My name is Aurora Viramontes Rivera, and I work as a home care provider for two of my children in Orange County, California. I am overjoyed and grateful that home care workers are now eligible for overtime pay. For my family, the added income has drastically improved our quality of life.
I’ve always been appreciative that the In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS) gives me the opportunity to provide my children with the best care possible. I’m not just their mother. I’m the caregiving professional who knows their conditions and their needs best.
Unfortunately, while I love my work, it hasn’t always been easy. Both Atzel and Alix live with disabilities, but when Atzel was initially given fewer hours of in-home care a month than his condition requires, it impacted our entire family. Thankfully my union, the United Domestic Workers/AFSCME Local 3930 (UDW), was able to help us secure 200 additional hours of care for Atzel by helping me successfully appeal the original assessment.
The extra home care hours ensure that no matter who his caregiver is, Atzel will always have the amount of care he needs. Since I am Atzel’s current caregiver, it also translates into real dollars for our family.
The changes for our family didn’t stop at extra hours. When I found out home care providers were finally going to be paid fairly for all the hours we work, I couldn’t believe it. As a professional caregiver, I know how tough our work is, but to know that our elected leaders were finally acknowledging that was great. Overtime pay for home care providers means that caregivers are receiving basic rights that most Americans probably take for granted.
My family sure hasn’t taken it for granted. I have far fewer sleepless nights. The extra money overtime provided allowed my husband and I to move our family of six out of our tiny apartment and into a roomier three-bedroom house. My kids are happier, and I have more peace of mind as I watch them play in our backyard. We also bought a more reliable car, which we use to transport our children to their doctors’ appointments.
Overtime pay means I can actually save money, and my family’s goal is to save enough to purchase our own home. For me, overtime pay isn’t about giving home care providers extra, it’s about giving us the pay we’ve worked for, that we need and our families deserve.
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.