have to—." Most nurses don't get their breaks or lunch, they really, really don't. I told you about the nurse wearing a diaper because she didn't get her breaks in ICN. She said, "I can't leave the babies and there's nobody to relieve me." So she has to relieve herself in her diaper and she's a young nurse. She's in her thirties. I just don't think it makes any difference to them. They'll get around it one way or another.
One way they were trying to get around it, Norton brought in nurses from the Philippines, trying to bring workers in that they could, I guess, dominate or have something over. They put them up in a hotel and they paid for their apartment: "We brought you in here and now you're slaves to us forever." They get around it. They get around it by going to the Board of Nursing and trying to get other professionals in the hospital to do some of the work that the nurses normally do and eliminate some of the process that way. And the housekeeping, I mean we had the most wonderful housekeeper who would stand up to management. She would speak to the press. We've had to get her job back a couple of times, but she's still there, Wilma.
SARAH THUESEN:
Wilma.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
A wonderful person.
SARAH THUESEN:
What's her last name?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
McCombs.
SARAH THUESEN:
Yes, I saw a reference to her in a newspaper article.

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GEMMA ZIEGLER:
She's wonderful. She went to the paper about, they fired all their housekeepers. This was downtown in Audubon. I don't know about Suburban. They brought in contract labor. About that time after they did it, Kay and I were out at the Ramada Inn for something, an event or something. I can't remember why we were out there. And we see these workers standing in front of the Ramada with shirts on that say, "Norton Hospital." So we hop out of the car and ask them. They were brought up from Atlanta or Tennessee and they were putting them up here. We didn't wonder if they were some of the prisoners that you hear about. You know, they hire prisoners in other states to do work. We never could prove it, but that was our gut feeling from talking to these guys. They wouldn't say what they did down there, but it was like, "We don't know. We don't know. We're from Tennessee." So then when Wilma went to the press about that they didn't have enough disinfectant in the hospital to disinfect, not enough toilet paper. Toilet paper was kept under lock and key. The staff couldn't get the toilet paper unless they had the key. It was a big article in the paper about her and she spoke out. And within thirty days, they hired back all their old housekeepers.
So I mean, that's the power, that's the power of the people. Even though we don't have a formalized union, when you work with people and you have people brave enough to risk and some of them have lost their jobs, but like I said, we've gotten almost every single one of them back. One nurse we didn't get back, but I think she went over the line to where we couldn't help her. It wasn't really, it wasn't about the union. It was about something else. So it was hard for us to defend her after she said the stuff that she said at the hospital. It was really hard for us to defend her. We used to tell nurses, "Keep everything the hospital gives you, every memo, everything. Take it home, file it. You find a box and stick it in there." And that's what Kay taught us. She taught us from the very beginning save everything. Don't throw anything away.

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Collect any new memo that comes out. Collect any new, what did they used to call that, job description. Collect every bit of information. And when we had to go to court, whether it was for the union hearing, Jane's case, we had nurses inside collecting stuff for us, bringing stuff they had at home. The documentation, the NLRB couldn't believe all the documentation we had. I mean, we had drawers full, files. For a little organization, we had, I think it was twelve or sixteen file cabinets full. Now it wasn't all stuff from the hospital, but we had probably three cabinets just full of stuff from the hospitals, all their documents and their manager's manual. We got a hold of it all. Of course, we got a hold of the price list. That's why we were on Primetime.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh, I see.
One question I wanted to just ask you. You've already touched on it a good bit, but I wanted to ask it more directly, is for you to talk a little bit more about how you think gender has affected this fight. How do you think this fight might have played out differently if nursing were a male-dominated profession? Or do you think it would have played out differently?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
This is just my opinion. I think that if it were a male-dominated profession, nurses wouldn't be treated the way they are. But in the fight that we have ensued, it's the female nurses that are the strongest leaders. The male nurses have been helpful, but they haven't been our strongest leaders. We've had some good ones, but not like the women. But I think if it was originally an all-male profession, it wouldn't have gotten to the point that it had. And I don't see it changing much. I really don't think we'll ever have—. Maybe I'll be wrong, but it's just—. And the men who do get in it, they just go right on up the ladder to management or nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner, physician's assistant. They just move on. Very few males on the floors, more than before, but—

