San Francisco will pay thousands of city-contracted caregivers a minimum of $25 per hour, after the Board of Supervisors and labor unions today announced a new, four-year contract with the caregivers’ union.
The tentative agreement makes San Francisco the first county in California to reach a new contract with caregivers, who are part of the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, which provides free in-home caregivers to Medi-Cal clients.
That state program provides some 550,000 caregivers to more than 650,000 clients across California.
The contract will be ratified by a vote of the 24,700 caregivers represented by SEIU Local 2015 across San Francisco. If approved, caregivers would start making $25 wage in September, and would make $25.50 by the end of the four-year contract.
“My job is about making sure that there is someone there to ensure nobody has to grow old alone,” said Claudia Arevalo, a caregiver since the 1990s, and a member of the SEIU bargaining team. She and dozens of other caregivers rallied outside City Hall this afternoon.
“We went into this contract negotiations asking for a path to $25. We reached an agreement that exceeds $25 per hour.”
Kim Evon, executive vice president of SEIU 2015, said the raise would “lift up the dignity of caregivers and their recipients” amid a crisis in at-home care that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. She said caregivers were subject to “short staffing, low wages and benefits, lack of training and the longstanding racist and sexist policies shaped by this industry that do not recognize the value and the essential work of care providers.”
“Our care counts,” caregivers chanted at today’s rally.
The state’s caregiving program has suffered from understaffing, according to SEIU 2015, and caregivers have suffered burnout in addition to low wages; many made as little as $19.25 an hour while forced to commute for hours daily, to and from San Francisco. Across the state, caregivers often make the local county minimum wage, according to SEIU 2015.
A full quarter of caregivers employed in the state program quit every year, according to the Department of Social Services.
But the state’s program is economical: Every client with In-Home Supportive Services saves California between $22,000 and $153,000 annually, compared to counterparts who are placed into long-term care provided through Medi-Cal, according to a report by the California State Auditor.
In California, in-home care workers are 80 percent women, 74 percent people of color, and 47 percent immigrants. “It’s a hard job, and not everyone wants to do it, not even their kids,” Hilda Argueta, an eight-year caregiver, said in Spanish. “What would happen in the United States without caregivers? What would happen to the seniors? They deserve protection and care, too.”
Every day, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Argueta visits Maria, an elderly Nicaraguan migrant who suffers from throat cancer and lives in the Mission. Argueta handles all the chores: Changing sheets and diapers, cleaning clothes, stocking the fridge with food.
“She has two daughters, but nobody cares for her but me,” Argueta said.
In the afternoon, Argueta visits another client on Natoma Street, a woman with dementia who can barely sit upright without falling over. Argueta speaks with her to jog her memory, including about her years as an activist. “But you can’t leave her alone, even for a minute,” she said.
Argueta struggles in her own life, too. Rent in her Oakland home costs $2,500, which Argueta, her husband, and two of her relatives struggle to pay. “We want a fair salary,” she said.
The action in San Francisco is the fourth stop on a statewide caravan tour. Roughly 100 caregivers and recipients crammed into two buses that departed from Los Angeles with the goal of arriving in Sacramento on Thursday to lobby for the “Our Care Counts” Bill, or Assembly Bill 1672.
The statewide bill, introduced by Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), will enable In-Home Supportive Services workers across California to bargain for wages and benefits at the state level, instead of bargaining on a county-by-county basis.
“Currently, California’s IHSS program is a fragmented system,” said Evon from SEIU 2015. “It is split between 56 public authorities, each with their own union contracts, as shown through our recent negotiations in San Francisco, which creates huge obstacles for us to advance statewide standards for the delivery of care and for the profession of caregiving.”
The state bill passed out of the Public Employment and Retirement Committee last month, and is on its way to the Appropriations Committee this month.