Caught in the middle

Home-care workers and the disabled wait as county, union tussle over contract

DEEPER BY THE DOZEN<br>Rosemary Landry (right rear) is shown with 10 of her 12 adopted children, all of them disabled. The man with the beard is David Garcia, a live-in IHSS worker who has stayed with her for more than six years, “giving up his career” to do so, Landry says.

Rosemary Landry (right rear) is shown with 10 of her 12 adopted children, all of them disabled. The man with the beard is David Garcia, a live-in IHSS worker who has stayed with her for more than six years, “giving up his career” to do so, Landry says.

Photo By Robert Speer

Capitol comes to Chico:
The Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services will meet at 2 p.m. today (May 11) in the Harlen Adams Theater at Chico State. Scheduled speakers include county CAO Paul McIntosh and Tyrone Freeman, president of the California United Homecare Workers union. The public is invited.

When members of an Assembly subcommittee meet in Chico today (May 11) to talk about how much home-care workers should be paid, they might want to keep Rosemarie Landry in mind.

Landry, who’s in her 60s, has devoted her life to caring for disabled children. “I think all children deserve the very best,” she said. Since coming to the United States from her native England at the age of 19, she’s adopted 39 of them. Many have grown up and made their ways in the world. Twelve continue to live with her on a five-acre ranchette in northeast Chico.

Three of her children have Down syndrome, two have neurofibromatosis ("Elephant Man’s disease"), three have fetal-alcohol syndrome, and so on. One boy had been in 17 foster homes by the time she adopted him and was so angry nobody could deal with him. He was 7 years old.

All are thriving in Landry’s comfortable, child-centered but well-organized home, secure in the knowledge that she will be their mom forever. The foster-care boy is now 10 and dotes on Landry, coming to her for kisses and calling her “the love mother.”

To keep the house operating, however, she needs help. Lots of help. That’s why she has a large staff of in-home supportive services (IHSS) workers there throughout the day. They take care of the grounds, do repairs, tutor the kids, help with cooking and cleaning—everything that’s needed to take care of a dozen challenging but lovable children.

Without these IHSS workers, Landry says, she couldn’t have taken on the responsibility. Many of her kids might otherwise have ended up institutionalized or in permanent foster care, both of which would have cost far more than what the government is paying for their care now.

IHSS workers do home-care work for the invalided elderly and the disabled and are paid by a combination of federal, state and county funds. The amount is set by the “public authority,” or employer of record, which in this case is Butte County. So far the county has authorized IHSS workers to be paid $7.11 an hour, with no benefits.

It’s hard to attract and keep people she can trust around her kids with that wage, Landry says, so she supplements her workers’ pay to bring it up to $10 an hour or more out of the income she receives for the children from the Aid to Adoptive Parents program and Social Security.

For several years she’s been a leader in the local effort to obtain better pay for IHSS workers, first by helping organize them to join a union, the United Domestic Workers (UDW), and then by being a member of the union’s bargaining committee.

But a combination of factors has resulted in stalemate for more than three years, so Butte County IHSS workers—there are at least 2300 of them—still have no contract and are still making $7.11, the amount they made before unionizing.

Rosemarie Landry, needless to say, is frustrated.

Negotiations between the county and the UDW began in October 2002, but little progress was made. In November 2004 the county made its first offer: to increase the hourly wage the first year by 10 cents, to $7.21; to $7.35 the second year, and to $7.50 the third, still with no benefits.

The following June, however, the UDW was placed under administratorship by its parent union because of financial malpractice by its leaders.

At that point another union, the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, tried to step in to pick off UDW’s members. After a bitter but short battle, the competing groups agreed to form a new union, the California United Homecare Workers (CUHW).

In recent months CUHW has launched an aggressive campaign to pressure Butte County to negotiate a contract with IHSS workers. In a series of radio and television ads, it has chided the county for giving its top employees and supervisors large pay hikes while doing nothing to better the wages and benefits of its home-care workers.

The union also prevailed on Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) to sponsor a bill that would punish the county by stripping $52.7 million from its budget if it didn’t negotiate in good faith with CUHW. The bill got nowhere, but it really ticked off county supervisors.

In March, the union presented an offer based on comparable wages in the 12 counties used for comparison to justify hiking the supervisors’ salaries by 56 percent, along with those of top county employees. The offer, based on the median wage-and-benefits figures for IHSS workers among those counties, was $9.25 an hour, with benefits.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, the union was saying.

Not so, replied Paul McIntosh, the county’s chief administrative officer. “The job market for IHSS providers is entirely different,” he told CN&R. “Almost half of them are taking care of their own family members,” so they don’t go out of county for other jobs. The proper comparison is other unskilled-labor jobs in Butte County, he argued.

The problem, responded Beth Garfield, attorney for the CUHW, is the tremendous turnover among IHSS workers, and that’s directly related to the abysmally low wage. Besides, she noted pointedly, the supervisors are employable at their jobs only in Butte County.

Meanwhile, Rosemarie Landry is taking care of her 12 children and praying that the parties can work out their differences so her employees will get a better wage.