Page 41
SARAH THUESEN:
Not a lot.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Not a lot. But our strongest leaders have been the women and surprisingly, a lot of older women who've just had it up to here. When I say older, at the time when we were in the fight, they were in their fifties, some in their sixties, feisty, feisty. Well, I can't say. We had some young ones that were pretty feisty too, but usually young ones, a lot of the young ones had little ones at home. A lot of them were single moms and if they lost their job—. And right now, the way the situation is Norton almost has a monopoly here. I think it's like eight out of ten hospitals are owned or operated by Norton. So if you get blacklisted, where are you going to work?
SARAH THUESEN:
You're out of luck.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You're out of luck. We've had a nurse have a real hard time, so that's a real problem. But I've got to tell you, I have so much admiration for the nurses that worked inside. Everybody would go, "Oh Gemma, you did such good—." I didn't do anything. I was at the office. I have a secure home. I don't have to work. I'm not the one that put my life and my career and everything on the line. It's the ones in the hospital who were taking care of patients and organizing in between, on their lunch breaks, before work, they would go in early and leaflet. Kay and I would go and leaflet also. We'd have to be off the property, but we would go and support them in leafleting. But they could get right inside the property and they pushed it to the limit. They knew their rights and if nothing else, I think we enlightened a lot of people about their rights and about standing up and don't take anything from anybody. Question authority. I never did get put in jail, though. I was always waiting for that. I've never been in jail. I kept telling Kay, Kay's been to jail several times for various causes, but I've never been to jail, not even close.

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SARAH THUESEN:
Well, never say never.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That's right. There's always this war that I'm willing to go to jail over.
SARAH THUESEN:
One other question that you have already touched on too, but I wanted to go back to. You were in kind of a unique position in this situation since your husband's a doctor and also has connections in the medical community. To what extent did you find that other doctors were supportive of your cause? Did your husband ever receive any criticism from his colleagues?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Let's see, several things. I'll tell you certain things that happened. When we first started, I started when Vince was president of the medical staff, I leafleted the hospital about the union. And they said, one of the other doctors told my husband that the administrator said, "That woman out front looks like Vince's wife that's leafleting." He goes, "It is." He goes, "What's she doing out there?" So it was pretty funny having me out there. Vince has been totally supportive. Some of the doctors have told him not to warm my car up, say, "I wouldn't start her car for her in the morning," insinuating that it might be blown up. Vince circulated a letter for us from doctors in support of us and he got tons of signatures. He got other doctors to speak on our behalf—not on our behalf, excuse me. Nobody speaks on our behalf—to speak in support of us at some of our big rallies. He got one wimpy doctor who signed the letter and then came back and asked for it to be taken off. He had been talked to by administration.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh really?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Mmm hmm, I think maybe threatened. Dr. DeVries, did you know that he lost his office at Audubon Hospital for being on Primetime?
SARAH THUESEN:
His name came up in one of my prior discussions. I didn't get the full story on that.

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GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Dr. DeVries is the one that did the Jarvik heart. He was like a little God down here at Audubon Hospital. He was just like, "Dr. Devries." He was like the ultimate. He was very sympathetic to our cause, very supportive, talked to the nurses in the emergency room saying they need the union. A lot of the nurses were close to him. When we were doing this story with Primetime, they asked us on the price sheet that we got, thirty-one pages of what Humana paid for an item and what they charged the patient. Have you heard this story?
SARAH THUESEN:
No.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Someone brought it to our office. They couldn't get us a list of the people on their unit, but they found this and brought it to us, probably proprietary information but heck, we didn't know any better. So we gave it to somebody with Common Cause. Anyway, it ended up in Washington and it ended up in Primetime's hands. So they asked if they could come down and meet with us and is this true. I said yeah. So they asked if we knew a patient that was going in the hospital that we could verify. For example, IV bottle solution—Kay still has it. You can see for yourself—was like sixty-three cents a liter. They charged the patient seventy some dollars. A foam pillow, it's a triangle about this big. You put it between a patient's legs after hip surgery, five dollars and sixty-five cents. They charged the patient three hundred and sixty-five dollars. And we knew that the patients didn't take them home, so they'd sterilize them and use them again. They had a needle that they used and I think it was outrageous. It was like a hundred dollars they charged for this needle that was used one time in a surgery. It was like twenty-five cents.
So anyway, that's where Dr. DeVries comes in. Primetime came down and they said, "Do you know anyone that's going to have surgery that we can look at their bill afterward and see if this is in fact what's going on?" I said, "My mom was outpatient for cataracts." So they

