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Maria Castaneda

Maria Castaneda has served as secretary treasurer of 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East since 2007. The union represents over 400,000 healthcare workers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Maria holds the union’s second highest rank after Pres. George Gresham and among labor leaders in the U.S. she is the highest-ranking woman of Asian descent.

Born in the Philippines, Maria immigrated to the U.S. in 1984. She became a volunteer community organizer in New York City where she assisted Filipino nurses with immigration issues and promoted Filipino culture. During that time, she also lobbied for the Nursing Relief Act, which gave permanent resident status to thousands of Filipino nurses employed in the U.S.

She began working for 1199SEIU in 1985, starting as an organizer in the union’s RN Division and later serving as a vice president and executive vice president. Over her career she’s represented tens of thousands of workers at New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System (including the former Continuum Health Partners), NYU Lutheran Health System and Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Among her many contributions is the institution of a new labor-management relations model: the strategic partnership. This relationship is built on quality patient care and worker engagement. Under her leadership and guidance, frontline workers have acted as quality coaches and helped facilities reduce acquired infections and clinic wait times, improve patient satisfaction, and carry out a host of other successful initiatives. She believes when caregivers have input in labor-management efforts, they promote safe care for their patients and more job satisfaction for their co-workers.

Maria is passionately dedicated to educational advancement and equal access to health and wellness services. In her role, she’s sought expansion of the 1199SEIU’s Training and Upgrading program to ensure greater availability to more union members of these world-renowned worker training programs. She has sparked greater member participation in 1199SEIU’s worksite wellness programs and health fairs. She champions a healthful lifestyle including exercise, smoking cessation and nutrition choices to combat obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

In times of disaster or international crisis, she spearheads 1199’s relief efforts. Most recently she was the driving force behind 1199SEIU’s fundraising campaign for victims of the Nepal earthquake. In 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, Maria and other SEIU leaders raised almost $600,000 in relief funds and another $1.3 million for other necessities like food, medicines and infant formula. She also led the massive outreach after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which included coordinating donations from Americares, a fundraising drive and mobile outreach to members in affected areas. She also oversaw 1199SEIU’s We Care for Haiti committee, which helped donate over $1 million through UNICEF after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Maria Castaneda is also a vice president of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union.

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