NEW YORK, N.Y.— More than 200 home health-care workers, overwhelmingly women, packed a second-floor room at 1199SEIU‘s Seventh Avenue headquarters March 22, for a rally demanding the state raise their pay to $22.50 an hour.
“We’re tired of being invisible,” Sandra Diaz of the Bronx, a home-care worker for 12 years, told LaborPress. “We’re intimate on the job. We’re one-on one with the patient. We feed them and clean them, and most important, we’re their companion. We give them dignity. We’re the bridge that keeps them in their home.”
For all that, she adds, they haven’t gotten a raise in four years — “and it’s time.”
Home-care workers in New York State, including the about 60,000 represented by 1199, make minimum wage, $15 an hour in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, and $13.20 upstate. The union says 57% receive some form of public assistance. Because they are paid out of their clients’ Medicaid coverage, the state sets their pay. Both houses of the Legislature included the raise to $22.50 in their budget proposals, but Governor Kathy Hochul has not endorsed it. She has floated the idea of a one-time bonus, an 1199 spokesperson said.
The union’s goal is to win “what is fair, what is overdue, for all you health-care heroes,” Rona Shapiro, 1199’s executive vice president for home care, told the crowd.
Union President George Gresham said that home-care workers should have the “ability to not live in poverty,” and called for a nonviolent “healthcare revolution.” He said for-profit health care “is an abomination,” but the very least that could be done would be if “we can take care of our families.”
“We deserve to be paid a living wage,” said Jacqueline Brown, a home-care worker for more than 20 years. She spoke of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to meet her bills every month.
“When you do this kind of job, you have to be loving and compassionate,” Delisa Sewell-Henry, an 1199 home-care delegate, told the crowd. “It’s not an easy job.” During the worst of the pandemic, she added, home-care workers took care of people when “their own children wouldn’t come visit them.”
On the other hand, she could use some material rewards. She said in a statement released by 1199 that she has to work two jobs, 92 hours a week.
“Stop abusing people because they have big hearts,” declared Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Hochul in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
“This is an equity issue,” he continued, noting that 90% of home-care workers in New York are women and 60% immigrants. “Albany needs to step up and include a permanent raise in the next state budget.”
The budget is due April 1.
The Legislature’s budget proposals, however, would not change the system where home-care workers who put in 24-hour shifts only get paid for 13 hours, based on the often-wrong assumption that they can get uninterrupted sleep or eating time and won’t have to work during the other 11 hours. About 5% to 7% of home-care workers do those shifts, according to 1199.
Other workers have the opposite problem, Shapiro told a state Senate committee last year: Because some clients only receive authorization for a few hours of care a day, she said, “many workers travel daily between two, three, and sometimes four clients in an effort to get to full-time hours.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton riffed on home-care workers going to their clients during the worst of the pandemic in 2020, when even Times Square was deserted.
“The only people who showed up in the Twilight Zone were home-care workers,” he said. “You can’t Zoom home care. You can’t do home care remote.”
“Poor folks and women and immigrants don’t have lobbyists, so we’re just going to have to sit in some lobbies,” he went on. “If we stood up to the COVID-19, we can stand up to the New York State Legislature.”