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followed her into the hospital and afterward when she got her bill, yes, that's what they were charging, these prices over here. So Sam Donaldson asked us if we could get someone to get the needle. We put the word out and they said Dr. DeVries would do it and he would go on camera, as is Dr. DeWeese, who was a state representative at the time. He's a Republican, but he cared about his patients. I don't know if you're a Republican or not, probably not.
SARAH THUESEN:
[Laughter]
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I didn't think so. [Laughter] That would have been my guess. But anyway, Dr. DeVries went on the program and told about the needle and said that something's got to be done about cost, and Dr. DeWeese did. When Dr. DeVries came back to his office in the hospital the next day after the broadcast, all his stuff was in boxes out in the hall.
SARAH THUESEN:
Wow.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
So can you think how they intimidated the nurses? If they're throwing out a top surgeon, I mean he made national headlines, world headlines, is that a little intimidating? They didn't bother the state representative, because they probably wanted to get something passed or not passed in Frankfort, figured he owed them one. But that was quite a story. That was quite a story. And DeVries is a nice man and he's an excellent surgeon.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you know where he went?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I think he went to Jewish and I think now he's in some small town. But he didn't regret it. It's the right thing to do. They never harangued Vince or messed with him at all. He was loved. Vince, besides being respected, he was loved by everybody because he's a very gentle, kind, soft-spoken person. And he had been there, he did his internship there at St. Joe's and he had been there for, I think when he retired, he quit doing hospital about ten years ago and he's been in practice fifty-some years. There was another story I was going to tell you that

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is a fun story where we got them. I can't think of what it was. It slipped my mind. But yeah, we've done a lot. We've done a lot.
SARAH THUESEN:
Well, maybe sometime I can come back and hear more stories.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I'll have to write them down. We can wait for dinner. We're not in any hurry, are we?
VINCE ZIEGLER:
It will be ready in about seven minutes.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Can we keep it warm for a few more minutes? Yes, you can.
VINCE ZIEGLER:
I saw about thirty-three patients today.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I told you you'd see about thirty-seven. That's fine. Do you have any others?
SARAH THUESEN:
Well, I suppose by way of wrapping up, if the NPO—I know right now you are pretty pessimistic—but if they were able to win an election, if for example the association with the California Nurses really gains ground and helps them out, what would having the right to organize and bargain mean to you? What would that victory mean to you?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Oh, it would just be incredible. I would see it as an extension of the groundwork that we laid, Carole King laid, and Kay and all the other nurses that have worked so hard and didn't get the victory. I think it would be their victory too. It would be their victory. I wouldn't say I'm pessimistic. I'm not hopeless either. I want to believe it's going to happen. I guess I don't want to get my hopes up, but I hope they can do it. But I would see it as a victory not just for the ones that are there, but for the ones who have fought. [pause] We had a nurse who had brain cancer and she testified on the stand about three days before she died at our hearing, the NLRB hearing. She told her husband, "I've got to go."
SARAH THUESEN:
Who was that?

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GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Ginger Blankenbaker. She was one of the quiet leaders. Some of our leaders are outrageous. I mean, you know they would just say anything to anybody. She was a quiet leader. She organized. She did her job. She believed. She was strong. She had three little boys and she died of glioblastoma. And Kay had cancer. Did you know that?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yeah.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Ovarian cancer. All through the hearings, she wore a hat or a scarf. She was totally bald, getting chemo and put those hearings together. She's so incredibly strong. And we've had a few other ones die, but I think the victory is for them.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you talk with your kids about your work?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
They know. My son was at home. My daughter had gone and married. She knew about what I did. But I just helped her with a grievance. She works for the Post Office. My son was very interested, very interested in what I was doing and supportive. My daughter was supportive, but I mean she was starting her life with her children and everything. They knew what I did. And Beau knew it because it he was still at home and he couldn't not know what was going on, because I had papers everywhere and NPO everywhere and meetings, meeting here and meeting there. He was very supportive. He's very socially active. He's a very politically interested, environmentally-conscious type person. My daughter I would say probably is to some degree, but she's so busy with kids right now and working. Then Vince has five children. I think one daughter, Peggy, she knew what I did. The other ones knew somewhat, but I really don't talk about it a lot at home.
SARAH THUESEN:
What would you most like your kids to remember about your work?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
I think that we tried and we took on a huge conglomerate, numerous ones, and didn't back down. We fought the giants and didn't give up. Even though we still don't have a

