by Kate Wolffe

A new bill proposed in the California legislature would allow in-home care workers to bargain with the state for better working conditions, instead of on a county-by-county basis. 

Over 650,000 people who are elderly, disabled or sight impaired rely on home care aides to help them with daily tasks through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, or IHSS. These tasks include bathing, dressing, eating, cleaning and cooking. About 550,000 work through IHSS and most are women of color, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

Assembly Bill 1672, authored by Assembly member Matt Haney, a Democrat representing San Francisco, aims to bolster that labor force and give it more collective bargaining power with the Department of Health Care Services. According to Haney, 30 counties in California don’t have a contract with their in-home service providers and the majority pay either the minimum wage of $15.50, or one or two dollars above it. 

In 2021, an audit of the IHSS system found that it’s not meeting the needs of the number of people who require and desire home-care services. The state’s former auditor, Elaine Howell, found that in 2019, 40,000 people weren’t able to access the amount of care they needed. 

The audit also found that the current system isn’t built to accommodate the growing population of seniors, which is forecasted to reach 8.5 million in 2030, up from six million in 2019. 

“When we don’t provide for [home care workers], we have to pay more on the back end,” Haney said. “People who can’t receive care at home and are forced to be institutionalized as a result cost the state and counties a lot more.”

Rachel Gonzales, who cares for her nonverbal 11-year-old daughter Grace in northern Sacramento County neighborhood Mather, said advocating for herself and her daughter has become a second full time job. She added that trying to manage responsibilities while bargaining for an hourly wage increase is “mind-bogglingly difficult.”

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Over 6,000 IHSS home care providers in Butte County have gone without a new contract for five years—but we’ve gone even longer without respect. The Butte County Board of Supervisors has been dragging its heels on addressing the needs of IHSS providers, refusing to come through with a needed pay raise for those of us who care for Butte County’s low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

Some of the county supervisors have even taken the insulting position that, since many providers are family members of our clients, we should feel lucky we are getting paid at all.

“I don’t think they understand that this is not a babysitting job,” said Kesha Haynie, an in-home care provider who lives in Magalia. “We are working all the time.”

All of the hard work that providers like Kesha do saves Butte County money – and allows our most vulnerable residents to avoid institutional care, which can cost as much as five times more than care provided through IHSS.

Butte County needs to face that fact that, like the rest of California and the nation, we are on the verge of a long-term care crisis. As our population ages the need for long-term care will skyrocket, and counties need to retain the care workers they have while making the job more attractive to prospective caregivers. According to a new report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, the only way to do that is to raise caregiver wages.

Yet Butte County wants to keep caregivers at minimum wage, which is not enough to live on. Fifty-six percent of Butte County’s home care providers receive some sort of public assistance. Many of us, like Kesha, work multiple jobs.

“I have to work two other jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “If we got paid enough, caregivers wouldn’t have to work outside of caregiving.”

IHSS provider Kesha Haynie is one of many fighting for a living wage caregivers in Butte County.

Not only would supporting Butte County caregivers with a pay raise make fiscal sense because it would limit nursing care and public assistance payments, but more money in caregivers’ pockets means more money in the Butte County economy. It’s estimated that an investment of just $1 per hour in IHSS provider wages in Butte county would generate over five million dollars in increased economic activity in our communities. And, because IHSS program costs are covered by state and federal funds and there is a state funding source to reimburse the county’s share of cost, there’s no good excuse not to give us the pay raise we so desperately need.

There was one raise, however, that the Butte County Board of Supervisors had no problem approving: Their own. They approved a 1.36 percent raise for themselves in February of this year.

“I think a good salary is important to bring people in from all walks of life,” Supervisor Steve Lambert said at the time.

UDW members in Butte County agree! Good pay is the only way to ensure a good work force of caregivers.

Join us on Tuesday, November 14 at 9 a.m. outside the County Board of Supervisors office, 25 County Center Drive, Suite 205, Oroville, CA 95965, as we rally to demand better for Butte County’s caregivers and the seniors and disabilities we care for. Call 530-894-2702 to learn more and RSVP. We will show them that caregivers in Butte County won’t be ignored anymore.

UDW caregivers are working hard to win better wages and benefits for IHSS providers around the state, because our families need and deserve more. Not to mention, our work is worth more than low pay or minimum wage. We do work that is priceless to our clients and cost saving to our communities, so we’re fighting for a living wage together.

Going All In for Care means we are fighting for better pay and benefits for IHSS providers.

In San Diego, Riverside, and Orange counties we’re working together to negotiate an IHSS contract that will improve the lives of providers and our families. Unfortunately, the state believes our work is only worth minimum wage, and they want to keep IHSS providers at low wages and weak benefits. At the bargaining table, they have proposed a contract that would pay providers in San Diego and Orange counties minimum wage for at least the next three years, and would deny providers in Riverside a raise until 2019.

Our UDW contract proposal would raise our wages immediately, and give IHSS providers better health care and paid time off.

But instead of meeting with UDW caregivers again soon so that we can come to a fair agreement, the state has put off the next round of negotiations until late October.

In addition to San Diego, Riverside, and Orange counties, we’re fighting for better wages in multiple counties around the state. Call your local UDW office to find out how you can get involved and go All In for Care.bargaining image