“No justice, no peace!” Activists led by seniors, people with disabilities, and their caregivers shame Board of Supervisors for turning their backs on the county’s home care program
Struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage, activists say county leaders must invest in the home care program so caregivers can afford to keep doing their job
San Bernardino — After nearly a year of recent negotiations with county representatives and going 10 years without a wage increase from the county, caregivers with the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program were joined by activists including local veterans, faith leaders, social justice groups, and labor icon Dolores Huerta in shutting down the county’s budget meeting on Tuesday, dozens of them risking arrest for civil disobedience.
Activists organized today’s action after numerous attempts by caregivers, seniors, and people with disabilities urging county leadership to prioritize the needs of those who require in-home care to survive. They argue that it is the county’s job to represent the needs of their constituents and right now, IHSS caregivers are struggling to make ends meet and are urging the Board of Supervisors to support a new contract with a livable wage. Currently, county home care providers earn just minimum wage, receive little if any benefits, and some must rely on federal assistance to feed their families. However, in this year’s budget the county deliberately excluded new resources for the IHSS Program, sending a clear message that seniors, people with disabilities, and their caregivers are not a priority.
“I’m fed up with the county telling us $0 for the past several years,” said Enrique Camacho who cares for his autistic sons and is a member of the bargaining committee that meets regularly with county representatives. “They’re not listening to us. They hear us but we need them to listen. If this workforce doesn’t have a livable wage, less and less people are going to want to do this job. It worries me because who’s going to want to take care of my sons when I’m gone?”
Today, 30,651 San Bernardino County low-income seniors and people with disabilities rely on a caregiver with the IHSS Program to live as independently as possible in their own home. Caregivers provide support with administering medication, transportation to doctor’s appointments, meal preparation, grooming, and bathing for elderly people who can no longer fend for themselves and people living with disabilities such as down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and autism. People get to stay in the comfort of their own home thanks to the IHSS Program instead of being institutionalized in hospitals and psych wards.
“I know that in terms of economics there are a lot of decisions to make and a lot priorities to set, but how can we look in the face of these individuals and tell them we can’t help them,” local faith leader Pastor Briggs said at an action outside the Board of Supervisors meeting in December. “I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
In March, activists held a civil disobedience action outside of the Board of Supervisors building and in May they attended a budget hearing to voice their concerns on being left out of this year’s budget. Today’s civil disobedience and closing down entrance to the county budget meeting was the first time caregivers with SEIU Local 2015 escalated to this point.
“The community is fed up with the lack of leadership from the Board of Supervisors and the disrespect toward seniors, people with disabilities, and our county caregivers,” said Sergio Donis, Regional Director of SEIU 2015. “The Supervisors are turning their backs to our seniors, many of whom want to live at home instead of an institution. And they are turning their backs to a workforce of caregivers that not only help our loved ones thrive, but they help them remain in the comfort of their homes. We need our county leadership to step up and represent the needs of their constituency. Enough with the complacency.”
At the action, caregivers from San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and Fresno County were in attendance, joined by seniors and people with disabilities that rely on the IHSS Program, and local community activists and supporters, including: labor leader Dolores Huerta, veteran activist and former farm worker leader Bobby de la Cruz, social justice activist with California Partnership (CAP) Jeff Green, and faith leaders Pastor Benjamin Briggs with Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), Pastor Georgia Brown with Glorious Praise Ministry International and Reverend Neal Copeland with St Paul A.M.E. Church.
“Today’s action should send a message to every county in California that if there is no justice for the seniors and people with disabilities who need a caregiver to survive, then there will be no peace,” said Kim Evon, Executive Vice President of SEIU 2015. “Our state is getting greyer, the demand for care is growing, and turning your backs on this reality is not an option. We need bold leadership and solutions from every elected official in this state. We will continue fighting. We will be back as many times as we need to.”
Representing over 385,000 nursing home and home care workers throughout California, SEIU 2015 is the largest long term care local in the country.