Putting the Pieces TogetherDecember 17, 2023
After a lifetime of public service in her job, a Hudson Valley, New York member recognizes the value of political action.
Yvette Martinez has been serving people in her local community of Port Jervis, in the Hudson Valley, for her entire adult life. But it is only in the past couple of years, that the connections between public service and political office started to come into focus for her.
“I’ve been working at Bon Secours Community Hospital as a Mental Health Technician for the past 26 years,” says Martinez. “My job involves making sure our behavioral health patients attend groups—and sometimes running those groups myself. I am the eyes and ears of the clinicians on the ward.”
As her work brought her into direct contact with the victims of the opioid crisis, Martinez became increasingly frustrated by the way local officials were dealing with the public health emergency on her doorstep. The local Port Jervis council voted against opening a methadone clinic, for example. “They wanted to keep the problem hush-hush,” says Martinez.
Recognizing her growing interest in politics, an 1199 Delegate at Bon Secours recruited Martinez to become a Member Political Organizer (MPO) with the Union. It was a turning point for her. “Until about two years ago, I didn’t like talking about politics,” Martinez says. “But I have learned so much from 1199 and from sitting in on local council meetings.”
As an MPO, Martinez was active during the Midterm campaigns last year, talking to people at their doorsteps. “I saw the power that 1199 had because of the wins,” she says. “Those who were elected knew that 1199 had helped. I learned that our contracts depend on people we put in office. It is about the money [that elected officials control]. When there is no money, there are no raises.”
She also notes that elected representatives advocated for keeping 1199 institutions open when they were under threat of closure. “If you want to talk about holding onto your money and paying lower taxes, talk to Republicans,” Martinez says. “If you’re interested in quality of life, looking after your family – the kind of things that Unions care about that affect everyone – talk to Democrats."
Martinez became so engaged with the political process that she decided to run for the Port Jervis City Council on the Democratic slate. “I wanted more diversity of representation for this town,” she says. “Our slate had a mixture of small business owners, healthcare workers, educators and working people.” Unfortunately, two Republicans ran against her. One candidate quit the race after submitting his name, but it was too late to remove him from the ballot. The confusion resulted in Martinez losing the election by a handful of votes.
Martinez had actually been involved in politics for years — even before her bid for public office. She just didn’t see it that way. As a long-term hospital employee, Martinez learned the details of the contract, and fellow members often came to her for advice. “But at the time, I didn’t want the responsibility or obligation of being a Union Delegate,” she recalls. “Back then, I really had no use for the Union. I thought it was just for people who got into trouble at work.”
But once she became an MPO and started making connections, Martinez decided to become a Delegate, too. “All my weekends lately have been spent in Albany lobbying for increases in home care members’ wages and housing protections for working families. Last December, I went on a lobbying visit to Washington D.C.,” Martinez says. She has not given up on her own political ambitions, either. “I have been serving people my whole life, and it’s time to seek a bigger platform to make change,” she says. “Everything we have, people fought for at one time.”