Page 47
contract, I think it was a success, again by instilling in so many nurses that they can, they don't have to take that crap off of people. You can stand up if you stick together and it's all about standing behind each other. I couldn't tell you how many petitions we got signed to get people their jobs back or their position back and were very successful. And it proved to me, I mean, I didn't realize that. Something that carried over, I learned that you come across as a strong person and I don't know how to explain it.
My son had dyslexia and he always had problems at school. Before I got involved with this, I did volunteer tutoring at his school for children with learning disabilities. In fact, one of the girls I tutored in the fifth grade, I tutored all through high school, college, and nursing school. She's now a nurse at Baptist East. Because she's a horrible speller, I typed up all of her papers and stuff. But as a parent, you go into these meetings and a lot of times, you're intimidated. You have all these professionals around and these young folks. And I've just talked to a woman in jury duty about this yesterday. I said, "What I have found out, you take to a meeting—I don't care what meeting it is. If you're going in a meeting and you feel like you're surrounded, take someone. Tell them dress real nice, carry a briefcase and a yellow notepad, and just introduce them by their name. You don't have to make up a name. And it makes everybody think they're a lawyer." And it's the truth.
There was a young black guy I met. He was a junior. I heard that he was mentally retarded. He was in a mentally retarded class, a class for educable mentally retarded. So I had an opportunity to meet him and I was talking to him mom and he comes in. There wasn't anything mentally retarded, I mean, he was brilliant. He has the most wonderful vocabulary. They never taught him algebra, never taught him any type of math other than addition, not even multiplication and division. He's a junior in high school in this class. So anyway, they were

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getting ready to go to an IEP and the mother said she usually goes and she doesn't know anything. They just say they're going to do this and this. So I dressed my best and took a briefcase. When I walked in with her, she said my name, but she didn't say why I was there. First, it was just the teacher and the counselor. They brought the principal in, the assistant principal, we had a whole room. And they couldn't do enough for that young man. They were going to do all this testing for him, because she said she had requested before and they never would do it. Now, he's worked for twelve years at the Papa John commissary. He's in management and he's writing a screenplay for an animated film, which is wonderful. And he's a wonderful person. It just infuriates me that I didn't find that out until he was a junior. All those wasted years. He had such possibility.
SARAH THUESEN:
All it took was one advocate.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, and I think it's because one, he was black and poor and he did have learning disabilities. His spelling's not great, but it's gotten a whole lot better. But they expected nothing of him. You've got to go in with knowledge. And I told his mom, I said, "You've got to find out what your rights are, what his rights are, what the laws are." That's what I told this girl. I pulled up last night about ten or twelve pages off the internet about the federal law on education and the rights of parents and children. She thinks her son has autism and the school will not test him. I told her, I said, "You've got to know your rights." I told her, "Take some person." I said, "It can be your mother. Dress her up and put a briefcase on her." I said, "For some reason, a briefcase and a legal notepad, they think, ‘Oh my God, who is this? It's somebody important."’ It could be anybody. We took one of the union guys from the Machinists one time with us. It works every time.

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Did it with Vince's daughter. It's so funny, she rented an apartment and she's so neat. She put a damage deposit down of four hundred dollars. When she got ready to leave, he wouldn't give it to her. He said she damaged the apartment and she said, "Where?" It was like the paint had dirt on it or something. Well, in Kentucky, you have to paint the apartment. Every time somebody leaves, you have to paint the apartment anyway. So I told her, I said, "Set up a meeting with him and I'll go with you." Again, I dress up, heels. I don't like to wear heels, but I put them on, just little tiny heels, and a briefcase, and went. Within ten minutes, he was writing her a check for her four hundred and fifty dollar deposit, whatever it was. "Oh, I didn't mean you couldn't have it back. I was just saying we need to go through the apartment," and making all these excuses. But it works every time, every time. You don't have to pretend to be somebody else. Just introduce their name. Just don't say what your profession is.
SARAH THUESEN:
That's an important lesson in civil rights. I want to let you get to your dinner.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Is there any other question, because we're not in a hurry?
SARAH THUESEN:
Was there anything you'd wanted to bring up that I haven't asked you?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Like I said, there was something awhile ago. I hope my hand being up here hasn't caused a problem.
SARAH THUESEN:
I doubt it.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Something I was going to tell you. There's so much. There's just so much, so many wonderful stories. How many hours have you set aside for Kay?
SARAH THUESEN:
I'm realizing not enough. I'm just talking to her tomorrow morning, but maybe the next time I'm in Louisville, I can schedule another time.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Oh, my gosh. Like where I forget names and dates, she remembers them just like that. She's incredible. She has dedicated her life to the union movement and to civil rights and

