Care workers picket supes

Dozens of members of the United Domestic Workers union picketed in front of the Butte County Board of Supervisors’ chambers on Tuesday, hoping to raise awareness of the working conditions of the county’s in-home supportive services workers.

Shouts of “$7.11 is not a living wage” burst out, while UDW members carried signs that read, “Be fair to those who care.”

The homecare workers look after approximately 3,000 frail, elderly and disabled individuals in Butte County. They perform domestic chores as well as such paramedical services as monitoring blood sugar levels that allow many elderly and disabled people to stay out of nursing facilities and other institutions, thus reducing the financial burden to the state’s taxpayers.

Currently, the workers have no contract, earn only $7.11 per hour and have no health insurance, vacation, sick leave or retirement benefits. In negotiations with the county, UDW is seeking both a pay raise and health insurance for its members. Union officials believe they’ve paved the way for such an improvement.

That’s because earlier this year, when Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed a budget that would have cut IHSS services and wages, the UDW and other unions, along with disabled-rights groups, launched a powerful campaign in opposition. The result, the union says in a press release, is “a homecare program that is stronger today than it was before any cuts were proposed.”

That includes $1.7 million in additional funding to Butte County. Now the union wants a contract that reflects these changed circumstances and its hard work.

While some UDW members were picketing outside, others were inside addressing the Board of Supervisors, which governs the Butte County Public Authority, which in turn employs the homecare workers. Speakers urged the board to approve a contract, noting that the work they do is an invaluable service.

One woman, Dale Brown, from Biggs, shared her experience in providing homecare services. Brown, who cares for her autistic son, worked for two weeks unaware that her leg was broken. Lack of health insurance prevented her from seeking medical care. “I’m not trying to be rich,” she said. Having health insurance would enable her to be “healthy enough to take care of [her] son.”

The supervisors listened to the testimony but said nothing, leaving the issue to the county’s negotiators. Union reps hope to have a contract within a month.