Today marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, popularly referred to in the US as the “Chinese New Year.”
The arrival of the Year of the Horse is being celebrated by well over a billion people, all across the world. Festivities will last for 15 days. For many, this is the longest lasting, and most important holiday period on the calendar.
Each of the 15 days is significant for symbolic and contemporary, relevant reasons. The first day is often designated as one in which we acknowledge and honor our elders. For obvious reasons, this day is particularly important to the members of SEIU ULTCW who provide homecare and nursing home care for seniors.
Whether these folks are family members, or simply community elders with whom bonds have been forged, the component of the Lunar New Year devoted to acknowledging and honoring elders is one we all celebrate.
It is worth noting that with 11,000 Cantonese and Mandarin speaking Members, spread out from Alameda to Monterrey Park, and thousands more with roots in Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands, our multi-year Drive to Dignity campaign would not be possible without the diverse voices and tireless efforts of API providers, consumers, and social justice champions.
In Sacramento, API caregivers and community members are leading the way in fighting Governor Jerry Brown’s current efforts to cap IHSS hours, disrupting continuity of care, and robbing homecare workers of the overtime protections guaranteed to them by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
And in Congressional district after Congressional district, API caregivers and community members are leading the charge to bring about immigration reform legislation in Washington DC that will provide a pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans, and actually keeps families together instead of tearing them apart.
When the media talks about the need for immigration reform, the focus is usually on Latinos, but with over one million of the nation’s undocumented population belong to API communities, (over 416,000 in California alone) it is imperative that we remember how important immigration reform is to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise 3% of all voters. 73% of API voters supported President Barack Obama in 2012, and a vast majority (68%) cited desire to see action on immigration reform as a major reason for their vote. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders join a majority of all Americans in wanting to see reform with a path to citizenship, and an end to detention and deportation policies that lead to family separation, and place children’s mental, physical, and academic well-being at risk.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders understand all too well that the challenges of the immigration system go well beyond the undocumented population. More than 60% of API community members in the US are migrants themselves. Asians and Pacific Islanders are not only the fastest growing immigrant population, they have also been the most numerous for the last several years. As a point of comparison, during the time of the 2010 Census, 31% of all immigrants, documented and undocumented, came from Latin America, while 36% came from Asia. Of all of the immigrants in the US accounted for the US Census Bureau in 2010, half (18.2 million) were born in Asia.
55% of API immigrants were able to come to the US via the family visa system. This system enforces different processing and wait times depending on country of origin. It does not take into account factors, such as family separation, educational ambition, or professional success. A PhD from the Philippines can expect to wait 23 years to be reunited with a loved one, for instance. While a high school dropout from Belgium can reunite with a loved one in 3 years. When API caregivers and community members come together with ULTCW Members and supporters from all backgrounds to demand immigration reform, what is on the table is more than simply the fate of the undocumented, but of all of us who have been disadvantaged and harmed by the system in place.
The Year of the Horse serves as a reminder that we must look ahead and work toward urgently needed reforms. Beyond immigration, we know that we must continue to enroll Americans in the accessible, affordable healthcare plans now available under the Affordable Care Act. With over 330,000 outreached through our local alone, ULTCW Members have been a large part of the success of the Covered California healthcare insurance exchange, and the enrollment of previously uninsured and under-insured Californians through the expansion of MediCal. But API caregivers and community members know – we all know – that we can’t rest until all those who need affordable healthcare are able to access it.
And as President Obama articulated in his fifth State of the Union address, we continue to live in a country where minimum wage work and low wage work mean lives of poverty, even with 40 hour work weeks, and multiple places of employment. The fight to win a living wage, and to eradicate inequality in all its forms is one that API caregivers and community members have taken up, and will continue carry forth alongside ULTCW Members from every back ground and walk of life.
The Year of the Horse will one that rewards hard work, and facilitates great victories. We welcome it, embrace it, and carry its spirit forward, confident that we have the speed, agility, and strength to meet each challenge before us.
Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy New Year!
Sisters and Brothers,
Last year, as we remembered the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we focused much of our attention on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We reflected on the historical words that followed, “I have a dream” and reaffirmed our commitment to keeping the dream alive.
We measured our progress through victories such as the end of Jim Crow segregation, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and the election of our first African American President. We also talked about where we need to devote our efforts for the dream to become a reality.
With that, one year later we are reminded of the inequalities that still exist and the call to action we must all answer:
• 48% of new jobs are predicted to be poverty jobs.
• 1 in 3 women are either living in poverty or are on the brink of poverty.
