“Why should we be left out?”
That’s the question San Diego caregiver Nicanora Montenegro asked the crowd of IHSS providers who gathered at the office of the city treasurer on Thursday morning. Nicanora works as her 47-year-old sister’s caregiver, and she is one of the estimated 10,000 IHSS providers in the city of San Diego who were left out when the city raised its minimum wage from $10 to $10.50 an hour.
“They raised the wage to $10.50 and we’re left at $10 only – What do you call that? Wage theft,” Nicanora continued.
Wage theft, or denying a worker wages to which they are entitled, has been going on in San Diego since July when the city’s first minimum wage increase went into effect. This came after voters in the city, including many IHSS providers, elected to raise the city’s minimum wage by passing Proposition I in June. Although we were not left out of the proposition, San Diego caregivers were left out of the actual wage increase, because of an unfair decision by the state of California. Rather than enforcing the decision made by San Diego voters, the state decided to continue to pay providers just $10 an hour – $.50 less than the new minimum wage.
“Every other worker working in the city is being paid $10.50 per hour, it makes no sense that the state is refusing to pay us this wage too,” said Theresa Blackwell, an IHSS provider for an elderly woman in her community. “I’m here today fighting for a better way of living, so I won’t have to struggle and live paycheck to paycheck.”
Theresa was among the providers who rallied at the city treasurer’s office. After the rally, Theresa and four other members of the San Diego bargaining team went into the office to file official wage theft complaints with the city against the state. We urged the city to take action on our behalf, and demand the state enforce our local laws.
“Why would people in Sacramento, who definitely make at least minimum wage, decide to pay us less when we need it just as much as every other San Diegan?” Darlene Nelson, a provider for her two adult daughters who live with developmental disabilities asked the crowd. “We shouldn’t have to fight for minimum wage. It is a basic right, and to deny it to us is wage theft.”
Although we gathered to protest and fight for our right to at least the minimum wage, IHSS providers and providers around the state know we need and deserve a lot more than minimum wage. Darlene urged us to be All in for Care, which means we will work hard at the bargaining table with the state in Orange, San Diego, and Riverside, and with counties around the state to win better wages and benefits, and a better quality of life for our families.
“We’re making $10 an hour right now and it’s not enough,” said IHSS provider and San Diego District Chair Brooks Ashby. “That’s why UDW is fighting for $13 to $15 an hour at the bargaining table… We need better pay to meet our needs and the needs of our clients.”
In San Diego, we will continue to fight back against the state’s claims that they don’t have to pay us fairly, but we won’t stop there. As Darlene said, “fellow caregivers, we shouldn’t be making minimum wage… but tomorrow and beyond, we will fight for far more together!”
For Immediate Release
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Contact: Margitte Kristjansson, 619-548-4304
An estimated 10,000 home care workers in San Diego are now making less than minimum wage.
San Diego – Today local In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS) home care workers, members of the United Domestic Workers/AFSCME Local 3930 (UDW), rallied in front of the City Treasurer’s office to shed light on the wage theft being committed in San Diego. IHSS home care workers provide in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities, saving the state money by allowing people to remain in their homes instead of costly institutions.
Proposition I, which was passed by San Diego voters in June, increased the city’s minimum wage from $10 to $10.50 per hour. But IHSS home care providers were denied the minimum wage increase through a decision by the state of California.
“When I saw my first IHSS check after the increase to $10.50 an hour went into effect in July, I was shocked and upset,” Darlene Nelson, a UDW member and an IHSS home care provider for her two adult daughters who live with developmental disabilities, told the crowd. “When I learned IHSS providers had been left out of the increase because of an unfair decision by the state, I felt like my work was not being valued.”
The state’s response to inquiries of why it is denying home care providers the local minimum wage has been that it cannot be compelled to follow our local laws. “Why should we be left out?” Nicanora Montenegro, an IHSS provider for her 47-year-old sister who lives with intellectual disabilities, asked the crowd. “We are all San Diegans. We live in San Diego…They raised the wage to $10.50 and we’re left at $10 only – What do you call that? Wage theft!”
After the rally five IHSS home care workers marched into the city treasurer’s office to submit formal letters of complaint against the state. They called on the city to hold the state accountable for its wage theft, and to demand they enforce our laws and pay workers fairly.
United Domestic Workers of America (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930 is a home care union made up of nearly 94,000 in-home caregivers across the state of California. UDW caregivers provide care through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS), which allows over half a million California seniors and people with disabilities to stay safe and healthy at home.
UDW caregivers stood alongside thousands of public service workers to declare we will NEVER QUIT at AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention last week in Las Vegas. “It truly was a learning experience,” said Susana Saldana, an IHSS provider for her son and first time convention delegate from Merced County. “I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country and learning best practices from fellow union members.”
UDW is a California affiliate of the national union AFSCME, and including UDW’s over 94,000 home care providers, AFSCME represents 1.6 million workers around the country. AFSCME members are public servants who work as nurses, 911 dispatchers, law enforcement officers, child care providers, sanitation workers, home care providers, and more. What we have in common is a commitment to protecting public programs like IHSS, and to winning social and economic justice for working families.
