Hard-pressed home healthcare aides rallied outside the headquarters of Americare in Brooklyn on January 28, demanding an end to unreliable hours and erratic work schedules. Continue Reading and Watch Video
“The unfortunate piece here is that this is important work that our people do,” UFCW Local 348 Deputy Trustee Mark Carotenuto told LaborPress. “Caregiving is something that has become an ever-growing industry. People need help. They bring these people in, and they provide a service that’s so important to families.”
Americare, a multi-service organization with over 30 years operational experience in the Greater New York City area, prides itself on its “commitment to quality and superior staff.” But workers who braved wet winter winds outside the company’s 171 Kings Highway location say that they aren’t being treated with dignity or respect.
“We need a fair system,” said one home healthcare aide who lives with a 109-year-old patient from Manhattan. “Americare doesn’t realize the special bond I have with my patient. My patient knows me, and trusts me. It’s not just a job for me. I treat her like my own family.”
Local 348 is currently in negotiations with Americare. However, the two sides have yet to agree on a spate of issues vital to workers. Carotenuto blames the impasse on the implementation new regulations that are hampering the establishment of more regular work hours.
“The administrators are defining how much time can be spent on specific cases, and that can’t be the way we address healthcare and the needs of patients,” Carotenuto said. “This isn’t part-time work because this isn’t part-time care.”
According to the deputy trustee, work instability is forcing many dedicated home healthcare aides to seek out more cases to work on, for multiple employers, just to make ends meet. Unfortunately, clients are in danger of losing the constant continuity of care that they have come to rely.
“Patients are starting to suffer,” Carotenuto said. “They develop relationships with these folks. These people are around all the time giving constant care. In many cases, you see that they almost become part of the family. But through the new regulations, what they are doing is taking these people out and telling them that you can only spend so many hours on certain cases, and then you have to be taken off. What it’s doing, is hurting the care for the patient. That’s the bottom line.”
Roughly 45 people turned out for the rally outside Americare’s HQ, including members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, ALIGN, and the New York Care Congress.
Jim Perlstein, chair for the Retirees Chapter of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, told home healthcare aides that the dignity and respect they seek from their employer involves more than having the boss smile at them and tipping his hat.
“[Dignity and respect] has a material base,” Perlstein said. “You need a decent wage. You need job security. And you need benefits. That’s something that is everybody’s right.”
Carotenuto reminded supporters of the courage and dedication that home healthcare aides exhibited during Hurricane Sandy.
“Through Hurricane Sandy when the power went out and the floods came in, there were instances – not just in facilities, but also in private homes – where the home health care aide stayed with the patient throughout all of that,” Carotenuto said. “They demonstrated some true grit in staying with the patients in their time of need.”
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, representing the New York Care Congress and Care Across Generations Campaign, also lauded home healthcare aides.
“We’re proud to stand with Local 348-S,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “We know that guaranteed hours and sustainable scheduling mean improvements for everybody. Not just workers, but also care recipients who can depend on a worker for continuity of care and their trusted relationships.”
At 78, a wry Perlstein said he expects to live forever, but said he would be a lot happier knowing that home healthcare aides were awarded the work protections that they now seek.
“In the last three years, stuff has been breaking down,” said Perlstein. “It’s not life threatening, but I’ve had all kinds of problems. And my fellow retirees are dropping like flies. We need you. So, we have a self-interest in you getting the kind of dignity and respect, and the material working conditions that enable you to provide the kind of care that we want, and we need.”
Like countless others, Carotenuto said that his own family benefitted greatly from the services of home healthcare aides during the final years of his late mother’s life.
“What we need to do here now in our contract negotiations going forward is to be able to provide some continuity to the members that provide that care to people,” the deputy trustee said. “Because this isn’t just about something that's isolated to my mother’s situation. This is something that people deal with every day. Families today, really depend on home health care workers to come out and provide that continuity of care.”