Maria Blaine: Leading the Fight for Equity, at Work and in the Community
SEIU Local 1000 member Maria Blaine, who works at the Public Utilities Commission, has been fighting for justice in the workplace on and off the job for years. Working at the Public Utilities Commission, which mediates and helps resolve complaints against utility providers, often means Maria is working to help consumer who are facing high utility costs with little to no income. Here, she helps Spanish speaking consumers, who are often the victims of unscrupulous ‘sales’ representatives.
Even before she worked with the State, Maria knew the importance of fighting for justice in our communities. “My father was a union member in the restaurant and hotel industry,” she said. “He wanted his family to receive care when needed.” The insurance that her father’s union fought for was especially important when the factors that affect care, like language barriers, became barriers to treatment. “I attended medical appointments with my mother and translated for her when the staff did not speak Spanish,” she said. “As my mother grew older and health care providers rushed her through her appointment, she became sicker. The doctors that did see her did not read her medical chart. She passed away due to undiagnosed lung cancer at 60 years young. So, I know how important it is to have good quality health care services. It can mean the difference between life and death.”
This focus on health care is an important component of what justice in the workplace looks like. Losing a job is not just about losing income; it can mean losing your access to health care, putting you — and your family — at risk. “When Governor Schwarzenegger ordered mandatory furloughs and off 10,000 state workers in 2008, I was angry,” Maria said. “That’s when I decided to become a certified job steward.”
Fighting for quality health care is a priority for unions everywhere. Maria’s work has centered around places where issues of access are rampant, ensuring patients are not denied care because of financial issues. “I worked for the Haight Ashbury Clinic in the 90s,” she said. “This clinic offered FREE health care and drug treatment for patients.” The experience underlies Maria’s work in health care within SEIU Local 1000 to this day.
Her goal is to ensure that everyone is able to get an appointment with their primary care provider when needed. “We need our employers to cover 100% of the cost for health care,” she said. “And it needs to be great, qualified medical staff who will focus on disease prevention, not just to make patients less sick.”
As we enacted precautions to ensure that workers were safe from COVID-19 — emptying offices and allowing staff to work from home — we must now work to ensure that as we rebuild, we are creating a system that does not allow employers to leave our coworkers and community members un- and under-insured, and at risk of illness.