Most everyone working in our union’s Health Division knew Cherri Newman, who tragically passed away on June 16, 2020. Cherri was a Licensed Vocational Nurse at the High Desert Regional Health Center in Lancaster, working in the Ambulatory Care Clinic, where she was like a mother to everyone there and where she served as the Chair of the High Desert Joint Labor Management Council (LMC).
As a member of SEIU 721, Cherri stood out as a very strong, no-nonsense yet passionate leader. She gave with all her heart – giving her time, her money, her ideas, her love, her support and her advice to those who needed it. She was charismatic when needed. She pushed when needed. And she went the extra mile when needed, especially when it came to our union.
This year – because of spirit powering the reborn Black Lives Matter movement – holidays like Juneteenth, which honor the Black community, are becoming more widely celebrated. But Cherri was ahead of the curve. Every year, she would host a Black History Luncheon where she would cook for the whole clinic of over 200 people, featuring Black history moments and trivia. And that wasn’t the only time her co-workers were the beneficiaries of her culinary skills and her giving heart. As Chair of her worksite’s annual Picnic Committee, Cherri cooked all the barbecue meat for 300 guests when the vendor for the event unexpectedly fell through – personifying what exemplary leadership looks like by going above and beyond at a moment’s notice.
Cherri gave the members of our union pride both because she represented her Black family so bravely and because she represented all the members of our union family with comparable courage. As a Chief Steward, Cherri made sure we knew that she never lost a case that she represented, whether it was an informal or a grievance. It was Cherri who led our union’s watershed Anti-Bullying Campaign after her co-worker tragically died the day after saying he felt his manager was “killing” him with her non-stop harassment. This campaign spread throughout the Health Agency. Cherri’s fight led to the Article 39 Committee which ultimately compelled Los Angeles County to officially codify anti-bullying language in Human Resources policies, affecting employees not only at the Health Agency but countywide.
When the Right to Work attack began hitting organized labor and specifically threatening us here in Southern California back in 2018, it was Cherri who made sure that our members working in High Desert region were heard by organizing an Antelope Valley Stewards Town Hall. She knew it was important to gather stewards representing different classifications and departments – from social services and general services to mental health and healthcare – who also understood the unique demographics as well as the county bureaucratic challenges particular to the High Desert region. And it was in April of that same year when Cherri brought the house down with her union Brothers and Sisters at the “Not On Our Watch!” Union Leaders Summit during a memorable skit when she hilariously personified the Right-to-Work threat for our members to show us why working families need to stand union strong.
With COVID-19 still upon us, it’s important to remember that Cherri was working as a Nurse on the public sector frontlines when the novel Coronavirus pandemic hit. The strength of the public safety net depends on the caliber of the workforce, and with Cherri’s passing, the High Desert community has lost a hero. We also are reminded that the strength of our union corresponds so much with the engagement of our members – and whether she was fighting for working people as a union Steward, as an SEIU 721 spokesperson, as a program organizer or as an event manager, Cherri was one of the best. We will miss her so much.