Politics & Government

Dolores Huerta among Fresno protesters handcuffed in county building. Here’s why

Eight protesters including Dolores Huerta were handcuffed and removed from the Fresno County Hall of Records on Tuesday following a protest to try to get raises for workers who take care of the elderly and disabled.

Wearing purple T-shirts, hundreds of people chanted and clanged cowbells in the hallway just outside of the chambers as the Board of Supervisors met Tuesday morning.

About 90 minutes after the meeting began, Fresno County deputies entered the hallway and ordered the protesters to clear out.

Eight protesters were taken away in plastic handcuffs, among them Huerta, who cofounded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez and remains active in labor and civil rights issues nationwide at age 89.

More than 17,000 people in Fresno County rely on caregivers through the In-Home Supportive Services program, according to advocates. Those workers haven’t gotten a raise from the county in a decade, according to their union, Service Employees International Union 2015.

Local union organizer Ua Lugo said the workers have been negotiating with supervisors for many years. County officials during negotiations recently offered an hourly 10 cents raise, but only for the next year.

The caregivers make minimum wage, which is $12.

“They are finalizing the budget in September. We want to make sure they put us in the budget for a wage increase,” Lugo said. “So today is very important.”

Workers say the pay is especially important because the need for home care workers will only grow.

Fresno County’s senior population is expected to increase by 106,000 people by 2030, according to the California State Plan on Aging.

Huerta, who lives in Bakersfield, said she wanted to take part in the effort to bring awareness to the plight of the caregivers.

“All workers need to be respected,” she said. “Labor unions are not respected. They’re the only way that laborers can improve their lives.”

The supervisors held their meeting inside the chambers and did not address the protesters. They were in closed session as the eight demonstrators were cuffed, according to a county employee.

Demonstrators chanted “I believe that we will win” and other chants, sometimes in Spanish, like “Si Se Puede!” A large sign read “Caregivers Save Lives.”

Sheriff’s spokesperson Tony Botti said six protesters were given citations for misdemeanor failing to disperse and released. Two others were booked into jail for misdemeanor blocking a doorway but are expected to be released this afternoon.

Martha Valladarez cried as she talked about taking care of her daughter, who has Down syndrome. Tears streamed down her face as cuffs were placed on her wrists.

She and other advocates argued it’s cheaper to pay an in-home worker to care for patients than to fund institutions.

“It should not come to this. It should not come to this,” she said. “They have no idea the love that we have for our family members.”

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.