An ill-timed protest to bring the plight of home health care workers to light briefly halted the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday.
About two dozen members of the In-Home Supportive Services workforce started chanting during an unrelated agenda item, saying “Hey, hey, ho, ho, poverty wages have got to go.”
After about 30 seconds, supervisors recessed the meeting for 10 minutes and temporarily cleared the chambers before allowing all to return. The workers went outside and started posting signs, many shaped like tombstones, around the county Hall of Records.
Members of the Service Employees International Union group that represents about 13,000 home health care workers have been at supervisors’ meetings throughout the year. They have brought infirm relatives to meetings and told stories about the difficulties of their work, which often involves a loved one. They also sought to have insurance provided to more of the workers, of whom only about 20 percent are now insured.
The workers say they save the county, state and federal governments a lot of money because the clients they serve do not have to live in state-funded medical facilities at much greater expense.
In addition, there are concerns that “our relatives would be mistreated” in such facilities, said Olga Valle, a former teacher who left her job to care for her son, who has autism.
Nearly two-thirds of the workers can’t afford housing and live with a relative or with the person they are assisting, said Maria Xiquin, Service Employees International Union Local 2015 representative. Many have health care covered through Medi-Cal.
Michelle Borges, who cares for two people who are not relatives, lives in a trailer that leaks when it rains and has no heat because she can’t afford it. She also said she helps one of her patients pay for prescriptions on her $10.25 hourly salary.
“I am basically like a therapist,” Borges said.
Under the complicated government arrangement, the county picks up about 17 percent of the workers’ salaries, and the rest is covered by the state and federal governments.
That’s 9 percent per year, more than anyone will get in the county.
Buddy Mendes, chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors
Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Buddy Mendes said that if the county agreed to raise the workers’ pay, it would continue to be on the hook for that portion of salaries. Depending on the raise, the first-year cost to the county would range from $1.66 million to about $3.2 million, county officials say.
The county’s responsibility for the workers is to ensure that they are paid through the county Department of Social Services.
“It’s a state welfare program. and they have to turn their hours in for the county to keep track of,” he said.
Mendes said the workers already are scheduled to get a 25-cent raise from the state on Jan. 1, and then get raises corresponding with increases in the minimum wage until it hits $15 in 2022.
“That’s 9 percent per year, more than anyone will get in the county,” he said.