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.