Low-wage Home Care Workers Rally for a Higher Wage
Protesters arrested in fight for a path out of poverty
for home care providers
A diverse group of home health care workers, including parents of disabled youth and caregivers with elderly clients, gathered at the San Mateo County Courthouse November 18 to demand that the County Board of Supervisors negotiate a more livable wage with San Mateo County’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) providers.
Following impassioned speeches before the county supervisors to demand a fair and just contract, union leaders and home health care workers were arrested for refusing to vacate the board chamber. Among those arrested for engaging in the civil disobedience action was Mary Kay Henry, the Service Employees International Union President and a leading voice in the fight to lift low-wage workers out of poverty. Arrested along with Henry were Luisa Blue, chief elected officer of Local 521, Tonya York, Santa Clara County home care chapter president, San Mateo County IHSS provider Myrna Bravo and SEIU staff member Andrea Hightower.
“Make no mistake, the ‘Fight for $15’ which started with fast-food workers in New York, spreading to security officers and other low-wage workers, is challenging San Mateo County leaders to do the right thing,” said Henry. “It’s time to bring economic justice and economic buying power to home care providers.”
Home care providers allow thousands of elderly and disabled residents to be able to live with dignity at home. In Home Support Service workers are part of the county’s large group of “working poor” residents, even as the program saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year by having patients cared for at home rather than in county hospitals.
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 only a 10 percent wage increase.
“Today, we are standing up not just for home care workers in our community, but for security officers, fast-food workers, and millions of other low wage workers across the country,” said Ceila Ylip, a San Mateo County home care provider. “Families like mine are struggling to get by on poverty wages. We are taking a stand in San Mateo County and we are not alone.”
“We are here today because you have failed us, and you have failed the community,” said SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer Luisa Blue, addressing the board. “By denying home care providers a just and fair living wage, you are treating them as second-tier citizens. And since the majority of homecare workers are women and minorities, this equates to the county failing a major segment of the community.” Of the 5,000 IHSS workers, approximately 75 percent are women, and the majority of the workforce are people of color.
After the civil disobedience action, IHSS workers and supporters marched around the County office building, chanting, “What do we want? Fifteen! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, poverty wages have got to go” and briefly blocking intersections.
Nick Raisch, SEIU 521 Organizer, said the County’s last and final offer would still fail to move the care providers out of poverty to a level of self-sufficiency. Even with the County’s proposed 10 percent increase, a full-time IHSS workers’ annual salary would be less than $27,000. Additionally, housing costs in the county have risen so that the average rent for a one-bdedroom apartment is more than an IHSS worker’s monthly salary. Raisch pointed out that only 1,000 of the 5,000 IHSS workers in the County qualify for employer-based health insurance, and they are chosen by lottery.
Retired Painters Local 913 member Tom Linebarger marched with the SEIU members. “This ties in with the housing crisis. People can’t afford to live here and provide health care for elders like me,” he said. “They are providing health care, so they should get it.”
According to Sustainable San Mateo, the senior population will increase by 72 percent ove the next 15 years, and many will need long-term health care.
Nick Raisch said the next step for the union is to negotiate a new contract with San Mateo County. He said the IHSS workers are hired by the County but the IHSS program gets state, county, and federal funding. The San Mateo group will be the first to get a new contract before IHSS chapters negotiate directly with the state starting next year, and their contract could set a precedent for future wage increases and benefits.
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, 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.”
- Paul Burton