I’ve been working as a home care worker for more than forty years, and as a personal care attendant for the last several years. This kind of work has never been well-paid or come with many benefits, and unfortunately that is just something we have come to expect. In addition to low pay, home care workers get no respect for what we do and our work often is not recognized as real work.
When I was a young man first doing this work, my own mother did not see the value in it and argued with me strongly about choosing a different career – many years later when she had Lymphoma and needed to have home care, she suddenly saw how important this work is and was grateful that I did it.
Home care workers have come to expect that, at best, we will get a cost of living adjustment every couple of years; what we did not expect is to see our low wages cut further. When the State cut our wages last year, many home care workers I know who were just barely getting by found that they no longer could. This is a slap in the face to an already lowly paid profession. We need to be able to afford to do this work if we are going to be able to provide these services to people with disabilities and our elderly.
The following video features a Minnesota mom who relies on home care workers to help care for two sons with Autism. She supports organizing these workers.
Home care workers save money for taxpayers. Many studies have shown that it is less expensive to allow people to stay at home, rather than in an expensive institution. Not only that, but the vast majority of clients are happier to stay at home. They can control their own services, can hire the aides that they like and let go of the ones that they don’t – but in institutions, the institution has all the power.
We need to make these jobs better jobs, and that is why I think a union is exactly what we need. Home care workers are invisible to our society and badly need a voice. We provide invaluable care to people with disabilities as well as seniors and others who cannot afford registered nurses or even nursing assistants. To many, the Direct Support Worker or Personal Care Assistant is their lifeline to the world. Ask anyone who has the services of a home care worker and they will tell you how important they are to their life. We are invaluable to them. Yet here in Minnesota, we don’t even have the right to form a union.
Without a voice, when the state wants to cut funds for health and human services, home care workers are an easy target. The nurses have their unions, and the doctors have theirs. They have the ability to make their voices heard at the Capitol. But home care workers – those who are already the lowest paid of all long-term care workers – face cuts that make our income unlivable.
Allowing home care workers to form a union with SEIU would not only increase the working conditions for workers, it would increase the quality of care by providing opportunities for training for home care worker, which could include first aid and CPR training. A union would help standardize care and work for employee benefits. As it stands right now very few home care workers have health insurance or retirement benefits. A union could help with all of that. It could give us an opportunity to share ideas with each other on how to care for clients and give us a place to come together and find solutions to the problems we face in our profession.
All that I ask for right now is to pass a law to give us the right to decide for ourselves – as home care workers – whether or not we should form a union. Don’t we at least deserve the ability to decide that for ourselves?