IHSS workers picket supes

A group of in-home care workers picketed outside the Butte County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, charging that the county was turning down “free dollars” from state and federal sources that could be used to pay them more than the $7.11 an hour they make today.

Some two dozen members of the United Domestic Workers union chanted, cheered and carried signs in front of the administration building before entering the meeting room to make their presence felt. The union is trying to negotiate a contract with the county, which oversees and pays the workers. While union members contend the county is handing them a raw deal, county CAO Paul McIntosh said the county is doing the best it can for in-home care workers.

“We have an offer on the table,” he said. “Butte County is already paying $7.11 an hour. Every adjoining county is paying $6.75. It’s just not the offer that San Francisco or Los Angeles is paying.”

Union members claim the work they do is already saving taxpayer dollars. Sheena Hume takes care of her invalid mother, a job that requires almost constant attention. She said she’s explored the option of putting her into a nursing home, but found that it was more than she could afford. While there are programs that could help pay for nursing home care, Hume said being at home has been better for her mother’s health.

“I had her in a nursing facility. Her health declined,” she said. “Why would taxpayers want to pay more to keep her institutionalized when she is better off at home with me?”

Home health care workers are often dismissed when it comes to battles over pay because many of them are taking care of their own relatives. But Hume pointed out that if she wanted to, she could put her mother in a home where the state would have to pay to keep her alive. “With my skills and education I could be working in a great job. But I can’t have a job and take care of her 24-7 too.”

The union handed out a report that alleges low wages force IHSS workers onto public assistance rolls, costing more taxpayer dollars, and that the county’s failure to give workers a raise is costing the county millions in federal and state funds. A raise to $8.50 an hour, the report claims, would generate $8 million in consumer spending and $136,000 in local tax revenue.

McIntosh said the report is flawed.

“Parts of it are non-factual,” he said. “In theory, there are state and federal dollars out there—they’re correct on that. But saying it won’t cost Butte County taxpayers a dime is a complete misnomer.

“We provide somewhere around 3.5 million hours of service a year. So when you start looking at cost per hour, a dollar [raise] is $3.5 million. Now that would bring in more state and federal dollars, but we have to have the money to prime the pump, and that means we have to take it away from something else. That’s got to come from the general fund.”