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health care. She's a strong woman and has a wonderful husband. Can you imagine? I mean, all those years after the union quit paying her and we didn't get the funding anymore, her husband—they paid her way back and forth from New York, had her apartment here. She slowly funded that herself, went through chemotherapy, cancer, did not give up. That's why I feel like such a rat giving up. There just comes a time. I've got grandchildren and a husband. When he got cancer, he was really sick. He had mouth cancer and then it metastasized to his neck. We just got back from the hospital last week. He had bladder cancer again and they got it all. It was just like one thing after another. My husband's going to be seventy-nine, so there's not that many years left. I don't want him to hear that. There could be. I mean, he might live to be a hundred, which I hope. But I just had to kind of reset my priorities.
Kay knows I'm always there if she needs something to work on a case. We're working with some woman down in Florida on a thing with the state government. She called me. I was friends with her when we were little. And supposedly, there's something about the Medicare or how the reimbursement is done in the school system here. A contract was given to someone who was not the lowest bidder and they put a bid in after it was closed and they still got it. Something rotten going on. So I did a letter to the attorney general asking for an investigation. But I still do stuff like that from home and help people with grievances and stuff like that. Kay's one incredible woman. Of all of the people I've met in the union movement, none of them hold a candle to her brilliance, to her enthusiasm, and to her dedication. Dewey Parker comes close. I think he's with the AFL-CIO now. But she's pretty incredible.
SARAH THUESEN:
Is he a local?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Yeah, Dewey Parker. He's worked a lot with us. Have you talked to Sy Slavin?
SARAH THUESEN:
Uh uh.

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GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He might be a good one. He was a professor at U of L and he just thinks NPO hung the moon. He just enjoyed every—. I bought stock in Humana so I could go to the shareholders' meeting and he went with us. I've been twice. It was at the time, I don't know if you remember, it was the Humana Gold, where they were ripping seniors off in Florida is what they were doing, talking them out of their Medicare into this Humana Gold. Sun Sentinel down there did a big expose on it and we talked to them a lot. They called us a lot. We gave them information that we had. So after that was exposed, this was before the Primetime thing, I went to the stockholders' meeting and David Jones asked if any stockholders had any questions. I said, "What's being done about your all's ripping off seniors in Florida?" [Laughter]
SARAH THUESEN:
That probably wasn't the question they were looking for.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
He stammered. He stammered. He goes, "Well, now, um, um. I have a mother that's elderly," and he just went off on this thing. He was just flabbergasted. Sy got the biggest kick out of that. I think that was the highlight of his life. He thought that was so funny. Then two years later, I went to the stockholders' meeting. It was right after the airing of Primetime. So I'm getting in the elevator. I'm in the elevator and I'm with a friend who went with me, because you can't get into the meeting unless you own stock and I only had like five or ten shares, but it gets you in the meeting. The doors open up going up to the meeting room and in walks David Jones. He sees me and it was too late to back up. He goes, "Um, um. Hi, Gemma. How's your mother?" Because my mother was the one that was on Primetime. [Laughter] He doesn't know my mother. I said, "Oh, she's doing well, thank you."
Sy, he and John Cumbler both were from U of L and he's been so supportive. He would come to meetings. Sy, he's probably in his eighties now. He went to Washington with us. We went to Washington to the maybe 1990 Solidarity. Oh my God, it was so hot. It was so hot. We

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took like thirteen nurses up there and I have a picture of Sy. He was so hot. I took my son and his girlfriend went and she had on a pink bandanna. We ended up putting it on Sy, because he was so hot. I thought he was going to pass out. We have a picture of him wearing a pink bandanna at the Solidarity. We took a group of nurses to the inauguration of Clinton, just trying to get people involved. We've been taking groups to Washington, a ton of nurses, and we tried to get them politically activated and motivated and tried to get them to know who their state representatives are and write them and talk to them. We've had lots of nurses testify in Frankfort, nurses who would never have done it before. But when they speak, it's from their heart and it's passionate and they're wonderful. But that's been the best part. That's been the best part.
SARAH THUESEN:
Well, I appreciate so much your sharing all these memories.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Well, you're welcome. I hope it's not just like a big jumble, because there's so much more. I know I left tons of stuff out.
SARAH THUESEN:
No, this has been very helpful.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
In seventeen years, it's hard to put seventeen years in how many hours.
SARAH THUESEN:
Sure, right.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Just two and a half hours.
SARAH THUESEN:
Well, thank you again.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You're welcome. But Kay will be great.
END OF INTERVIEW