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Employees with Austin's mental health authority, Integral Care, are trying to unionize

The United Workers of Integral Care with Communications Workers of America said they want higher pay, increased staff retention and increased safety.

AUSTIN, Texas — A group of employees with Integral Care, Austin and Travis County's mental health authority, are trying to unionize. 

"I don't think people should be sleeping outside unless they want to be," Jen Hellow said. 

Hellow and her colleagues have dedicated their lives to helping people experiencing homelessness get on their feet. Right now, they're facing struggles of their own.

"As Austin's cost of living skyrockets, some people may have to step away from the thing they are passionate about to afford to live," rehab specialist Molly Baker said.

That's exactly what Baker doesn't want to do. So a group of Integral Care employees are trying to unionize to address understaffing, high turnover, low pay and safety concerns.

The nonprofit community center manages mental health care across Austin and Travis county.

"There's 260 open positions," said Hellow.

So far, 72 employees have signed authorization cards. 

"People are falling through the cracks because their helpers are leaving," said Hellow. "I feel like if they doubled our salaries to start, people would come and do this work." 

Integral Care said because it is a community center formed under and subject to Chapter 534 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, it is an agency of the State, a governmental unit, a unit of local government and a political subdivision of the State of Texas. Because of its governmental entity status, it is not governed by the National Labor Relations Act, and is prohibited under Texas law from entering into a collective bargaining contract and from recognizing a labor organization as the bargaining agent for a group of its employees.  

Integral Care wrote in a statement:

"The Integral Care Executive Management Team and Board of Trustees share the interests of this group of employees – better working conditions, safety, improved client outcomes and reduced turnover and higher retention. We will continue to listen to and learn from our employees and take steps to address these concerns."

"We want to stay and make things better," said Baker. "Our goal is quality care."

The group is now known as The United Workers of Integral Care with Communications Workers of America. They want to meet with the heads of the nonprofit and make sure no one else falls through the cracks.

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