By Peter LaVallee
After more than a year of negotiation, mediation, and advocacy, local homecare workers are still fighting for a wage increase. These hardworking women and men provide vital services for the most vulnerable members of our community, yet every one of them makes minimum wage. They have no benefits, no job security, and no opportunities for promotion.
Having served as director of the Youth Service Bureau at the Redwood Community Action Agency for 28 years, I know how difficult it can be to balance the need to raise wages with the need to sustain services that are vital to the well being of the community. As former mayor of Eureka, I am also familiar with the challenges of contract negotiations and public sector labor relations. It’s always a balancing act.
I am sympathetic to the myriad challenges that public officials and administrators face, but I also expect our leaders to work diligently to find solutions. I expect them to negotiate in good faith, to seek compromise, and when there is funding available, I expect them to do the right thing. In this case, an impartial fact finder has already stated, and the county has acknowledged, that resources are available to pay the modest increase sought.
Like many, I am disappointed that our board of supervisors has allowed this problem to continue for so long. Despite having the ability to raise wages for more than 1,400 homecare workers in our community, every supervisor has voted against doing so. I know many of the supervisors personally and I believe them to be caring people, but their inaction regarding local homecare workers hurts our community.
It is worth noting that the vast majority of other counties in California pay more than minimum wage to homecare workers. For example, Lake pays $8.75 an hour, Mendocino pays $9.90, Placer pays $10, and Yolo pays $10.50. In more urbanized areas, wages are even higher. Of California’s 58 counties, only six pay the minimum wage of $8. Even a modest increase in pay would improve quality of life for Humboldt County homecare workers and their families.
Seniors and people with disabilities who receive In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) would also benefit because raising wages will improve caregiver retention.
Anyone who has worked in management knows that the best workers are tempted to seek other employment if pay increases are not eventually forthcoming. My own career running programs for homeless and at-risk youth taught me that this is a particularly important consideration when working with vulnerable populations who need consistent services.
As a community, we must continue to voice our support for homecare workers in their fight for higher wages. This is so much more than a labor struggle - this is a fight to win respect and dignity for those who care for the most vulnerable members of our community every day. The IHHS program helps support the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes, rather than forcing them into nursing homes, at a much higher cost to taxpayers. Please call or email the supervisors and lend your voice to this important cause.
Peter LaVallee resides in Eureka.
Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times-Standard or the Redwood Times.