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Paid Sick Leave Law Excludes Homecare Workers

Seth Sandronsky

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Politics is the art of compromise. On this note, Capital & Main asked Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) about the removal of 365,000 In Home Support Service (IHSS) workers from Assembly Bill 1522, the paid sick leave bill she authored.  (See “Landmark Sick Leave Law Signed.”) The measure, signed into law September 10, grants this employment benefit to 6.5 million private-sector workers statewide. It takes effect on July 1, 2015. IHSS workers help the disabled and elderly with their daily household and medical needs. According to the Economic Policy Institute, nationally 93 percent of such workers are female, with 27 percent of them Hispanic and 18 percent African American.

“At the end of the day,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said, “we were forced to take that specific group out. “It was a condition of having the bill signed by Governor Brown. His view is that IHSS workers are in the middle of statewide bargaining, and are represented by two of the strongest labor unions in the state. Therefore, they should bargain for paid sick leave in their contract negotiations.” (Full disclosure: The two unions are financial supporters of Capital & Main.)

Gonzalez, who was elected last year to the California State Assembly after years of working with organized labor, protested the governor’s position.

“I disagreed,” she said, “and told him, if we are going to provide paid sick leave to workers who do not have it, we should apply that coverage to everybody.”

Brown had cited cost containment as another reason to deny paid sick leave for homecare workers. Their exclusion, which was crafted in the amended Senate version of AB 1522 before it passed the upper house of the Legislature, saves $82 million annually — or 0.076 percent of the $108 billion state general fund budget for 2014-15.

County costs of $5 million in 2014-15 to arrange the paid sick leave for IHSS providers would climb to $25 million per year thereafter, according to a state Department of Finance analysis of AB 1522. But the state, not counties, would have to cover any  additional costs of paid sick leave.

In some ways the exclusion of IHSS workers from the new law echoes the exclusion of domestic and farm workers from the Social Security Act of 1935. In his 2006 book Working Toward Whiteness, historian David R. Roediger described how the act’s passage reflected “historic and worsening patterns of discrimination” — patterns that many find visible today in the determination of who receives certain job benefits and who doesn’t.

“It is a shocking and disheartening outcome that such an important bill became a vehicle for discrimination against an entire class of workers, most of whom are women and people of color,” Laphonza Butler said after the bill’s passage. Butler is president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California State Council and SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, which represents 180,000 IHSS providers.

“No workers win when another worker’s labor is devalued and disrespected,” said Butler. “We will be working to ensure that this unjust, discriminatory and degrading exclusion is corrected so that all workers are given the same rights and protections.”

Kady Crick, 59, is an IHSS provider from Riverside County who works more than 200 hours per month caring for her client. A member of United Domestic Workers/American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (UDW/AFSCME), Local 3930, Crick also criticized the exclusions of IHSS workers from AB 1522.

“I’m appalled that they don’t think caregivers deserve the same rights,” said Crick, a registered independent voter. “My client comes first and I would never put her health and safety at risk just because some politician doesn’t see the value of my work. It is outrageous and dangerous to exclude caregivers from paid sick leave.”

Doug Moore, executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, spelled out that danger in a press statement.

“In a line of work that has historically been devalued,” Moore’s statement said, “paid sick leave would have been a momentous step forward for California caregivers, who often face losing pay because they cannot go to work sick when their clients are especially at risk for infection.”

But, like former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The Terminator, Assemblywoman Gonzalez will be back – to expand paid sick leave to all workers in California.

“We are going to approach paid sick leave for IHSS workers through a bill and through the budget process next year,” she said.

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