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VIDEO: Clinton Says Better Wages, Training Needed for Home Care Workers

August 10, 2015

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D) joined several home care workers and consumers from across the country in Los Angeles on August 7 for a roundtable discussion organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Despite having worked in the field for many years — in one case four decades — the women unanimously agreed that the quality of home care jobs was poor.

Low wages, inadequate training, inconsistent hours, and a lack of health coverage, paid time off, or retirement benefits, were repeatedly identified by the workers as major problems with the occupation. The women also talked about the lack of respect and dignity associated with their work.

Elizabeth Borilla said that in the 23 years that she worked in Las Vegas as a home care aide, her wage has been the same — $10 per hour and “not a penny more.”

Despite working in the field for a total of 42 years, first in Massachusetts, Borilla said she had “nothing at all.” She told Clinton that she had to “humble myself” to get food stamps as well as live with a roommate — a former client — because her pay was so low.

Sumer Spika, who cares for a child disabled by a genetic disease in Minnesota, echoed the same problems about the quality of home care jobs.

Spika said that when she began working as a home care aide seven years ago, there were “no benefits of any sort, no paid time off, no retirement plan, and very low wages.”

She said she found herself standing with her two young children in a grocery store “choosing between toilet paper and laundry soap — a choice no one should have to make.”

After giving birth to her children by Cesarean section, Spika returned to her home care job after only one week because she did not have paid time off. “No one should have to make the choice between taking care of ourselves and putting food on the table,” Spika said.

Miracle Workers

At the same time, all of the workers shared with Clinton how much they loved their work and how much they cared about their clients. Many said that they were like family to their clients and vice versa.

Borilla recounted how people tell her to leave her job because of the poor working conditions but she tells them that she can’t quit because it is “my passion” and she feels for the people for whom she provides care. “We are their miracle workers,” she said.

The strong relationship that develops between clients and consumers was made apparent by Regina Sutton, a home care worker from California who for 10 years has been providing care to Karen Johnson, who also participated in the event.

[Sumer Spika]Sutton takes pride in knowing her client’s care needs as well as all of her doctors and pharmacists. She said it would not be “easy to give her up.”

The feeling was mutual. Johnson said she felt “blessed” to have Regina provide her care and that she is so much a part of her family that her grandsons call her “auntie.”

“She does so much and as well as she does it, they need an increase in pay,” said Johnson, referring to all of the home aides. “They are having a hard time taking care of themselves, their families, the household bills and to buy food. It’s a needed service.”

“Just So Wrong”

Early on in the discussion, Clinton said, “I’m hoping that this issue of caregiving will rise higher on the national agenda.”

When one worker said she made just $8 an hour, Clinton said that it was “just so wrong. There is no other way to say it.”

She also said that home care aides save public dollars by keeping people out of nursing homes and hospitals. Several of the aides made the same point, adding that while they help save the government money their contribution was not recognized.

Clinton thanked the home care workers for what they do and the commitment they make to their clients.

She also thanked SEIU for the training that they offer.

The home care aides explained that in addition to the much-needed training that SEIU provides, joining the union has given them a voice and improved their wages and benefits.

Since joining the union in January, Spika said she is “most excited” about getting five paid days off. She plans to use the paid time off to spend more time with her own family.

— by Deane Beebe

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