Caring for California, part 4: United for a better future

May is Labor History Month, and this year we are celebrating the contributions of organized caregivers to build and protect a quality homecare program in California. This is the final post in a four-part series. Read the full Caring for California series: Part 1   Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

Part 4: United for a Better Future

UDW members participate in the March for California’s Future.

UDW members participate in the March for California’s Future.

Despite IHSS’ unparalleled success as a safety net for Californians, there has been aggressive backlash from both county and state politicians against funding homecare in California. But in the face of attempts to divide us, we have fought side-by-side with our clients and other homecare advocates and continue to work towards building a better future together.

We made national headlines in 2010 when nearly 2000 of us—caregivers, our brothers and sisters in unions across the state, and a host of civil rights, religious, and community organizations—participated in one of the largest actions in our state’s history. The purpose of the 260-mile-long march was to focus public attention on the need to reform California’s broken budget process. Beginning in Bakersfield, the “March for California’s Future” wound through the Central Valley all the way to Sacramento, where a massive rally was held at the State Capitol. Creating a river of green in the crowd, we made it clear that homecare is essential to the future of California and an integral part of our shared vision for compassionate and economically-sound public services. Our message: “We want a fair and stable tax system to fund California’s future!”

UDW caregivers Elva Munoz and Michelle Wise (far right) meet the President.

UDW caregivers Elva Munoz and Michelle Wise (far right) meet the President.

At the same time that we were participating in the March for California’s Future, we continued to press ahead and work for homecare providers’ rights at the national level. In 2011, UDW caregivers stood side-by-side with President Obama at a press conference in Washington D.C., where he announced plans to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to ensure labor protections and overtime pay for homecare workers. After 75 years of exclusion from the FLSA, we would finally get the same federal minimum wage and overtime protections that nearly all American workers have had since 1938.

[Note: After the Department of Labor amended the Act in 2013, overtime for IHSS providers was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015. However, Governor Brown went back on his promise to pay home care workers overtime when for-profit home care agencies successfully challenged the FLSA rule that granted providers the new benefits. In August 2015, a Federal Appeals Court upheld the Department of Labor’s decision to extend overtime to home care providers, and later that year, the state announced it would begin paying providers overtime, travel time, and medical wait time on February 1, 2016. It was a hard road, but UDW caregivers fought hard to finally be compensated for all the hours of work we do.]

Building our power

In 2012, after years of proposed cuts to IHSS, we decided it was necessary kick it up a notch. UDW caregivers and our allies in the homecare community launched an unprecedented six-month campaign to stop further budget cuts to IHSS, and to bring about real reform for our program.

Thousands of caregivers from across the state gathered for the Let's Get Healthy at Home rally in 2012.

Thousands of caregivers from across the state gathered for the Let’s Get Healthy at Home rally in 2012.

The campaign—called Let’s Get Healthy at Home—had two goals. The first was to integrate homecare and health care through supporting the Coordinated Care Initiative (CCI). The initiative would combine funding streams to provide better and more coordinated care for consumers while making the program more cost-effective. The second goal was the creation of an IHSS statewide public authority, which would realign responsibility for collective bargaining from the county to the state. This would increase the power of caregivers’ collective voices at the bargaining table.

One of the largest rallies in state history, we brought together thousands of supporters and delivered 75,000 petitions to the Governor’s office, stacking them up in front of him. As a result of our united actions, none of the massive cuts proposed by the Governor were included in the final 2012 budget, and the foundation for many of the IHSS reforms we had been seeking were put into place.

UDW caregiver Laura Reyes is named Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME.

UDW caregiver Laura Reyes is named Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME.

At the same time that UDW was winning in Sacramento, it was making history at the AFSCME International Convention in Los Angeles. Following a spirited campaign, UDW’s very own Laura Reyes was elected AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer—the second highest office in the union. This marked the first time a female has held that position in AFSCME’s 75-year history, and the first time that a caregiver has held such a high-ranking office in any international union ever!

In addition to Laura Reyes’ groundbreaking election as the new AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer, UDW Executive Director Doug Moore and Special Assistant to the Executive Director Johanna Hester were both elected International Vice Presidents, and now serve on AFSCME’s Executive Board, solidifying a presence and voice for homecare providers at the national level.

2012 was also a national election year for our country, and the homecare community took part in spreading the word and getting people out to vote. The results were remarkable, from the reelection of President Barack Obama, to the defeat of Proposition 32 (a proposition that would have silenced workers’ voices and amplified corporations’ influence); and nearly 90 percent of our endorsed candidates for the state legislature were elected.

Fighting for dignity and respect – and winning

We once again saw victories in 2013, when caregivers and our allies reached a settlement agreement with the state over three lawsuits that began during the Schwarzenegger administration. Many of the drastic cuts to IHSS proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger—including an across-the-board 20% cut to client hours—were ended with these lawsuits.

2013 saw the launch of the Put People First campaign to bargain for higher wages in each of our 10 counties. Caregivers became eligible for free and low-cost health care through the Affordable Care Act and with UDW’s help, thousands of homecare providers signed up for the comprehensive plans offered through Medi-Cal and the state’s health care exchange. We also helped open the California Independent Provider Training Center (CAIPTC), which offers free and low-cost trainings for UDW caregivers throughout the state.

2014 and beyond: Protecting homecare together

This year caregivers and our clients face challenges in Sacramento, as Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal continues a 7% cut to IHSS and caps provider hours at just 40 per week, denying us the hard-won right to overtime pay. This would disrupt care for our clients and could slash our incomes by as much as 43%; requiring strangers to care for our loved ones and clients.

We are currently hard at work to end the 7% cut and stop the cap, and our work is far from done. As long as there are threats to the IHSS program and our clients and loved ones, caregivers will continue to fight for justice to protect homecare together.

  • 2010: UDW participates in the March for California’s Future
  • 2011: Homecare workers stand with President Obama to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • 2012: UDW caregiver Laura Reyes elected AFSCME Secretary/Treasurer
  • 2013: UDW and our allies stop the 20% cut to IHSS
  • 2014: UDW caregivers continue to fight for homecare and our clients and loved ones
  • 2015: CUHW announces it will merge 11 of its counties with UDW, bring our total number of counties to 21

Paid for by United Domestic Workers of America Action Fund, sponsored by United Domestic Workers of America. Not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.