Workers at Mission Neighborhood Health Center, a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare services to low-income patients, hit the streets today. They, very publicly, demonstrated for higher wages and changes at their worksites, but say that the center’s management is refusing to address their concerns. 

At this afternoon’s action outside of the clinic’s main health center at 240 Shotwell St., near 16th and South Van Ness, dozens of health workers put on red union shirts, grabbed signs and picketed on the sidewalk for more than an hour.  

Chanting “SI SE PUEDE,” they waved signs that listed their demands: quarterly meetings between management and employees, better working conditions, and higher pay. 

“Every time our contract our contract comes up for renegotiation, they only offer a two percent increase — even though they receive more donation money yet demand more work from us,” Maria Rivas said. 

Rivas, who works in gynecology, said health workers are being asked to tackle more duties than their position calls for, like drawing blood and basic nursing tasks, even if they are in more specialized roles. Rivas said that although the extra experience is great, the wages do not adequately compensate employees.

Irma Malton, a longtime employee at the health center, added in Spanish: “I’ve been here 31 years and I don’t get paid more than $20 an hour. It’s sad but that’s how it’s been.” 

Many of the employees say they have not had a raise in years, and most make an average of $19 an hour. But with the high cost of living in the city and the surrounding area, many have had to leave the city and commute from out of town, with some commuting from the outer rings of the East Bay.

Noemi Acevedo, a medical assistant who has been working at the clinic for more than nine years, said she has to commute from Hayward because she can’t afford to live in the city. She originally lived in the Outer Mission when she began working here, but has since moved and tried commuting in from Stockton. She subsequently moved to Hayward, and takes BART every morning to work. 

“The majority of us don’t earn enough to live in the city or anywhere else in the Bay Area. We’ve worked here for so long, yet our wages don’t reflect that. We work hard. We deserve it,” Acevedo.

Former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who now works for the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), is representing the healthcare workers, whom he rallied during the lunch hour on Tuesday. He said that when negotiations began in June, the workers asked for a nine percent wage increase but management at the clinic countered with a two percent bump.

The next negotiating session is scheduled for Tuesday night, Avalos said. If the clinic’s management spurns the nine percent ask, Avalos said he and the workers will have to consider other options.

Many of the healthcare workers choose to work at the clinic because of its strong community ties and dedication to immigrant and low-income communities. It’s why they haven’t left the clinic or looked for other jobs, Avalos said. 

“It’s not a very respectful workplace. It’s a place where people have to approach management with their hats in their hands like some kind of hacienda or encomienda system you see in Latin America,” Avalos said. “We don’t need to have a class system in a place that’s fighting against poverty.”

Not all of the demonstrators were health workers, though.

Mariela Mejia is a longtime a patient at the clinic and was also demonstrating with the workers in support of the staff. Mejia said she has been a patient at MNHC for 12 years and received excellent care when she was pregnant with her son. She relies on Medical for healthcare coverage.

“They gave me everything I needed when I was pregnant. When my son is sick they do everything to help him get better,” Mejia said.

Calls and messages placed to the health center’s management were not immediately returned. 

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, Avalos’ District 11 successor, was also present at the demonstration. He said he and the city would be following the situation closely. Mission Neighborhood Health Center’s second clinic lies in his district, near Mission and Francis Street in the Excelsior. Another branch is proposed for a site eight blocks west at 4840 Mission St., also in the Excelsior. 

“When and if both sides call us, we’re happy to help move the conversation forward,” Safai said.