They came from across Fresno County, California, the U.S., and Canada with one mission: to protect Fresno County home care.
More than 900 SEIU members and activists gathered on Sunday, May 31st at the Fresno County Fairgrounds to kick off a massive "Get Out the Vote" effort to help home care workers protect their jobs, pay, and union. Rally participants pledged to help keep hope alive for 10,000 SEIU UHW Fresno County home care members, as they fight proposed wage-and-benefit cuts of $1 per hour beginning July 1 and vote in an election to determine their union representation on June 15.
One particularly remarkable Fresno county home care consumer and union activist appeared at yesterday's kick-off: ninety year-old Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, who was UFW's very first female organizer, hired by the notable Cesar Chavez himself in 1964. It was due to the tenacity of supporters like Lopez de la Cruz that the farm workers' cause and crusade for social justice received national attention and helped influenced labor laws.
Ms. Lopez De La Cruz had a special message when introducing SEIU Executive VP (and SEIU UHW trustee) Eliseo Medina at yesterday's event, as both worked alongside Cesar Chavez with the UFW: "The last time I was in these fairgrounds was 1973, when Cesar Chavez and hundreds and hundreds of farm workers were arrested in protests, and they put us in jail. I know the important work you do, and I support SEIU UHW!" Ms. Lopez De La Cruz urged everyone to stand strong for the SEIU UHW members who provide her care.
Cutting Home Care Workers' Wages: the Many Aftershocks
Of the roughly two million home care workers nationwide, more than 20 percent earn incomes below the poverty level. The 10,000 or so workers who provide in-home care for the elderly and those with disabilities in Fresno County might soon increase this overall number, as they end up below the poverty line in the aftermath of Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed July 1 wage cuts. At any rate, slashing the state's already-low direct care wages at any level will likely force thousands of home care providers to leave their jobs in and cause workers to be more reliant on the state's support services.
"The economy is already devastating California's families, so this isn't a time to be cutting necessary support systems or reducing those already-small wages," said Bernadette Lynch, president of California Association of Public Authorities for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and executive director for Sacramento County IHSS Public Authority. "The current pay for home care workers doesn't even amount to a living wage at this point, except in one or two counties. Reducing it will end up causing a dearth of providers, which will hurt consumers. It's devastating." Taking money away from California's program to make up for budgetary shortfalls will also result in more people having to resort to institutional care (nursing homes or other residental institutions)-- which is estimated to be four times more expensive to the State.
SEIU Files a Class-Action Lawsuit
Last week, SEIU filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, seeking a preliminary junction to stop the State of California and Fresno County from slashing the wages of home care workers to near-poverty levels and from to reducing the hours of care seniors and people with disabilities receive from going into effect. The suit, brought on behalf of individual consumers and SEIU, charges that the planned cuts put seniors and people with disabilities at risk and violate the American with Disabilities Act and Federal Medicaid Law.
Between now and July 1st - the date the home care cuts are supposed to take effect - home care workers, their families and supporters have much to fight for. Stop the home care cuts in California.