LOS ANGELES: Home Care Workers Continue Struggle for Better Wages, Benefits
A year after celebrating a major union victory, 74,000 Los Angeles home care workers are "only marginally better off, with wages up a mere 50 cents an hour and health insurance still nowhere in sight," the Los Angeles Times reports. The "landmark vote" by professional home care workers boosted union membership in Los Angeles County by 10%, and was hailed by national labor leaders as "proof that organizing low-wage, immigrant and minority workers can pay off in big numbers." Despite the victory, home care workers still "face great obstacles in improving wages and benefits," and state and county political leaders -- who once championed the home care cause -- blame each other for not giving workers a "fair share." Home care aide Mary Simmons said, "Thank God for the 50 cents, but it's still a poverty wage. ... Sometimes it seems like no one's listening to us." Although state and Los Angeles County officials have said they favor higher pay, they have not proposed any new initiatives to remedy the situation. Los Angeles home workers now earn $6.25 an hour, whereas San Francisco home workers earn $9 an hour with medical and dental insurance. "The linchpin to all this is state funding," L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. He added, "The county has done a lot here. The county created the vehicle through which the in-home care workers could be unionized."
Gov. Gray Davis (D) and several state legislators contend that the county should fund an increase. Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D- Los Angeles) said, "The county has obligations and there's an expectation they fulfill them." He added, "The state would be willing to work with [the county]." After federal grants, the county/state split has been 35-65 for home care pay. After last year's raise, the county paid 20% of the 50 cent wage increase cost, with the state picking up the balance. But, Jeanine Meyer Rodriguez, a legislative strategist with the Service Employees International Union state council, said that political bickering is commonplace. "One of the problems has been that no level of government takes full responsibility. When it comes to making improvements, they all point to the other." She added, "Our challenge is to work at each level. That's why things are so slow" (Cleeland/Riccardi, 3/14).