Gene Chang, OD

I was always interested in optometry, because I was fascinated with the eyes.  For many, sight is their most cherished sense.  As an Optometrist, I help people see better, which is such an important part of life.  I also like the flexibility, and working with people.

I did my residency at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West LA. I liked the integrated health care model, so I came to work at Kaiser where a similar system like the VA’s exists.  I like to learn about things firsthand and voice my thoughts.  So when the opportunity arose to become a Steward and no one else stepped up, I was eager to get involved.  I don’t think of myself as an activist, really, but as a representative for my colleagues, who might not have the time or desire to take on that role.  It’s my responsibility to speak up for my co-workers and to try to get people more involved, and I take that responsibility seriously.

As a Steward, I see the union make positive change.  It is satisfying when we can accomplish certain goals, like negotiating a more fair and standardized schedule, with a limit on the maximum number of patients we see in eight hours.  This is how the union helps us provide better care for our patients.

I am concerned about our upcoming negotiations with Kaiser.  We’ve seen what they have done to other groups.  The pharmacists, for example, had a tough time fighting to keep their benefits.  They had their pensions frozen and took cuts to retiree medical benefits.

Our pension is extremely important. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to work at Kaiser was secure retirement.  Most private sector companies are doing away with pensions these days, using the economy as an excuse.

We have great benefits, and a good work environment where the health care professions are all integrated.  Those benefits are due to our contract.  To keep those benefits this year, we have to show management that we as members are involved and supportive of our team and our coalition.

I like working with people, I like helping people to see.  I used to not understand unions before I became a UNAC/UHCP member.  But now I see how our union helps us as professionals, and helps our patients.  We have it pretty good, thanks to our union contract.  We need to all get involved this year so we can hold onto that.  I’m concerned, but I’m optimistic.  I think members will rise to the challenge.