Aurora Viramontes Rivera has two tough and very important jobs: she’s the mother of two amazing children with disabilities, and she’s also their home care provider.
Four years ago, Aurora’s son Atzel was born 23 weeks premature. “We were so worried,” she said. “Atzel was in an incubator for five months after he was born. I couldn’t take him home until he was seven months old.”
Today, Atzel is a happy four-year-old boy who lives with autism and receives care through IHSS. But sometimes Atzel wanders, and has a hard time distinguishing between safe and dangerous objects. “I have to monitor him 24 hours a day,” Aurora explained. “I can’t work another job, because someone needs to be with Atzel full-time.”
Like all parents and caregivers, Aurora’s priority is her children’s care, but until recently Aurora also spent sleepless nights worrying about how she would provide basic needs for her family of six.
“We were living in a cramped two bedroom apartment,” she said. “Atzel would stare all day at the window hoping to go outside, but it was too dangerous.”
It was her initial struggles with the IHSS program that left Aurora feeling financially insecure. When she first applied, Atzel was granted just 80 IHSS hours of care per month. Her daughter Alix only receives 4. “Atzel needs so much more care than that, and he can’t be without me,” she said. “I felt helpless, because I didn’t know what to do for Atzel or my family.”
Last year, Aurora learned about UDW. “I didn’t know anything about unions,” she said. “But when I learned UDW helps members fight for our rights and for more IHSS hours for our clients, I joined on the spot.”
Joining UDW has been life-changing for Aurora and her family.
Last October, the UDW Advocacy Council in Orange County helped Aurora appeal the assessment of Atzel’s hours, and win nearly 200 additional IHSS hours. And Aurora received over $7,000 in retroactive pay for the hours she worked unpaid.
Three additional union victories have put money in Aurora’s pocket, transforming her family’s quality of life and their future.
First, UDW negotiated a contract with Orange County to increase providers’ wages to $10.20 an hour. This victory came after 5 years of refusal by the county to give providers a raise.
The second victory came after UDW members rallied, marched, and lobbied lawmakers to end a harmful 7% cut to our clients’ hours last year.
And this year, thanks to years of hard work, overtime pay for IHSS providers began on February 1. Approximately 20 percent of IHSS providers are now earning time-and-a-half pay for hours worked over 40 each week.
“It’s because UDW caregivers worked together to protect the home care program that my family was able to rent a new three bedroom house,” explained Aurora. “It has a big yard where my children can safely play. We also bought a more reliable car, so that I can take Atzel to his doctors’ appointments. It’s been a dream come true.”
Aurora’s family is also saving money to purchase a home, and planning a trip to Mexico to visit her children’s grandmother, who is ill.
For Aurora, becoming a UDW member has meant less stress and more financial stability. “I’m much happier,” she said. “Becoming a UDW member has made a world of a difference for our family.”
UDW protects the IHSS program for our clients, and we provide resources and assistance to caregivers locally. To get involved, contact your local office at www.udwa.org/contact.
My name is Vera Galinha, and I’m an IHSS homecare provider for my partner in Los Banos, CA. I’ve been with my partner since I was 17, and we have three beautiful children together. About nine years ago he began to show signs of paranoid schizophrenia, and once he was diagnosed, I transitioned into the role of homecare provider.
It has taken years to adjust to his condition, and I learn more every day. I gave up my work in the medical and dental insurance field to become his full-time caregiver. And I know that homecare is the answer for my partner and many others like him: if he were put into a facility or institution, he would give up. He needs his family around him in an environment he knows and trusts.
For a long time, my partner was only approved for 20 IHSS hours each month. It was getting difficult to pay bills and keep our household running, so I considered getting another job to make ends meet. But it seemed impossible for me to leave the house for another job when I knew my partner would be home—if I’m not around, who would care for him and make sure he is safe?
In June 2015, I went to a UDW Advocacy Council meeting. Each UDW county has an Advocacy Council, and their help is one of our many UDW Member Benefits. At the meeting I spoke to fellow homecare providers, and UDW staff who educated me about the IHSS program. Part of my responsibilities as my partner’s homecare provider is to make sure he is not a danger to himself or others. In the IHSS world this is called “protective supervision,” and it is a full-time job. It turns out my partner should have had it all along!
It wasn’t easy, but the Advocacy Council helped me file an appeal on a Notice of Action we received. A fellow UDW homecare provider even came to my home during the social worker’s reassessment to witness it, and make sure everything ran smoothly. As a result, my partner’s IHSS hours were increased from 20 to 76 each month.
This was a huge win for us, but it still wasn’t representative of the amount of care my partner actually needs.
So I filed a second appeal with the help of the Advocacy Council. My fellow providers made sure I had all the documentation I needed, and gave me advice on what to expect. During a phone meeting with a representative from Merced County, I made my case, and we went over a document from my partner’s psychologist detailing the severity of his condition. The representative agreed with me, and noted that my partner was in need of a high level of care.
Just a few days later, I received a call saying that my partner’s social worker granted him protective supervision, which gave him an additional 195 hours per month plus the 76 we’d already secured! And I was granted retroactive pay back to August.
For me, this was not an easy process. Going through it, I often felt like I was asking for something my partner and I didn’t deserve. But we do! I am my client’s homecare provider, after all, and I deserve to be compensated for the quality care I provide him every day.
I am so grateful the UDW Advocacy Council was there for us every step of the way. To my fellow homecare providers going through a similar situation, I’ll say this: contact our union, and go to an Advocacy Council meeting. You are not alone. We are all working to protect our clients and loved ones, and keep them healthy and safe, and we are stronger together.