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Photo by Jorge Sanhueza Lyon/KUT. The bipolar disorder clinic run by Dell Medical School and Integral Care, Travis County’s mental health agency.

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2021 by Andrew Weber, KUT

Employees at Integral Care, the nonprofit that manages mental health care across the Austin area, intend to unionize.

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

Employees say unionization would help address understaffing and high turnover at the mental health authority. Nearly 90 employees signed a letter in support of the union.

Alice Navarro, a community worker with Integral Care, said she’s had chronic respiratory conditions that aren’t covered by the nonprofit’s health benefits. She said she’s been ill recently and has had to balance work while also dealing with her illness. She can’t afford to see a specialist, and because of her condition, can’t do her job, which consists of meeting in person with people needing mental and behavioral health services.

“I jokingly said to my colleague, I know our vision is ‘Better living for everyone,’ but does that also apply to our staff?” she said. “Because I’m a community worker, and I’m expected to meet with clients in the community, and how can I meet with clients when I’m in this condition?”

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

Raven Rojas, a rehabilitation specialist with Integral Care at the Community First! Village, primarily works with people transitioning out of homelessness. She says the wages she’s paid aren’t livable in light of Austin’s perennial issues with affordability.

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

In a statement to KUT, Integral Care said it was aware of the letter but didn’t specify whether it would support the effort.

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

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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