Home Care Workers, Union Leaders Arrested in Civil Disobedience Action
Home care workers stepped up their campaign for a livable wage with a civil disobedience action at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting December 9. Several home care workers and union leaders were arrested when they refused to leave the board chambers after Supervisors shut down the meeting.
San Mateo County home care workers represented by SEIU Local 521 rallied at the board meeting to demand that the County Board of Supervisors negotiate a living wage with San Mateo County’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) providers.
Speaking before the meeting was stopped, San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler called on the County to give the low paid workers a raise. Kessler said the County has done a lot of good for many people in the community, like expanding access to health care and looking at ways to support a living wage. She said “it is unfortunate that we can’t find a way to work together to help lift this group of workers out of poverty.” Kessler was among those arrested for refusing to leave the Board chambers.
SEIU Home Care Chapter Region 6 Vice-President Tonya York said the 5,000 IHSS workers in San Mateo County would continue their fight for living wages. “There has been no progress, no movement,” she said.
York said she has worked for 18 years as a home health care worker. “We provide health care for the sickest and weakest members of the community,” she said. “The kinds of people we care for require 24 hour a day care. The Board of Supervisors is leaving them behind.
“We have an aging population that is growing, so we need to fix it now, but there is no plan to expand care and ensure that the workforce is compensated so they can keep providing the crucial care and services,” York said. “The cost per person is much less when the can get care while living at home rather tan in an institution.”
A statement from the union noted that, “With more than $300 million in budget surplus, the county can invest in the home care program that allows the elderly and people with disabilities to live with dignity at home. Yet, after negotiating fair contracts with its two largest employee unions [including SEIU 521, which also represents other County workers], San Mateo County continues to treat its home care providers as second-tier citizens. San Mateo County’s economic recovery is evident in its $300 million budget surplus. Yet, women and minorities are not sharing in the economic prosperity.”
San Mateo County’s IHSS workers currently earn $11.50 an hour, or 60 percent below the self-sufficiency wage needed to live in the region, calculated at $17.33 an hour. Their wages have not increased since 2007. The County has offered a 10 percent wage increase. While the County is responsible for the collective bargaining with the union, in February the State will take over the labor negotiations. The IHSS program is funded through the County, State, and Federal government and the County has been reluctant to take on higher costs without a commitment from the State to increase funding or maintain current funding levels. The State Legislature has cut IHSS funding in past budgets.
IHSS workers rallied at the County courthouse after the Board of Supervisors meeting
Speaking at a rally at the County courthouse after the meeting, Matthew Verscheure, IHSS San Mateo County Branch Manager and contract negotiator, said, “We have 1,300 IHSS recipients in San Mateo County. Studies have shown the importance of quality home care for seniors, and that the senior population will increase. The Board of Directors and the Executive Director of the IHSS Consortium support the call for a livable wage—not just $15 an hour.”
Home care worker Edgardo Pichay, a member of the Filipino Community Center in Daly City, said, “My dream is to spend more quality time with my family. I work 10 hours a day but we are still struggling.”
IHSS worker Dora Moreno said she has worked as a home health care provider for 30 years, and has a disabled client who has been in the intensive care unit and on life support, and is now receiving care at home. “He is 98 percent disabled and needs everything,” Moreno said. “My work is 24/7. I do it to help people, not for the money, but they keep cutting back my hours. It’s very unfair. I wonder if I can afford to pay for food. The County saves a lot of money by keeping the people in their homes.”
Moreno said she does not get health benefits. Only 1,000 of the 5,000 IHSS workers in the county qualify for employer-based health insurance, and they are chosen by lottery.
Tonya York of SEIU Local 521 said the union would keep coming back to the Board of Supervisors to demand a livable wage.