UHW Member Blog

Blog: SEIU-UHW Takes Call for Immigration Reform to D.C.

By Jesse Sabala

Jesse-Sabala-DC-300pxSince Nov. 12, activists have been fasting on the National Mall in Washington D.C. as part of Fast for Families, a movement that aims to send a message to Congress that the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. Jesse Sabala, a food service worker at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, recently traveled as part of an SEIU delegation to D.C. to participate. This is his account of the trip.

When I received the call to go to D.C. I was excited for the opportunity to help in any way I could. Immigration reform is near and dear to my heart. Being in the healthcare field, my co-workers represent a wide range of nationalities. In many ways, I feel it is a social obligation to help my brothers and sisters who work so hard for all the citizens of United States and care in the utmost loving ways for the many people they encounter.

We went to the Capitol where we met up with the fasters and heard their story. There we met SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, who is taking part in the fast. He told us about families ripped apart when the parents were deported and how his fasting is a commitment to true reform. We also saw a collection of items left behind by nameless immigrants who didn’t survive their trip through the Sonoran desert in pursuit of the “American Dream.” It was a humbling experience for all of us.

Together with Phath Thammevangkhun from Kaiser Modesto, and Bonita Munoz, a home care worker from Sonoma County, we went to the offices of various Representatives to lobby for H.R. 15, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for immigrants and protect the rights of families and workers. It was a great opportunity to learn how to have a proper political discussion with congressional staff, and I also learned a lot about how to handle acute political situations.

I was very pleased and grateful to work with and meet all of the members of SEIU present for this event. While I am disappointed in our Congress for not moving forward on commonsense immigration reform, I will continue to push for it. Immigration reform is not just any issue, it is a human rights issue.

You can help bring attention to this issue by participating in the National Days to Act, Fast and Pray, which will run December 1-3. During this time, you can sign our petition, make your own commitment to fast or contact your member of Congress to ask him or her to support commonsense immigration reform that will protect the rights of families and workers.

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[BLOG] Immigration reform is right path to opportunity

by Xochitl Velasco, Kaiser Fresno

[This column was originally published July 21, 2013 in the Fresno Bee.]

Xochitl-Valasco,-Kaiser-Fresno1As the U.S. House debates whether to vote on immigration reform legislation this summer, the lives of young adults like Victor are on the line. These determined and idealistic “dreamers” wait with their futures on hold, while the bill languishes in Congress.

I wish they had the chance to meet someone like Victor, a friend of my family. If they did, they would understand why this legislation is so urgent. They would appreciate the sacrifices and fear that have dominated the lives of so many immigrants and their families. And they would see how dedicated people like him are trying to improve their education and find better paying jobs.

Victor just graduated in June from Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia. He’s 18, and he came to this country when he was 5. At the time, his parents were divorced, and he was living with his mother in Mexico. But his father was living in California and felt his son would have greater opportunities growing up in America. So he brought Victor to California, where they eventually settled in the San Joaquin Valley.

Victor says he has no memories of his early years spent in Mexico. In fact, he didn’t fully understand until the fifth grade that he was born there. Once he understood his story, he was afraid to share it. He didn’t tell his friends that he was undocumented. He didn’t tell them that he was afraid of being deported. Instead, it was his secret – one which left him full of doubt.

If he were deported to Mexico today, Victor said he would be lost and couldn’t make it. He speaks little Spanish, doesn’t know the culture and doesn’t know his way around the country. Because of his young age when he was brought to the United States, deporting him to Mexico would be no different than sending any 18-year-old American-born child to a foreign country to which they have no ties, no understanding and no connection.

His story is more than just about avoiding immigration authorities. Victor dreams of something bigger – he wants to go to college and eventually raise a family and become a productive, tax-paying adult. He wants to enroll at College of the Sequoias in Visalia and become a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

While Victor is eligible for a special visa program created last year for young adults who entered the United States without proper papers, it only lasts for two years before he would have to leave the country or apply for an extension.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Victors in America, and it is just one more reason why immigration reform is so vital. People like Victor shouldn’t be deported because of a decision he had no control over. He identifies as an American, but he enjoys few, if any, of the same rights and freedoms.

I understand and relate to Victor’s story because it’s similar to my own. I came to the United States when I was 14, having left Mexico to live with my sister in San Jose. I didn’t choose to go; my parents sent me because they felt the U.S. offered a better future.

I spoke no English and initially struggled in school. However, I enrolled in English classes to overcome the language barrier, and through hard work I eventually caught up to my peers and graduated from high school. I later attended San Jose City College, where I earned a degree in nursing.

Today, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have in the United States. I pay taxes and Social Security and I am able to provide for my three kids because I have a stable job with benefits. My life is stronger because I gained a green card in 1981, and don’t have to live in fear of being deported and separated from my kids.

The challenge for Congress is to do the right thing by people like Victor and all the other millions who came to this country in pursuit of building a better life. Our elected leaders know our society is stronger if we enact common-sense immigration reform that toughens security along the border and creates a path to citizenship for young adults like Victor.

It’s the right thing for all of the Victors out there, and our country as a whole.

