Stressing the need for a living wage ordinance for its lowest paid employees, San Mateo County’s 5,000 in-home care workers are demanding higher wages and healthcare benefits, arguing that the $11.50 per hour they are paid is not enough to live on.
This group is the latest sector of county service employees to demand increased wages, joining nurses and civilian law enforcement employees in seeking increased pay to cope with the high cost of living on the Peninsula.
Thirty in-home care workers packed the San Mateo Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 30 to voice their concerns directly to supervisors, who were discussing budgetary issues.
Esther Rodriguez, a San Mateo in-home worker caring for a father with dementia, told the board of her difficulties making ends meet when the county pays for “just two hours a day” of the full-time care he needs.
“We are hard workers, and we deserve decent wages,” Rodriguez said.
At issue are not just the wages and benefits the county provides to in-home care workers, but the entire concept of how county workers should be compensated in one of the most affluent counties in the nation.
The In-Home Supportive Services program under which these individuals work provides basic at-home assistance to low-income elderly and disabled people. In-home care workers – who may under state guidelines be related to their patients – help with bathing, cooking and transportation.
Although in-home care workers can, in theory, take other jobs, in practice it doesn’t always occur since many often work supplemental hours for free to help patients stay in their homes. The average in-home care worker has three patients and is paid to provide care 25 hours per week, resulting in annual compensation of about $15,000.
Louise Alioto-Perez, a county home care worker, put the living wage debate in human terms. “Home care workers take care of indigents,’’ she said.
“They barely get by,” she added, and questioned how workers could “survive in this county” when they haven’t had a raise since 2004.
Khanh Weinberg, communications director for SEIU Local 521, the Service Employees International Union, said the program saves $45,000 to $60,000 per patient each year by allowing them to be cared for in their homes instead of county institutions.
The union said San Mateo is only offering its in-home care workers a raise of pennies per hour. Nicole McKay, Employee and Labor Relations Manager of San Mateo County, declined to comment, saying she was “not allowed to comment on anything during bargaining.”
Another sticking point appears to be healthcare benefits. San Mateo county provides healthcare coverage to about one out of five in-home care workers, according to the union. The union is asking for the inclusive health coverage that Santa Clara provided its home workers in a contract signed last spring.
McKay noted that home workers can obtain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. However, the act requires employers to provide healthcare coverage only for employees working more than 30 hours per week. Although there is no suggestion that the county restricts hours to avoid application of the act, the union is demanding that San Mateo provide healthcare for part-time home workers.
San Mateo in-home care workers are discussing possible strikes or acts of civil disobedience to see their demands met.
“Why do we have to go through being arrested just to ask for an increase of wages?” asked Faye Astrero, a San Mateo in-home care worker. “I don’t think that a civil disobedience is necessary to get a wage increase.’’
The union claims that it has no definite ask figure as to wages, just an ongoing negotiation in which it is trying to increase wages and healthcare benefits to allow its members to keep up with the cost of living in San Mateo.