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A small contract provision makes a big difference for patients

While the Bay Area has no shortage of mental health therapists, finding a culturally competent therapist can be hard for residents who grew up in other countries and don’t speak English as their first language.

That’s why NUHW’s Bargaining Committee included language in our contract with Richmond Area Multi-Services, a nonprofit that primarily serves San Francisco’s Asian American community, that can help foreign born therapists with their immigration paperwork. Several NUHW members at RAMS have also created a committee to make sure that if a colleague reaches out to RAMS Human Resources for assistance on immigration paperwork, they must receive a response within two business days — as required under their NUHW contract.

This immigration assistance has been vital for Andrea Chan, a mental health counselor with RAMS.

Raised in Canada and Hong Kong, Andrea was studying in Hong Kong when she signed up to complete her internship at RAMS. She started her employment a year later, thanks to a TN visa, an immigration program for professional Canadian and Mexican nationals that allows them to live and work in the U.S.

RAMS sponsored Andrea’s TN visa and connected her with an immigration attorney to help in the process.

“I really like working at RAMS because of the clinical work we’re providing to underserved communities; it’s something important for me,” said Andrea,whose ability to speak Cantonese and Mandarin comes in handy when serving a large population of Chinese, monolingual immigrants.

“Being bi-cultural and sort of having the immigrant experience helps me in my work,” Andrea said. “It’s part of the therapeutic presence I’m able to provide.”

The immigration assistance RAMS provides is only one of the many benefits workers have gained since joining NUHW.

“Before we were unionized, the pay was so bad, to the point that it was insulting,” she said.

RAMS workers won 21 percent raises in bargaining last year, and their contract includes many other hard-won improvements, such as partial reimbursements for licensure renewal fees.

But most importantly, Andrea said that being part of NUHW taught her and her colleagues that they can have a voice in their work place and they don’t have to accept anything that isn’t fair.

“People feel that they can be heard,” Andrea said. “Employees want to feel that they’re not just a replaceable cog in the machine.”

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