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BLOG: Our contract means I can keep my loved ones alive and healthy

By Verna Hampton, Kaiser West LA

I’m the mother of a teenage daughter and an 11 year-old son. My son was diagnosed with asthma as a newborn. It’s a chronic condition so it’s been a struggle throughout his life. As a mother, I get so scared when he has an attack and I do everything in my power to keep him safe.

Almost as scary as the asthma is the cost of treatment. The prices for his medications and the machine he needs are astronomical, and I simply would not be able to afford them without our paid family healthcare.

So in my family, our medical benefits are truly a matter of life and death. I’ve been at Kaiser West LA for 12 years now, and our new contract means I can keep my loved ones alive and healthy.

Share your story about what our new Kaiser contract means to you!

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Blog: My inspiration comes from my wife and my two daughters

By Ashwin Deo, Kaiser Sacramento

I knew from the time I was a kid that I’d go into healthcare. I was always the boy running around the neighborhood with a first aid kit.

Today I still have that same love of helping people. My big inspiration on the job as an Orthopedic Technician is when I get patients who don’t have much hope of being mobile again and am able to help them get back on their feet and living a good life.

At home, my big inspiration comes from my wife and my two daughters—one is four years old, the other is just four months! The paid family healthcare in our SEIU-UHW contract means that my family will get the care we need. And, with my pension, I’ll be able to retire one day knowing that I can take care of my loved ones and live a full life as I grow older.


Share your story about what our new Kaiser contract means to you!

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BLOG: Because of Our Contract, I Still Have a Job

By Robyn Roeszler
Coder, Kaiser Stockton

I am my son’s sole provider. The most important thing for me right now is keeping my job so that I can take care of him.

When Kaiser decided to close the Stockton Call Center I thought I was going to lose my job and my healthcare. But, the job security protections in our union contract gave me the opportunity to train and take the test to be a Coder. I passed the test and got the job.

Because of our SEIU-UHW contract, not only did I keep my job at Kaiser, I actually moved up the career ladder and got a big pay increase. What can I say? I’m thrilled.

Share your story about what our new Kaiser contract means to you!

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BLOG: With four kids, increased dental coverage is awesome

By Holly Craft-Moreno
Kaiser Panorama City

I’m really proud of the work that I do as a Medical Assistant in Geriatrics. Growing up, my grandmothers enforced and re-enforced that we should always respect our elders. I know that they are both watching over me to make sure that I go the extra mile every day with the elderly patients in my care.

I have three daughters and one son. My oldest already had braces and braces are not cheap! The $200 increase in dental coverage is a big deal for me and my family. Increased coverage means two to three more visits to the dentist a year that I don’t have to worry about paying for out of my pocket.

I feel a sense of pride that with the union we fought for everybody. I am reassured that for the next three years my co-workers and I will be able to provide good care for our families.

Share your story about what our new Kaiser contract means to you!

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Remembering Les Harris

Les HarrisIt is with incredible sadness that I let you know that Les Harris, one of our great leaders, passed away Sunday night. Les had an incredible optimism and attitude that anything could be done, something that consistently inspired those of us around him that whatever the obstacle was, there was a way to overcome it. He was a dreamer that had a vision of what a just society looked like, and just as importantly worked hard to lead others to share that vision and whatever was necessary to make it happen. Les, along with Martha Alvarez, were the pioneers of the Let’s Get Healthy California work in South Los Angeles. Whether he was at a health fair at a Chivas game, enrolling low income families into health insurance, leading in the Let’s Get Healthy California Taskforce Advisory Committee or organizing his group of executive board members, Les exuded enthusiasm and joy. In this last election cycle, Les decided he wanted to do something to help get President Obama elected. He went to Las Vegas, door to door in incredible heat, sharing his conviction and commitment to getting the President re-elected and doing something he had never done before.

Les was a family man with an incredible wife and two kids. And his family knew that he loved them, and that he loved his union. And we, in turn, loved Les and we have all lost an incredible leader.

Dave Regan
SEIU-UHW President


Thanks to SEIU-UHW, Health is Contagious at the State Capitol

This Wednesday, SEIU-UHW members went to the State Capitol to celebrate a big moment for California’s future, and for SEIU-UHW’s Let’s Get Healthy California campaign. After months of discussion, Governor Brown’s Let’s Get Healthy Task Force—named after our own UHW campaign—released its final report on how to make California the healthiest State in the nation. The report proposes solutions to some of the biggest health issues facing our State: fighting chronic disease, lowering healthcare costs, expanding healthcare access, and providing quality of care. SEIU-UHW played a key role in creating the Task Force, and the report includes many of our recommendations. That’s why we celebrated as government, business, and community leaders promised to commit significant resources to make Let’s Get Healthy California a reality.

“We can have it all…but we can’t have it unless literally millions of people start behaving differently than they are behaving now. Unless we build a culture of health in California…that resides in neighborhoods, communities, businesses, in civil society, we will not get there,” said SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan.  For more about the Task Force meeting, read this article by the California Health Report.

