Labor Unions, Care Workers, and Care Recipients Gathered in St. Louis To Stand Up Against Labor Issues Facing Increasingly Important Home Care Industry
ST. LOUIS – Hundreds of home care workers from California to New York and from all sectors of the industry gathered in St. Louis the past two days for a historic summit on the future of care. The Home Care Workers Rising Summit was convened by Caring Across Generations in partnership with national labor unions, consumer and disability rights advocates, to focus on the growing national movement for quality care, quality jobs, and both care workers’ and consumers’ right to dignity and independence.
The summit was followed by a march to the Wainwright State Office Building this morning, at which the same coalition of home care workers and consumer advocates demanded a fair wage for Missouri’s home care workers from Governor Jay Nixon.
“We know we need change when the people we count on to take of our loved ones cannot take care of their own,” said Ai-jen Poo, Caring Across Generations co-director and 2014 MacArthur fellow. “Millions of people have very few options for affordable home care, which is creating heartache for us all.”
“We need home care workers to join hands with consumers and families to create a care system and economy that meets all of our needs,” added Sarita Gupta, Jobs with Justice National Director and Caring Across Generations Co-Director. “What we saw at the summit was a strengthening of a movement with incredible potential and incredible heart.”
The summit brought together home care workers employed by states as well as the private sector and provided training and strategy sessions on how to build home care worker solidarity, employ innovative organizing techniques, and create broad-based coalitions to address 21st century home care challenges.
“Every day I leave my family at 9am and return home around 8pm. My work preserves the dignity of people in my community and keeps them out of costly nursing homes,” said Karen Harlan, a home care worker from Moberly, Missouri and winner of one of the inaugural Caregiver Champion awards. “But without any benefits or days off tens of thousands of home care workers live in jeopardy. We as caregivers cannot afford to be invisible anymore.”
Just this morning, home care workers marched from the Renaissance Hotel in St. Louis, where the summit was held, to the Wainwright State Office Building and rallied to demand that Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri raise the minimum wage for home care workers to $11.00/hour. The average wage of the state’s home care workers is $8.68/hour, below the national average.
“The need for home care is exploding, but the current system isn’t working,” said Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “We must transform home care from one of the worst, fastest growing jobs in America to one of the best.”
The issues of home care and caregiving are becoming central to the American economy: home care jobs are the fastest-growing, lowest-paid sector in our economy with the number of home care workers expected to double by 2020.
“We must build a world in which we can all win – where dignity and respect for home care workers is tied to dignity and respect for older people and people with disabilities, and where people can afford to get the services and supports they need,” said Hand in Hand board member Jessica Lehman. “Building these broad coalitions are not easy – but it will get us to a world where everyone will be treated with dignity and respect.”
Home care workers still only earn an average annual income of just over $17,000. Every eight seconds, another person turns 65 in this country, and two-thirds of people over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care in their lives with 90% of people preferring to age at home. In addition to the challenges facing paid home care workers, millions of Americans are becoming unpaid family caregivers because of the lack of affordable care options. The elder boom will continue to create a massive need for home care providers, and the current workforce is not sufficient to meet the demand.
“Thirty years ago, Illinois home care workers made $1 an hour, with no benefits, no training, and no voice at all. We lived in the shadows with our consumers,” said Flora Johnson, Chairperson of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, home care provider, and winner of the first-ever Evelyn Coke Lifetime Achievement award. “Everything changed with our union. By uniting with seniors and people with disabilities, we are truly a force to be reckoned with. Starting on December 1, home care workers in Illinois will earn $13 an hour. We have quality health insurance and paid training. And best of all, turnover has gone down and home care consumers get the reliable, qualified workforce that they need.”
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