• 1.6 million Californians are unemployed with over 213,000 having lost their unemployment benefits.
• Income for the top 1% has grown more than 31%, while incomes of the 99% have grown 0.4%.
• 2.4 million Californians are undocumented, seeking a pathway to citizenship.California is ranked 49th out of 50 in education.
• 200,000 children and their families go homeless every day throughout the U.S..
• 16 million children throughout the country go to bed hungry.
As the members of ULTCW honor Dr. King this year, we dedicate this moment of tribute to the championing of Dr. King’s most precious cause: Dignity. It was, after all, Dr. King, who said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Recognizing that there is no dignity in inequality, our union launched Dignity California – a campaign dedicated to the fight to bring dignity to the lives of all who call California home! A fight that ensures that jobs aren’t just jobs, but good jobs that place the American Dream within reach; creates a pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans; delivers affordable quality healthcare to all; gives workers a voice in the workplace; creates income equality; and gives our children and families the tools they need to succeed.
We will forever be grateful for the foundation Dr. King set before us and the inspiration we continue to draw from his actions. It is through his vision and dream that we proudly carry on the work necessary to achieve the just society he spoke of – one in which dignity prevails.
President, SEIU ULTCW
P.S. If you haven’t please take a moment to review this collection of images from our participation in this year’s Kingdom Day Parade: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seiu-ultcw/sets/72157640058262154/
By Beatriz Hernandez, Home Care Worker, ULTCW Executive Board Member
On January 21, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear Harris v. Quinn, a case brought by the National Right to Work Committee, an extreme right-wing think tank. This case threatens home care workers’ right to collective bargaining with states to improve working conditions.
More than that, Harris v. Quinn jeopardizes the ability of senior citizens and people with disabilities to live independently at home. Weakening our home care workforce means more folks will be forced to live in an institution.
For almost 20 years, I have been a home care provider, delivering a quality of care that is dignified and important to those I care for. I have the distinct honor in saying that I fought to ensure that the needs of home care workers in Los Angeles County were addressed early on so many years ago, and because of that fight, at ULTCW, we are now 180,000 members strong throughout the state of California.
In the early days, it was challenging to receive training and at times, I wasn’t sure I was doing things right. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to receive a paycheck and be able to pay my bills. But because we formed our union of home care workers, we were stronger together and were able to receive the work resources we needed so that we could in turn, help people received the care they needed to live healthy lives.
Over the years, home care workers just like me in California, and a lot of other states came together and formed unions. Together, with other home care workers, we were able to improve our working conditions and the quality of care for our clients. Advancements like higher wages, benefits, paid time off, and job safety training have allowed us to make home care jobs good jobs.
As more people see this work as a way to provide for their own families while making a difference in the lives of other families, turnover goes down and the quality of care for our clients goes up.
My coworkers and other healthcare providers, senior citizens and people with disabilities, and the entire community need to let the Supreme Court Justices know how important it is to rule in favor of continued improvement for our home care system and not move us backwards.
Sacramento’s Bad Budget Rx: #HiddenCut #IHSS #ContinuityofCare
Please sign our #EveryHourCounts petition to protect care and caregivers in California:
People with disabilities, seniors, and their caregivers have joined together in Sacramento and all across the state to highlight the devastating consequences of a hidden cut to the In-Home Supportive Services program in California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget.
Contrary to first appearances, California Governor, Jerry Brown’s 2014 budget proposal contains a stinging hit that will disrupt care and slash pay. Caregivers, seniors, and Californians with disabilities gathered to spell out how the hidden cut in Governor Brown’s budget will interrupt continuity of care for those who rely on IHSS, and force tens of thousands of caregivers below the poverty line by depriving them of the wages that keep them going from paycheck to paycheck.
United Long Term Care Workers Executive Board Member, Cristina Knorr was there, standing among several of her brothers, and many of her sisters from CUHW, UDW, AFSCME Local 3930, SEIU Local 521, SEIU UHW, and SEIU California.
According to Gary Passmore, Vice President of the Congress if California Seniors, “The IHSS program promises people in need with the chance to stay healthy at home. But without being able to rely on consistent, quality care, that promise is empty. IHSS was already cut to the bone in the name of the budget crisis. Now, in a time of surplus, the Governor proposes to create more inequality and put vulnerable and frail people at risk. With a $6 billion surplus, I have no doubt the state can afford to invest in good care. It’s time to fight.”
