L.A. County supervisors propose wage hike for in-home care workers

L.A. County in-home care workers earn $9.65 an hour, or about $20,000 a year--not enough to live on, they say

Each year some 140,000 in-home workers take care of approximately 190,000 infirm residents of Los Angeles County. They help them stay out of convalescent centers and other high-cost institutions by doing light housework, cooking, administering medicines and assisting with everyday tasks.

But many of those helpers say they cannot make ends meet on the current minimum wage, just over $20,000 a year for full-time work.

On Wednesday, two Los Angeles County supervisors proposed giving them a raise beyond the state's minimum next year, although their proposal would not include them in the boost now being considered for county workers and private-sector employees in unincorporated areas.

The in-home workers — paid with a combination of federal and state money — currently earn $9.65 an hour, which is scheduled to go to $10 on Jan. 1. They have been seeking increases that would put them at $15 an hour within a few years, roughly in line with the rate hike that the city of Los Angeles recently passed along with several other local governments around the country.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis plan to introduce a motion at next week's board meeting that calls for the in-home supportive services workers to receive $11 an hour starting Feb. 1, 2016, and move to $11.18 a year later. Because they are paid through a state program, the pay boost would cost the county an additional $11.9 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and an additional $30.6 million in 2016-17, according to the motion posted on the board's website.

The motion also calls for supervisors to suspend a rule, adopted last year as a new labor-friendly board majority prepared to take office, that requires a four-fifths vote on labor agreements affecting salaries and benefits. If the board suspends that rule, it will take just three votes to approve the pay raise for the in-home workers.

The raises for the in-home workers would be contingent upon the state continuing to pay its 65% of the costs. The state is to take over contract negotiations for the in-home workers on July 1, so the county must act before then if it wishes to join Alameda and Ventura counties, which reached pay settlements earlier.

Officials of the union representing the workers hailed the two supervisors' proposal Wednesday.

"This motion represents a victory for L.A. County home care providers in our work to create a pathway to earning $15 an hour and would be a significant first step in the county's commitment to lifting all workers out of poverty as it considers an increase in its minimum wage," Laphonza Butler, president of the SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, said in a statement.

The union has been pushing the board to include the workers in the minimum wage boost proposal tentatively scheduled for a June 23 vote. It has been bringing members downtown to speak at weekly board meetings and on Tuesday delivered 50,000 signatures from people supportive of their quest for a $15 wage.

But county budget officials said a raise to $15.25 an hour would cost taxpayers an additional $374.1 million annually by 2017-18.

Ridley-Thomas said Wednesday the motion is an attempt to balance what workers deserve with the state's restrictions and the county's budget constraints.

"We simply cannot delay our push to help bring home-care providers out of poverty," Ridley-Thomas said, while noting that there are limits to what the county can do because the state has the most jurisdiction.

"Still, it is imperative that the County of Los Angeles do its share to pick up some of the cost to help raise these workers' wages and get them on a path to $15 an hour."

jean.merl@latimes.com
Twitter: @jeanmerl

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