Orange County’s publicly funded home care workers, who help elderly, blind and disabled people with housework, meal preparation and other daily tasks, are seeking a raise – and they’ve taken their effort public.
In recent months, green-shirted union representatives with United Domestic Workers of America have spoken up at county Board of Supervisors meetings to ask for a pay bump to $10.75 per hour, which would be 75 cents above the new minimum wage that kicks in on Jan. 1.
They argue the raise, from the current $9.30 an hour, would be a way for county supervisors to show how much they value the blind, disabled and elderly residents who are served by the workers.
And they say the county would get fully reimbursed by the state for the pay raise.
The workers are asking for “enough above minimum wage for people to feel like they’re valued, because there’s definitely dignity in the work that they do, there’s definitely respect in the work that they do,” said Dante Harrison, regional coordinator with the union.
“Where’s the value in the elected officials that run this program to say, ‘We value the work and the people you take care of’? Where’s that?”
Calls to all five county supervisors Monday were not returned.
When the workers have spoken at public meetings, supervisors have largely remained silent about the request or responded that they’re waiting for the state to take over wage negotiations from the county.
“The state, we understand, still is going to set a flat rate statewide, and we’re sort of waiting for them to take over,” Supervisor Shawn Nelson said last September. “We’d rather they just implement their rate and get us out of the middle of it.”
Orange County is not currently part of a pilot program where the state handles wage negotiations for the workers. But a bill that would have the state handle negotiations in all California counties, AB 211, has passed the state Assembly and is awaiting approval from the Senate’s appropriations committee.
In the meantime, union officials say the county has offered a 12-cent per hour raise for the rest of the year, with wages going to the $10 minimum wage in January.
Harrison describes that as unacceptable after five years without a pay increase.
“This is how we value your veterans…[with a] 12-cent raise,” said Harrison, noting that many of the disabled people in the program have served in the military. “You’re telling people that you don’t value them when you offer them 12 cents.”
When asked how much it would cost the county to implement the $10.75 request, county officials say they don’t have an answer, and again point to Sacramento.
“We were told by State financial analysts that they were unable to determine what impact that would create on the County’s [costs] going forward,” county spokeswoman Jean Pasco said in a statement.
To get an answer would require the county to submit a request to the state, which would take about 60 days for a response, she added.
Union representatives publicly requested the $10.75 wage on May 5, about 90 days ago.
California’s home care worker program, formally known as In-Home Supportive Services, dates back to the 1970s, when it was signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.
The idea was to provide an alternative to costly institutionalization of blind, elderly and disabled people and allow them to live more independently in the community.
Today, roughly half a million Californians are served by the program, which is funded by a mix of federal, state and county dollars.
For each person served by a home care worker, the average taxpayer cost is one-fifth as much as if they were in a nursing home, according to the state’s legislative counsel.
To union representatives like Harrison, it’s a no-brainer that the workers should be paid more than minimum wage.
“You’ve already saved so much money on this program,” Harrison said. “Why are you still squeezing the people?”