Homecare workers unite

Sacramento County home-health-care workers voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize with the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU), Local 250.

The vote to bring 9,300 Sacramento County homecare workers into the union is the largest union victory in the nation in 2000. It is also the single largest union victory in Sacramento County history.

The mail-in balloting was a landslide for the union, with 93 percent of workers voting “yes.” The victory caps off a seven-year organizing drive by county homecare workers, who provide in-home care for seniors and disabled people who cannot care for themselves. Homecare workers are now preparing to sit down with the county and hammer out their first contract.

That may be no easy task, given the county’s past history with home-health-care workers. For years, Sacramento County treated In-home Support Services (IHSS) workers as independent contractors, which denied them benefits as well as the right to organize a union. That changed earlier this year, when Sacramento County supervisors were finally pressured into passing an ordinance recognizing the workers’ right to organize.

Currently, IHSS workers make the minimum wage of $5.75 an hour and, ironically, are not even eligible for health insurance. Often workers end up putting in extra hours without pay because they feel an obligation to their clients.

“These are extraordinary people,” said Local 250 organizer Sal Rosselli. “Just the fact that they have been willing to do this kind of work for minimum wage, I think, speaks to their incredible commitment,” he added.

Union organizers say they will probably ask for a contract that includes a wage of $9.70 an hour plus benefits.

Organizing home-health-care workers has been especially difficult because homecare workers are spread throughout the county in individual homes, rather than at central worksites. Local 250 is still knocking on doors trying to find those workers who may not have even known that there was a union election, to let them know about the pending contract negotiations.

The Sacramento County victory is the latest in SEIU’s campaign to bring homecare workers all over California, who have historically been underpaid and non-union, into the ranks of organized labor.

“There are over 200,000 homecare workers in this state who have been invisible for too many years. We need to reform the whole system. Now we’re over halfway there,” said Rosselli.