While the budget gives the appearance of beginning to restore investment in a program that has saved money for the state by enabling seniors and people with disabilities to live healthy in their homes rather than in more costly settings, a hidden proposal to prohibit caregivers from working beyond 40 hours per week delivers a sharp blow to IHSS consumers and the people who care for them. The proposal would:
Force Caregivers Into Poverty: By prohibiting work after 40 hours, the proposal sharply limits the ability of caregivers to provide for their families. Many who do this demanding but low-paying work piece together long shifts just to put food on the table. The Governor’s proposal would push a caregiver earning $9.00 per hour whose hours are cut from 50 to 40 a week below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
Disproportionately Impact Women of Color: Like so many attacks on low-wage work, this hidden cut delivers its sharpest blow to people of color who do important yet backbreaking work to provide the basics for their families. A preliminary survey of IHSS payroll data shows that 15-20% of caregivers work overtime hours, and over 70% of these are women.
Disrupt Care: Seniors and people with disabilities who require care beyond 40 hour a week will be forced to rely on temporary or alternative caregivers with less experience and familiarity with their unique needs. Especially concerning are the impacts on children and adults with autism for whom consistency is an essential part of care, and elderly patients with dementia who can suffer adverse consequences in the hands of unfamiliar caregivers.
Come with Hidden Costs: The budget doesn’t account for the increased social service costs to the state from workers forced into poverty, or increased health care demand from consumers as quality, continuous care is compromised. What’s more, it will require establishing a new system to manage a temporary caregiver pool, an unneeded bureaucracy for a program that has prioritized empowering IHSS consumers to select, hire, and fire their workers.
According to Tony Anderson, Executive Director, The Arc of California, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “The Administration’s proposal deals a devastating blow to people with developmental disabilities, especially those living with autism and other disabilities who depend upon stable, consistent, and quality care to prevent major life disruptions or setbacks. The relationship between a client and their caregiver is what makes California’s in-home care program strong. This proposal most hurts clients who require the most support, because they’ll be forced to patch together a network of caregivers from a temporary pool, without regard to their unique needs.”
Just a few months ago, a federal decision by the Obama Administration finally included in-home caregivers in the basic overtime protections that all other workers enjoy. This ruling, part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, will take effect on January 1, 2015. But instead of embracing equal pay and fair treatment for low-wage caregivers, who are predominantly women of color, the Brown Administration has proposed to slash their hours to prohibit them from drawing overtime President Obama declared homecare workers ought to receive under the FLSA.
E-Board Member, Cristina Knorr, has been a Member of ULTCW since 2003. While she stood among her fellow homecare workers, women like Marta Cobos, an IHSS provider who cares for her young twin sons, both with severe autism, Carol Iman, an IHSS provider who cares for her severely mentally disabled adult brother, and Mary Burch, an IHSS provider who cares for her adult developmentally disabled daughter, whose physical ability is so limited she is unable to even dial 911, Ms. Knorr reflected on how it is more important than ever to make noise and get involved.
She vividly recalled how she initially had very little interest in anything that had to do with ULTCW. She avoided any union activities, and showed very little interest in organized labor. But then she realized that her livelihood and the wellbeing of those she cared for were both perpetually at risk.
She joined ULTCW hoping to see things change.
And they did.
She was able to participate in campaigns whose proposed outcomes included an increase in salaries for homecare workers. Ms. Knorr gained more than just the support and camaraderie of her peers, She saw her paycheck go up, and soon began to earn four times as much as when she started drawing a salary as a caregiver.
Ms. Knorr realized that if she got involved, she could help strengthen her union and gain even better benefits for herself and her fellow homecare providers. Since then, she has been one of ULTCW’s most active members and eventually became an E-Board member.
Ms. Knorr’s visit to Sacramento to protest Governor Brown’s proposal to limit the number of paid hours available to IHSS workers, was not her first trip to the State Capital, much less her first experience speaking truth to power.
She loves standing up for what she believes in, and fondly recounts the story of the time when she got arrested protesting IHSS cuts under Gov. Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ms. Knorr jokes that her husband once told her to avoid straining herself through her relentless activism.
She smiles, but never trivializes the importance of the work caregivers do, and the urgency with which providers and consumers must respond to Gov. Brown’s egregious budget proposal, as well as the challenges to come.
Ms. Knorr’s goal is to further develop the non-English speaking membership base. As a native Spanish speaker she knows that she can speak to Latino providers and consumers effectively on why it is so important to be aware of the threats to quality healthcare, quality jobs, and quality of life coming from within and outside Sacramento.
She urges UTLCW Members, as well as consumers and providers across the State to indefatigably fight for the full and equal DIGNITY of all those who call California home regardless of class, race, gender, religion, legal status, etc.
Please sign our #EveryHourCounts petition to protect care and caregivers in California: