By MARC PIMENTEL, FARIS SABBAH and DORI ROSE INDA
Forty years ago, Salud Para La Gente (Salud) opened its doors in a Watsonville shopping center with a mission to serve farmworkers and their families. Today we are a recognized leader in providing a patient-centered whole-person approach to healthcare with a network of five health centers and six school-based sites. We offer a full spectrum of health services to all — including medical, dental, vision, behavioral health and other essential services. Over the past 12 years, Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) Local 521 has been an essential partner in Salud’s success.
Navigating the delivery of healthcare over four decades and keeping our promise to serve everyone regardless of ability to pay or insurance hasn’t been easy and can’t be accomplished alone. SEIU has been an important partner in ensuring our community has access to quality healthcare regardless of circumstance. When unions fight to raise the minimum wage and expand healthcare access, they are fighting for our patients’ health and quality of life. Salud’s diverse workforce demonstrates that union jobs continue to be a path to social mobility for people of color, women and immigrants.
As immigrants are disproportionately impacted by recent federal policies, SEIU is an even more important partner today. The families we serve are facing extraordinarily trying times. Our community and the local workforce are made up of immigrant families who live in an environment of almost constant fear. The attacks on immigration affect their ability to provide for their families and create insecurity at work, at school and at home. Living under constant stress is proven to manifest in long-lasting health problems like hypertension, diabetes and depression.
The ultimate fear of family separation inhibits participation in the very activities that keep families safe and healthy, like seeing the doctor and reporting crime to the police. The fear of separation from family takes a toll on health, safety and well-being. SEIU and Salud have partnered to offset these effects by offering workshops for Dreamers to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and to deliver Know Your Rights trainings that ensure community members have access to trustworthy resources and reliable information and instruction.
Every one of us at Salud is committed to delivering the best care to our patients, and we rely on our union workforce and SEIU as partners to accomplish this in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Each day, our 190 union employees deliver the care our community needs and deserves, regardless of a patient’s income and immigration status.
But our team members’ reach goes beyond the walls of our clinics. Salud employees and SEIU members know health starts where we live, work, learn, worship and play. That’s why we partner together to address community concerns that impact health. Through representation by SEIU, our workers have delivered landmark workplace safety improvements that improve the lives of both healthcare workers and patients. SEIU Local 521 members understand that a safe workplace is essential to overall good health.
Unions have been a path to economic security for many Americans and in particular, have ensured those benefits reach minority workers. Now unions are under attack. Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, a case before the Supreme Court, aims to — in their own words — “defang and defund” unions as a means to drive down wages, kill jobs, defund healthcare, and mount even bigger attacks on immigrants, women and people of color.
Salud’s leadership stands with our union — SEIU Local 521 — because we know that without the strength workers gain through their unions, there will be too many people in our community unable to obtain living wages and decent benefits. Countless people are already working multiple jobs to make ends meet. An attack on unions is an attack on workers and the vitality of our community. We need unions to give workers a voice in our community and in creating long-lasting safe and healthy workplaces.
Marc Pimentel is chair, Faris Sabbah is vice chair and Dori Rose Inda is CEO of Salud Para La Gente, a community health center with 11 sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Their opinions are their own and not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.