Employees at Integral Care, Travis County’s mental health agency, want to unionize

Employees at Integral Care, the nonprofit organization that operates mental health care throughout the Austin area, intend to form unions.

A group of more than 20 employees gathered at Integral Care’s South Austin headquarters Monday morning, to deliver a letter to the nonprofit’s CEO, David Evans, informing him of their intent.

Staff say union formation will help address staff shortages and high turnover at the mental health authority. Nearly 90 employees signed a letter in support of the union.

Alice Navarro, a community worker for Integral Care, said she has chronic respiratory illnesses not covered by the nonprofit’s health benefits. She has been ill recently and said she has to balance work while dealing with her illness as well. She can’t afford to see a specialist right now, and because of her condition, she can’t do her job, which is to meet face-to-face with people who need mental health and behavioral services.

“I joked to my colleague, ‘I know our vision is ‘a better life for everyone’, but does that also apply to our employees?” She said. “Because I’m a community worker, and I’m expected to meet clients in the community, how can I meet clients when I’m in this situation?”

Navarro said many of her clients are homeless, or if housed, she often has to meet them in their homes, which is difficult if she is dealing with a respiratory illness.

Raven Rojas, a rehabilitation specialist with Integral Care in Community First Village, works primarily with people transitioning from homelessness. She says the wages she is now paying is unlivable in light of Austin’s perennial affordability problems.

“Our main problem is that we don’t have a livable wage to maintain housing and bills in Austin,” she said. “It’s only tragic, because we provide services to disadvantaged populations, but at the same time we’re being oppressed in some way as well.”

In a statement to Kuwait University of Technology, Integral Care said it was aware of the letter but did not specify whether it would support the effort.

“We are taking the time necessary to thoroughly review this information and respond in a timely manner,” the statement said. “Integral Care values ​​our employees and is always open to listening and understanding employee concerns.”

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