500 in-home services workers rally to be part of minimum wage boost

In-home services workers seek inclusion in any county minimum wage hike

Stepping up their push to be included in a potential boost in the minimum wage under consideration by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, about 500 in-home care workers rallied outside board headquarters on Tuesday.

Wearing their cause's signature white, purple and gold T-shirts and arriving at the Hall of Administration via several large buses chartered by their union, the workers delivered boxes and boxes of signatures -- 50,000 in all, they said -- from residents sympathetic to their quest for an increase from the $9.65 an hour they earn now.

The workers, who take care of infirm county residents in their homes -- cooking, shopping, administering medicines, baths and the like -- want to see their pay eventually boosted to $15 an hour. That would be roughly in line with what workers in unincorporated county areas would receive under a proposal that supervisors are expecting to vote on at their June 23 meeting.

But the in-home workers would not be included in a county ordinance because they are paid through a state program. 

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has been pushing to add them, known formally as in-home supportive services workers. But last week, in an update on the county's fiscal picture, interim Chief Executive Sachi Hamai estimated that boosting such workers' pay to $15.25 an hour, which is above the state's reimbursement cap, would cost taxpayers an additional $374.1 million by fiscal year 2017-18.

A study cited by the union that represents the in-home workers found a pay increase would bring some $768.7 million more to the local economy by improving the workers' buying power and stimulating new jobs.

On Tuesday, Ridley-Thomas said through a spokeswoman he would offer a compromise aimed at improving the pay of the in-home workers while keeping the county's budget in mind.

"The current wage for home healthcare workers is below the poverty level. We must change that," Ridley-Thomas said.

He added he "will continue to push for an increase in their compensation that will put home care workers on a path to $15 an hour while also taking into account the fiscal responsibility and our obligation to balance our budget in Los Angeles County."

The workers have been pressing their case for months at the board's weekly meetings. This week they upped the volume by enlisting others in their cause. Among those speaking at the rally and news conference was Patricia Bellasalma, president of California NOW.

Several of the workers talked to reporters before heading inside to address the board after the rally.

Among them was Regina Sutton, 60, of Leimert Park. Sutton said she takes care of two clients, referred to as  "consumers" by the workers.  One is a woman in her 50s who has heart problems and needs help with day-to-day living tasks.

The other is an 82-year-old man who suffered a massive heart attack and is recuperating at home after months in a rehabilitation center. She is helping him re-learn to take food by mouth after weeks of using a feeding tube. Sutton helps both people with grocery shopping, bathing, bed-changing and light house-keeping as well as ensuring they get their medicines as prescribed.

"I love my work," Sutton said, adding she is fortunate in that she has her husband's earnings as a pastor to help them get by. But many of her co-workers cannot make ends meet on their pay alone.

Betty Gonzalez, 54,  of Carson, takes care of her wheelchair-bound wife, Suzanne Carroll, 70, who suffers from diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia. She also cares for Carroll's disabled sister, who lives with them.

Their need for 24-hour care doesn't leave her time to get another job.  She said an increase to $15 an hour would enable her to stop borrowing money from her father and to ensure there is enough food in the house.

"Sometimes, I'm afraid to fall asleep," Gonzalez said.

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