SEIU Healthcare Minnesota member Dorjee Gyalpo, 59, returns to his job with the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Environmental Service Department this week after travelling and spending several weeks away. But his trip to New York City was no vacation.
Gyalpo was one of three Tibetan men who launched an indefinite hunger strike on February 22nd in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York in an ultimately successful effort to ask the UN to investigate atrocities committed by the Chinese government in Tibet and highlight the conditions that led 30 Tibetans in their homeland to self-immolate as a form of protest.
After 27 days without food, Gyalpo was forcibly remove from the strike venue and hospitalized by the New York City police. But Gyalpo continued fasting at the hospital for three more days, until Richard Bennett, special adviser to the UN assistant secretary general on human rights, came out to meet with the two hunger strikers who remained in front of the U.N. building. When Bennett agreed to appoint a special rapporteur for human rights to investigate their concerns about human rights violations in Tibet, the hunger strikers ended their life threatening fast.
Fellow SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members in Abbott Hospital donated more than 400 hours of Personal Time Off to allow Gyalpo to leave work and recover from the hunger strike—others had pledge to donate more hours if necessary. He says that along with the solidarity of his diverse coworkers, the health benefits guaranteed in his union contract made it possible for him to participate in the dramatic stand for international human rights.
“I am proud to be a SEIU member. I am grateful and very inspired by my sisters and brothers at Abbott who supported and stood by me,” said Gyalpo, who has worked at Fairview since 1996. He escaped to India after the Chinese invasion of his native Tibet in 1959 and migrated to the United States in 1992.
Read more about the successful hunger strike and see photos here.