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CHAPTER 10 Los Angeles Home Care: 74,000 Join SEIU Biggest Organizing Win Since 1941F or 25 years, Verdia Daniels spent each workday caring for the elderly, sick, and disabled in Los Angeles. As ahome care worker, she sometimes had to take two or three Ford Rouge workers, had lost jobs as technology and free-trade globalization expanded. “ is is a home run for labor amidst a lot of strikeouts, inbuses to get to her clients, with whom she always felt a strong that it is a huge victory in a pivotal sector of the economy, thecaregiver’s bond. service sector,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and academ- “You don’t just go in to dust or run the vacuum cleaner,” ic. “And it represents the new face of labor—women workers,said Daniels. “You have patients who are bedridden, but whose minority workers, low-paid workers, people who have ofteninsurance doesn’t allow hospital stays. Some of your job is giv- been so hard to organize.”74ing them medication. Some of it is changing their diapers. Verdia Daniels helped launch the organizing e ort in 1987 “Some patients have back injuries—you have to get them with SEIU Local 434B. “We wanted a union contract so weout of bed just the right way,” she noted. “You lift the patients could win decent wages, some bene ts, and some respect,”and you do their therapy. For the minimum wage.”73 she told SEIU Action after the victory.75 Like her fellow home Daniels never met the legendary Walter Reuther of the care workers, she had no idea what a long, di cult challengeUnited Auto Workers, who helped organize Ford’s huge River loomed ahead.Rouge complex outside Detroit back in 1941 when more than Unlike the autoworkers at Ford, for example, the L.A.100,000 workers won UAW representation. But she played a home care workers each went to a di erent location to performcritical role in what remains the single biggest organizing suc- their jobs, individually caring for a client in that person’s home.cess achieved since the UAW won recognition at the Rouge 58 Isolated from each other, the home care workers were united byyears earlier. a common concern as caregivers, but also by the low wages they As the ballots were counted on February 26, 1999, at the received. eir pay did not even elevate the home care workersWestin Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles, Daniels became above the federal poverty standards at the time.one of 74,000 home care workers to choose SEIU to represent Nor were they entitled to health insurance, sick leave,them. e vote for the union was overwhelming—only 1,925 pensions, or holiday pay. ey did not receive overtime pay,votes were cast against unionization. though most L.A. home care workers had a hard time nding a Nearly all the L.A. home care workers earned only the state full 40 hours of work each week anyway. “We were the invisibleminimum wage, which at that time was $5.75 an hour. Most workforce,” recalled Esperanza De Anda. “Nobody even knewwere women of color and immigrant workers. ey made up we existed.”76the backbone of the low-wage service economy that had grown SEIU had experience with home care workers. e com-in the 1990s, while the manufacturing sector, including the munity organizers in ACORN (Association of Community
70 STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF SEIUOrganizations for Reform Now) found some of its members working a second job to make ends meet.79were home care workers. ey helped organize a nontradition- As Daniels and others began to organize in 1987, they ranal labor group called the United Labor Union and it won sev- into an obvious di culty: the absence of a common worksiteeral home care organizing drives in Boston and Chicago. ose where workers come and go. is isolation indeed remained ahome care workers were part of a union a liation in 1984, reason that many home care workers wanted to form a union toand their locals pioneered new strategies for winning collective bring them together around common issues, such as low wages 77bargaining rights at the state level. and lack of bene ts. But at the same time the isolation made e home care sector expanded in the 1980s and ’90s as organizing di cult.government and the public increasingly opted to have long- “Sometimes in this job, you feel like you’re all alone,”term care for the elderly and disabled occur in a non-institu- Mary Simmons told the Los Angeles Times. “You might be withtional setting. Care shifted to some extent from nursing homes your client eight hours a day, even longer. You lift them out ofto individuals’ residences, but employment standards for the bed, put them on the potty, put on their clothes. You pray withlong-term caregivers often deteriorated. them, and you try to keep them from getting too depressed. “Working in consumers’ homes, they are isolated from I don’t think most people understand what that’s like. Ateach other, and [home care work- least here at the union, you get toers] often lack a codi ed employ- meet other people who are goingment relationship that expresses through the same thing.”80the obligations of government and Isolation and the lack of ahome care consumers to them,” central worksite posed one prob-noted Jess Walsh, then an academ- lem, but another crucial issue was 78ic who studied the issue. that there was no employer for bar- SEIU researchers found there gaining purposes. e money thatwere 40,000 home care workers paid the home care workers camein Los Angeles County in 1988, from federal, state, and countybut that number had jumped to funds. But the workers were hired74,000 by 1999—an increase of and red by individual clients—85 percent over the period. Of the elderly and disabled consumersthose workers in 1999, 83 percent who needed the care.were women. Two-thirds were 40 Local 434B’s initial organiz-years of age or older. Two-thirds ing drive ran aground when awere people of color and half were state court held that Los Angelesimmigrants. Some 79 percent of County was not the employer ofthem lived below the federal pov- the home care workers under theerty line. ey averaged 25 hours Verdia Daniels, a home care worker in Los Angeles, helped 74,000 state’s collective bargaining law de- fellow workers join SEIU in the biggest U.S. organizing victorya week in home care, with a third since 1941. spite setting their wages.
