WASHINGTON – Following the largest-ever series of strikes, protests and rallies for $15 and union rights in a record 320 cities nationwide, more than a hundred home care workers in the Fight for $15 converged in Washington, D.C. this week and urged lawmakers to address the growing homecare crisis and support workers’ calls for fair wages and union rights. Hundreds of home careworkers and their supporters also protested at a local home care agency, saying caregivers and their clients are “sick of wage theft” across the industry.
“Healthcare and home care jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, but we’re some of the lowest paid workers,” said Delicia Rice-Smith, a Greenville, South Carolina-based home careworker who is paid $9 an hour and is meeting with her elected representatives in D.C. this week. “I’ve been working in home care for 6 years, but my family has to make impossible choices between covering car payments or utility bills. Fixing our broken home care system would mean I could provide for my kids’ future and more communities and seniors could get the quality carethey need.”
In D.C., home care workers met with members of Congress and promoted measures to address chronic problems in the country’s home care system. After meeting with home care workers, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “The work you do deserves better pay, and it deserves to be valued.”
The home care system in many cities, including D.C., is riddled with problems. In 2014, six D.C.home care agencies were terminated following a massive FBI investigation that uncovered more than $80 million in Medicaid fraud and left home care providers working without pay. D.C. homecare workers have filed three lawsuits against agencies alleging widespread wage theft and failure to provide mandated paid sick leave, which industry-wide could amount to over $100 million in unpaid wages.
Wearing scrubs and medical face masks and carrying “sick of wage theft” signs and banners, hundreds of home care workers in the Fight for $15 and their supporters rallied and chanted outside Health Management Inc., one of several D.C. home care agencies cited in the recent lawsuits.
“We care for seniors and people with disabilities across the city, but we can’t survive when we’re forced to work for free,” said Michael Thompson, who has lived in D.C. his whole life and cares for 3 clients. “When our employers steal our wages, fail to pay us on time and blatantly disregard D.C.wage laws, our families and our clients suffer. The Fight for $15 is winning in cities across the country, and in D.C. we’re not going to stop until we win better pay and union rights.”
Studies show that low pay among home care workers is leading to alarmingly high turnover, jeopardizing critical services and straining the home care system as more and more Americans come to rely on and choose home care over expensive long-term care facilities. According to astudy by the Fight for $15, for every one home care worker there are 9 people who want care.
Last week, tens of thousands of underpaid workers—including home care, child care and higher education workers—led hundreds of protests across the country. In D.C., home care workers stood with Mayor Muriel Bowser to call for $15 and union rights for all workers in the city.