At the same time, membership in a powerful national union helps us protect IHSS. While we fight back against threats to the program here in California, AFSCME is able to help us protect home care in Washington D.C., where many decisions are made that impact funding for IHSS.
Every two years, UDW members serve as delegates to AFSCME’s International Convention. At convention, we vote in support or opposition to resolutions that set the union’s agenda and priorities.
This year, we stood in favor of a resolution to demand stronger long term care services and supports for Americans who rely on services like in-home care. And we gave strong support to resolutions demanding an increase in the minimum wage. “No one who works full-time should have to go home and struggle to provide for their families,” said UDW delegate and IHSS provider LaTanya Cline from San Diego County, in regards to the resolution.
UDW caregiver Nicanora Montenegro, an IHSS provider from San Diego, asked convention delegates to stand in support of a resolution on protecting the right to vote. “Our country has changed, but we have a long way to go,” said Nicanora. “Our vote is our voice…voting rights of people of color in particular must be protected and expanded.”
Many of us addressed the entire delegation to talk about our latest victories here in California. Placer County Chair William Reed spoke about our recent overtime pay win. “This victory was only possible because we stood together and we did not quit,” said William. “And we will keep fighting until home care workers all over the country have the same rights and benefits as all workers.”
Convention is also the time that we elect the leaders who will represent UDW as AFSCME International Vice Presidents. This year, the delegation reelected UDW Executive Director Doug Moore and Johanna Hester to these positions. During the nomination process, we thanked Doug and Johanna for their leadership through some of our union’s biggest fights, including ending cuts to the IHSS program and growing our union despite threats like the Harris vs. Quinn Supreme Court decision.
But convention wasn’t only about resolutions and elections, we also took action! Thousands of us marched in solidarity with workers who are trying to form a union at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. Despite winning their union election in December, Trump International has refused to begin contract negotiations and has fired and intimidated workers who are union supporters. After our march in the hot Las Vegas sun, it was announced that a settlement had been reached to pay two workers $11,200 in lost wages.
“This was epic,” said San Diego IHSS provider and first time convention delegate Noreen Woods. “To see solidarity at its finest was awesome. Thousands of AFSCME brothers and sisters showed up to support the hotel workers, and hearing that a settlement was reached showed me that we are being heard. We can’t stop fighting. Yesterday was a show of the power we’ve built through our union.”
For more photos from the AFSCME 2016 convention, click here.
On Saturday, UDW held a graduation ceremony at our headquarters in San Diego for the first class of the UDW Culinary Arts Academy. The Culinary Arts Academy is a new, free training program for UDW caregivers. We also opened the program up to members of the community, as a way to give back to the community where UDW members live and work.
“I love this program,” said UDW member Esther Torbert, mother of one of the graduates. “It’s taking UDW beyond home care and out into the community. This is a program that helps people out.”
“UDW caregivers who love to cook can have fun doing it while making an extra income to supplement their IHSS pay,” said UDW member and Culinary Arts Academy board member Cheryl Sevier explaining one of the many benefits of the program to IHSS providers.
The Academy provided participants with six months of culinary skills training, as well as valuable training in starting and operating a business, including the creation of a business plan and how to develop a successful website. Many of the participants were brand new to the restaurant world, while others were looking to sharpen their skills in order to take their current career to another level.
“I am already working as a sous-chef, but this program has been invaluable in the skills I’ve learned both in the kitchen and about handling a business,” said Anthony Magee, a member of the San Diego community. “I have hopes of going into catering in the future and I feel like this program has really prepared me for the challenges associated with starting my own business.”
For many of the participants, including UDW caregiver Michelle Wise, the program has inspired them to become food industry entrepreneurs.
“This is perfectly wonderful,” said Michelle. “It’s a dream come true. I had a lot of ideas in my head about pursuing baking as more than a hobby, but I didn’t know how to put together all the components. Now, not only do I feel inspired, I also feel prepared.”
Michelle is planning to start a business with her daughter using the skills she learned in the program. “Our instructors gave us the tools on how to do it,” she continued. “My daughter and I will start a business focused around cupcakes. This program has reawakened my dreams from long ago.”
In addition to providing valuable skills training for UDW members, the Culinary Arts program is another piece in our union’s social justice mission. By expanding the program to include members of the San Diego community, we were able to engage formerly incarcerated individuals – people who often have the toughest time finding steady employment. “This program has given UDW a way to give the men and women in our communities who were formerly incarcerated hope and an opportunity to get their lives back on track with real, marketable skills,” UDW Executive Director Doug Moore told graduation ceremony attendees.
Free job and skills training can help people gain the training and confidence they need to secure a job, keep a job, and provide for their families. “I love that it gives people a second chance,” said Esther. “Especially people who were formerly incarcerated.”
This year was the pilot year of the program, which means we will learn how to make it even better with the hopes of expanding this valuable and free training to providers and communities across California.
“This isn’t just about teaching us how to bake,” said Nicanora Montenegro, a UDW member and program graduate. “It’s not just about the skill. It’s also about inspiring us to pursue our passions and maybe start a side business. This program is about lifting us up, and I am excited to hopefully see it grow to other counties.”
Click here to learn more about the UDW Culinary Arts program.