LOS ANGELES HOME CARE: 74,000 JOIN SEIU 71 e union had signed up 22,000 workers in less than threemonths—a tremendous outpouring that showed how desper- home care providers be compromised if unionization oc-ate home care workers were to organize. e court ruling was curred?heartbreaking, but it didn’t stop the momentum. SEIU shifted to a new strategy based on passing state leg-islation that would enable counties to set fewer hours of care?up home care authorities with which theunion could bargain. Vital to this process resourced, while clients and the disabil-was to make allies of the consumers of SEIU sought the ity movement was not. Would clients gethome care—the elderly and disabled and steamrolled by the union?82the various groups that represented them. support of disability Home care for low-income families rights groups. After months of discussions and give-in California ran under a consumer-driven and-take, SEIU and the disability activistsmodel, known as Independent Provider nally agreed to push the concept of a pub-(IP). It allowed consumers to hire, re, lic authority with the state legislature. eand supervise their own attendants, although the funding public authority would be the employer of the workers undercame from the state and federal governments. A competing the state’s collective bargaining law, but also the rights of con-approach, called the contract model, had a company or agency sumers would be enshrined and their powers protected throughhire and train a home care sta that was then deployed to vari- a consumer-dominated board.ous individual homes. County and state o cials involved in home care would Disability activists generally supported the IP consumer- only back this approach if the new public authority didn’t meandriven model, rather than the contract model, which they ar- new costs for them. ey also wanted to ensure that homegued robs those under care of the ability to control their own care workers would not show up directly as employees on thebodies, homes, and lives.81 SEIU sought the support of disabil- government payroll.ity rights groups, but ran into some di culties and misunder- Finally, the Public Authority Act was passed in 1992, re-standings as the union worked its way through complex issues. ecting those concerns. Each county was free to accept or re- ere are many di erent viewpoints within the disability ject this model. e issue then shifted to coming up with therights movement, but generally it advocates on behalf of “in- funding needed to both improve wages and working conditionsdividual” rights. Labor generally works through a “collective” for home care workers, while protecting and expanding qualityrights model. As SEIU activists met with those involved with care for clients. After an all-out lobbying e ort, SEIU helpedIndependent Living Centers and the California Senior Legis- get California to adopt the Medicaid Personal Care Option—lature, the challenge was to nd a way to develop a common major federal funding through which the federal governmentfront that defended the rights of the clients and of the workers began to provide 60 percent of the total program costs. iswho cared for them. freed some funds to cover the start-up costs of the public au- Among the concerns of the disability community were: thorities in the state.
