Our Delegates: Occupational Therapy Assistant, New Jewish Home in Manhattan Yvette VasquezMarch 2, 2022
She grew up wanting to work in health care. Once she got there, she realized she was also called to union activism.
“I’ve always been interested in science and helping people,” says Yvette Vasquez, “so naturally where the two combined is the medical field,” she says. But finding her current position as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA), came with detours. “I’m a germaphobe, and I don’t like needles, so I couldn’t be a nurse. Then I did a year of social work in college, but I realized I’m way too emotional for that—I couldn’t adopt everyone.” Vasquez landed on becoming an OTA because “I had an occupational therapist after a surgery I had as a child.” She wanted to be able to give back the same level of quality care she received at the time.
While working for different agencies, Vasquez was called to do coverage at the New Jewish Home in Manhattan for someone who was on leave. She did so well that they asked her to stay and join the staff. Luckily for her, New Jewish Home was an 1199SEIU facility. “I knew that there are very few therapy positions that are unionized, so I was grateful to stumble upon one. I knew 1199’s history and how good they are to their workers, so was glad to be a part of it,” she says.
After coming into conflict with management over scheduling and billing, Vasquez wanted change. So, she started going to union meetings and spoke with their new organizer, who immediately suggested she become a Delegate. “It wasn’t on my radar, but she was right,” remembers Vasquez. “If I wanted to see change; then why not me?”
Since then, Yvette has been on the front lines organizing workers, maintaining benefits, and making sure positions don’t get taken over by agency workers. She’s also become very active with 1199’s Political Action department. “I got a phone call asking if I wanted to work on a political campaign. I’m always open to learning something new, so why not learn another part of the Union and see what else we do in and for the community.” Since then she’s been to Albany fighting for nursing home reform, safe staffing laws and has also taken part in virtual lobby visits, phone banks, and candidate screenings.
“It’s amazing seeing our strength [in those places]. I never realized [before] how much politics affects health care and our being able to push and make change is amazing. Health care is in dire need of change, and who better to direct that change than [those of] us who are doing the work.”
For Vasquez, it’s clear why she does this work: “I need to have good health, especially mental health to give 100% to my patients; and so, does every other worker. I fight for members so they can feel supported and do their job effectively so patients can get the best care. If I can help a member get through the day, or if they know I can get them what they need, then I’ve done my job.”
About her role with 1199 she says, “I wish all our members could see the union the way I do; that they’re a part of it no matter what. I hope more members take initiative and realize that if they want to see change, they need to take part and speak up. If we all speak up and work together, our union would be that much stronger and get that much more done.”