The Fight for $15 & a Union: A Mental Health Issue
by Dr. Eve Kellner, psychiatry resident at Lenox Hill Hospital, CIR NY Regional Vice President, and human rights activist
The Fight for $15 movement undeniably intertwines workers’ rights and better pay with healthcare and the ability to afford nutritious food, medications, and preventative health measures. At the root of the movement is the human spirit: let’s place value on some of the United States’ hardest working people, rather than on corporate dollars. That’s what’s driving me to participate in the National Day of Action on Tuesday, November 10 to support $15 and union rights. There will be doctors like myself supporting this necessary change.
As a psychiatry resident at Lenox Hill Hospital and a Regional Vice President of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR/SEIU Healthcare), I know that one of the main ways that adults gain and maintain their self worth and self-esteem is through working hard and taking pride in their work. By not paying workers a living wage or offering proper benefits, we are disrespecting them. It’s no wonder that so many low wage patients report having depressive symptoms and chronic symptoms of anxiety. It’s time we all join together to battle our nations’ antiquated ideas of de-valued hourly work in favor of a livable wage and union representation.
In the emergency room I see the physical, emotional, and societal impacts of our broken low wage system on patients almost every day. I know low wages mean income inequality and health discrepancies. The demands and stressors that low wage workers endure are unbelievable and often compound existing health issues. Low wage earners are working paycheck-to-paycheck, have to care for others, yet have no sick time or family leave. It’s a vicious cycle – they can’t afford to get sick but they can’t afford to not take care of themselves or their families.
Gone are the days when the majority of lower wage positions were filled with high school teens and casual part-timers in need extra summer savings. Today the average fast food worker is 28 years old. Over a quarter of all fast food workers are the major breadwinners for their families, and many of them are women.*
Many low wage patients evaluated in emergency rooms report not being able to afford proper health care, either because their employer doesn’t provide it, or because they can’t afford the bill. What is worse is that workers are often afraid of retaliation and job loss due to hospitalization or time off due to illness. Almost all workers surviving on minimum wage report not being able to afford rent, cost of living increases, nutritious food for their children, health care plans, and preventative or maintenance programs assigned by a doctor.
Home health aides and childcare workers are literally taking care of us and our families, but who is taking care of them? We must, as a society, reject this inhumane lack of value placed on our most vulnerable group of workers. There is no way out of this system other than raising the wage and forming a union to bargain for humane employer-offered benefits, such as paid healthcare, sick leave, and family leave.
I marched at the New York City site of Fight for $15 nation-wide rally on April 15, 2015, as one of 60,000 people who marched in 230 cities across America endorsing respect and equality. We are hoping to get even more people out during the November 10 day of action. If you support fellow workers – and family members, in my case – who are seeking better pay, better working conditions, and recognize the contributions they make to society, PLEASE JOIN US!
It’s a complicated issue with a simple prescription: pay people a fair, living wage, offer healthcare, and implement paid sick/family leave. If you know anyone who needs healthcare, please direct them to the Health Insurance Marketplace here: https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/
– Dr. Eve Kellner is a psychiatry resident at Lenox Hill Hospital, a CIR NY Regional Vice President, and human rights activist.
Sign up now for the Fight for $15 National Day of Action:
Uninsured, or underinsured? Sign up for open enrollment through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Coverage can start as soon as January 1, 2016. https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/
* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgTHOZyX65o According to former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich in a Fight for $15 video from 2013.