Remembering Eloise Reese-Burns, a champion for patients and caregivers

NewsJuly 30, 2019

Eloise Reese-Burns, who devoted her life to caring for her patients and standing up for her coworkers, died this month following complications from a stroke. She was 80.

Reese-Burns was a longstanding member of NUHW’s executive board and one of the longest-tenured health care workers in California. She started working as a nursing assistant at Woodland’s Cottonwood Post Acute Rehab Center in 1972, and was still commuting to work from her home in Marysville when she suffered a stroke earlier this year.

“Eloise was a model caregiver, a model co-worker, and a selfless leader,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “She radiated strength and dignity. In the toughest of times, she never flinched, and always fought for what was right.”

Reese-Burns said she got her “union strength” from her father, a World War II veteran with the Tuskegee Airmen. “He said, if it’s right, and you think it’s right … fight for it,” she recalled in a video made by NUHW.

At Cottonwood, Reese-Burns helped her co-workers fight for better pay as well as more staffing and supplies. As a union leader, she fought against the SEIU trusteeship, and helped start NUHW as a member-driven alternative.

“When you violate one of our rights, you’ve violated them all,” she said. “That’s what unionism means.”

While Reese-Burns never shied away from conflict, she will be remembered most for how she nurtured patients and co-workers. “A leader has to care; A leader has to mentor … A leader has to hold hands,” she said. “We’re taking care of human beings, and to do that work, you have to be compassionate.”