Issued June 30, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC — Home care workers — 87 percent of whom are women and more than half are women of color — are fighting two crises: a global pandemic and systematic racism that has long undervalued the essential care they provide so seniors and people with disabilities can live safely and independently at home. On Wednesday, July 1, home care workers in 25 cities in 11 states are kicking off a series of actions to underscore the urgent need for coronavirus protections and long-term care investments.
Dating back to slavery, Black and brown women have cared for seniors and loved ones with disabilities without basic rights or just compensation. Today, home care workers continue to be devalued and excluded from many of the laws that protect other American workers, including the paid family and sick leave provisions in the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The personalized care Debra Howze, a home care worker in St. Paul, Minn., provides for her two clients, a 100-year-old woman and a veteran with multiple sclerosis, has helped shield them from exposure to COVID-19 by allowing them to live safely and independently at home. At the same time, she lacks basic protections to protect her own health and well-being. “It’s hard enough getting by on just $1800 a month. I can’t afford health insurance through my job and don’t have enough paid sick days if I have a prolonged illness,” explained Howze. “Home care workers like me shouldn’t fear losing our homes to do the jobs we love caring for seniors and people with disabilities. If we’re truly essential, we should have essentials like PPE, paid sick leave and hazard pay.”
On Wednesday, Debra will be joining other Minnesota caregivers, seniors and people with disabilities in a single-file caravan of cars and mobility devices circling the Capitol complex to demand urgently needed hazard pay for home care workers that has stalled in the legislative special session.
Other home care actions around the country include:
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the deep cracks in the overstretched and underfunded long-term care system. Despite being one of the fastest growing professions, in large part due to the rapidly aging population, the median wage for home care workers is $11.52 an hour and many cannot afford health insurance. In fact, 53 percent of home care workers are forced to rely on public assistance to survive.
The 740,000 home care workers united in SEIU are committed to tackling the low wages, lack of benefits like paid sick leave, inadequate training, and the absence of basic job protections that are at the heart of the growing long term care crisis and our nation’s rigged economy. Through their power in numbers at the bargaining table and through legislative advocacy, more than 150,000 home care workers will be getting a raise on July 1. For example, thanks to their union contract, 45,000 1199SEIU-United Healthcare Workers East consumer-directed home care workers in Massachusetts will be receiving their new hourly wage of $15.75 on their next paycheck. These guaranteed wage increases, along with 50 hours of paid time off each year and no-cost training, are unprecedented wins for home care workers, who are isolated and often lack a union voice.
“Joining together with other home care workers, we can be a part of the solution to the crisis of care our nation’s seniors and people with disabilities have been facing, and not just in this pandemic,” said Maria Colville, a home care worker a member of 1199SEIU in Cambridge, Mass. “All home care workers, regardless of where we live, where we work, or the color of our skin deserve a fair shot to provide for ourselves and our families as we care for others."
As part of the July actions, SEIU home care workers are calling for Congress to swiftly provide needed PPE, paid leave and pandemic pay through the HEROES Act and are launching a home care pledge to unite other caregivers, consumers and family members across the country to demand a more just home care system.
Home care workers across the country are joining together with the 740,000 home care providers represented by the Service Employees International Union to raise awareness of the rising demand for affordable long-term care. This movement of caregivers is calling on candidates at all levels to present policy solutions so seniors and people with disabilities have quality, affordable home care and all of the nation’s 2.8 million home care workers have good union jobs.