The report brought a joyous end to our year-long work to get Let’s Get Healthy California off the ground, and it showed us something important: health is getting contagious in California! That’s why we’re prepared to take real action and ensure that the report leads to real change in Californians’ health.

Jeneua Washinton, Dignity Health Sacramento

I’m excited that people understand that chronic disease is a serious epidemic that needs to be addressed.  But we need action. That’s why I’m going to run a 5K with two of my co-workers and get my hospital more involved in Let’s Get Healthy California!”


Tracy McGlory, Kaiser West LA

“Today proved that more people are with us.  Health is getting contagious! That’s why we have to be the leaders keeping this moving forward.  We have to make this grow.”

Frank Valdez, St. Joseph’s Medical Center


“This thing is growing, and it’s exciting to see that Let’s Get Healthy California has made it all the way to the Capitol.  Now we need to take this great energy and recruit more members to our work and to the 2013 asthma walks!”


James Dade, Jr., Kaiser Richmond

“It’s been great to see that the Governor has pulled together people who can help move Let’s Get Healthy California forward.  It really gives me more drive.  Now we need 10,000 leaders to help us move this forward.  Join us!”




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BLOG: Bringing Health, Activism, and Education to My Community

This week, we spoke with SEIU-UHW home care member Steve Ly, newly elected Elk Grove School Board member, and the first Hmong elected official in Northern California.

How did you become a home care worker?
I have two jobs. For a long time, I have been an educator for foster students. But I also care for a relative. It’s meaningful work, because the alternative to that is a nursing home, which would cost more, and I’m able to provide Hmong food and the kind of care that improves my client’s quality of life. Now I can’t imagine my life without this work.

What prompted you to become active, both in the union and in politics?
A lot of people complain about things they don’t like in government, but I always say that you can’t really complain if you don’t vote, if you don’t get involved. I try to bring that involvement to the Hmong community. Our community is unique – we are here because of our involvement in politics, because we fought for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. So getting involved here is a natural fit.

How are you working with SEIU-UHW?
SEIU-UHW has many Hmong members, but they haven’t always participated. A UHW organizer reached out to network with the Hmong community, and I’ve worked with her to get out the union message. For example, many don’t understand the significance of COPE, our political action fund. I tell them that every campaign sign, every ad you see is paid for by somebody. Unless we pool our money together, and help politicians who fight for us, the billionaires will have all the power.  When the elders of the community start to understand that this is our chance to have a say, they get excited about participating.

What do you like about this union?
One thing I really like about SEIU-UHW is how they reach out to different communities. They make an effort to have Hmong interpreters and ensure that everyone understands how to participate. It really makes a difference for the Hmong members. The union is their training ground, where they are learning how business is conducted here in the states. It’s part of their journey of becoming American. Next time they go to City Hall to fight for what they believe, they won’t be intimidated by the process.

As a new School Board member, what do you plan to do next?
We’re doing a big push for Let’s Get Healthy California. I truly believe that getting healthy is a lifelong battle, and the only way our kids can win it is to start young. We have to get them thinking about eating healthy as a way of life. That’s how you get the whole community to eat healthy, to live healthy. You can’t do it overnight. I know I’ll be working with the union to get this message out in our schools. I’m looking forward to it.

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BLOG: When Home Care Works Together We Win

Thanks to Obamacare, extra dollars from the Communities First Choice Option (CFCO) are arriving in California and creating cost savings for counties. As a result, Marin County Home Care providers have won a living wage increase that places their wages as the highest in the state ($11.90 not including healthcare benefits). Connie Barker was one of many home care workers leading negotiations with Marin County Supervisors.

by Connie Barker, Homecare, Marin County

I just got my first raise in five years. It was a long time in coming, but it just goes to show what we can do when home care providers work together on a plan.

As home care workers, we are supposed to get a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) every year, but we hadn’t had one in five years because the County Manager kept saying we couldn’t afford it. But this year, it was different. Obama’s re-election, which we all worked so hard for, meant that the Affordable Care Act would stay in place, and that CFCO money would continue to flow into California. We helped pass Proposition 30, which meant that our home care funding would be more secure.  And there was the Coordinated Care Initiative, which changes home care funding and creates cost savings for Marin and other counties. We had done the political work to make all of that possible. So we did our research, crunched numbers and talked to each supervisor personally. We showed them how much money the county is saving. The County Manager looked at the numbers and agreed, granting us our COLA this year.

This success is one more step along the path of changing home care into the more respected, more professional job that it should be.  We still have a long way to go: we don’t get overtime, we have no sick time, no retirement, and don’t even talk about pension. But we’re moving forward. And it’s because we’re at the table making our case. For once, we are not just reacting to something awful that’s been done to us. Before, every year we’d be on the chopping block, and every year we’d have to go up to Sacramento and yell and scream. Now, with the Coordinated Care Initiative, we’re not just reacting. We’re putting something forward to make change. We’re taking our power back to set the agenda. And we find that when we do that in an intelligent, thoughtful way, and when we put the power of our people and our passion behind it, we have more allies than we thought. When we have the numbers, and we get together behind a plan like this, we win. For the first time in five years, I got a raise. It feels great. And it makes me feel hopeful for what we could do next.

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