72 STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF SEIU T he ght for home care workers in Los Angeles got a boost in 1995 when David Rolf, a skilled organizer fresh from some major victories for SEIU in Georgia, arrived as deputy general manager of the home care union. Rolf and other SEIU activists pushed the e ort into the neighborhoods where the home care workers lived.83 Chapters were established in 15 areas, including African American and Latino neighborhoods where SEIU home care workers met in libraries and commu- nity centers or homes. “Workers found out for the rst time that they weren’t alone,” Rolf later said. “ ey found out that other workers had similar problems: late paychecks, abusive clients, no ben- e ts.”84 In that process, home care workers began to build a strong culture based on the dignity of their work and the factMary Kay Henry, who became SEIU president in 2010, led many of the that together they could achieve strength.union’s organizing and contract victories in healthcare. Kirk Adams (left) e union had won the right to voluntary dues deduc-played a crucial role in launching the successful L.A. home care campaign. tions for members who signed up during house visits through Soon, public authorities were created in San Francisco, an agreement with Gray Davis, then-Controller of California,San Mateo, and Alameda Counties. In 1994, SEIU Local back in 1989. Rolf and his allies further boosted SEIU’s cred-616 successfully organized 6,000 home care workers in Alam- ibility by having the local play a lead role in the ght for Propo-eda County. Some progress also was made elsewhere. But in sition 210, an initiative that raised the state’s minimum wage.Los Angeles County, more work needed to be done to build e local gathered more signatures than any other group85 andcoalitions with the disability rights and senior communities. the minimum wage hike passed.A group opposed to creating a public authority emerged and “Planning and executing direct action, such as marchesstarted to lobby the L.A. Board of Supervisors. and rallies, occupations of government o ces, street demon- But SEIU’s ties to other disability activists led to formation strations and civil disobedience resulting in arrest were key toof In-Home Support Services Recipients and Providers Sharing bringing home care workers together to experience power,”(IRAPS), a progressive coalition including both consumers and wrote Jess Walsh in her excellent analysis of the home careworkers who backed creation of a public authority. Lillibeth workers’ struggle.86Navarro, a disability rights leader, became a major supporter of Rolf ’s strategy, boosted by new funding from top SEIUthe SEIU e ort and the rst president of IRAPS. leadership, shifted to strengthening the union’s political muscle “We could not ght for our rights at the expense of those in L.A. County and to building more support within the dis-who are getting dirt poor wages,” she said at the time. “ ey ability rights community there.[L.A. home care workers] were there in the trenches with us. e approach was based on SEIU’s new worker- and issue-Now it is our turn to give them our support and respect.” centered political action strategy, as opposed to the old model
LOS ANGELES HOME CARE: 74,000 JOIN SEIU 73of candidate- and party-centered e orts. e shift to political workers. David Rolf ’s early neighborhood organizing and lateractivism required investing in strategic, high-pro le campaigns, political strategy helped union organizers go house to housesuch as that of Carl Washington, who ran for state Assembly in state legislative districts. Within those, they targeted voting(and was a close ally and sta er for L.A. Supervisor Yvonne precincts. Spanish-speaking home care organizers worked inBurke, whose vote SEIU needed in the ght for a public au- Latino neighborhoods, Armenian speakers targeted Armenian 87thority for home care). neighborhoods, and so forth. Home care workers walked the precincts door to door, Over about nine months, a team of member organizerscampaigning for an array of candidates who had come to know made 70,000 home visits seeking support for SEIU in thethe issues that mattered to Local 434B. Many of those for union representation vote set for February 1999. e homewhom they campaigned actually would have the power, once care workers’ campaign got a huge boost from other SEIU lo-elected, to change home care workers’ lives directly. “By be- cals, including 99, 250, 399, 347, 535, 660, 1877, and 1957.coming a political force in the city and state, SEIU Local 434B Members and sta of those locals completed 64,000 phonedeveloped a cohort of politicians who were accountable to the calls to L.A. home care workers, many from Local 99’s tele-union and who supported publicly, and in the back rooms, its communications center.89public authority agenda,” Walsh said in her analysis.88 Finally, late on February 26, 1999, Verdia Daniels had her All that work paid o in September 1997 when the L.A. moment. After 25 years of changing adult diapers and liftingCounty Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance creating patients to avoid bedsores—and after 12 years of organizingthe public authority that gave SEIU an employer with which her fellow home care workers across 4,083 square miles of Losit could ultimately bargain once workers had voted for union Angeles County— nally Verdia Daniels could smile and laughrepresentation. and hug her fellow workers who had just won the largest union Local 434B, with its 12,000 members, then set out to win organizing victory in 58 years.the union election among the 74,000 L.A. County home care It felt good.On election night in 1999, Los Angeles home care workers join SEIU’s David Rolf in celebrating their victory. ey went on to negotiate big wage and bene t gainsin future contracts and gave a huge boost to SEIU home care organizing in other states.