Home care workers, clients push Congress to act on ‘jobs, care, justice’

In St. Paul, home care workers, clients and allies march in support of federal investments in home- and community-based care.

With a march, rally and celebration near the Capitol in St. Paul today, Minnesotans of all ages joined activists nationwide in lifting up the call for a $400 billion federal investment in essential home care jobs.

“The future of work is service and care jobs,” said LaTanya Hughes, a home care worker and vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which organized the event locally. “It’s time we finally, really value the jobs that we all call essential.”

President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, includes $400 billion for home- and community-based care, enough to create over 1 million living-wage jobs in the industry.

The proposal also includes jobs-creating investments in roads, bridges, transit, schools, housing, research and manufacturing. Home care workers and clients across the U.S. are organizing, with support from SEIU, to make sure their industry – the so-called “caring infrastructure” – isn’t left behind as the legislative process plays out.

More than 90,000 people work as home health aides and personal care assistants in Minnesota, and home care workers here already have formed a union to improve their wages, benefits and training opportunities.

But advocates say the federal government must do more to stabilize and professionalize the industry’s workforce, which is marked by high rates of turnover.

“The home care industry has been ignored for too long,” said Lauren Thompson, a disability rights advocate who has cerebral palsy. “The workers are underpaid and overworked. This causes a dangerous domino effect that trickles down to me and clients like me.”

Lack of stable care, she said, limits opportunities for many Americans with disabilities to live independently. Thompson called it a choice “between our freedom and our safety” that results in a “loss of our humanity.”

“Stable home care means stable client lives,” she added.

Jillian Nelson, an autistic adult who works as a policy advocate for the Autism Society of Minnesota, attended the march and rally with two members of her home care team. Their work, she said, makes it possible for Nelson to pursue her own career, and the result is a net gain for the economy as a whole.

“Far too long, we have been framed as a burden on society,” Nelson said. “We don’t just use resources, but create jobs and community… It is time that that economic framework be valued and strengthened like every other sector of our country’s economy.”

Investing in the care economy is also a matter of racial and economic justice, advocates said.

The home care workforce is overwhelmingly made up of women and people of color. That makes the Biden plan, which includes “neutrality” language requiring projects funded through the legislation to offer workers a fair opportunity to form a union, an opportunity to create the foundation of a more diverse, resilient middle class.

“It would be a jobs act, it would be a racial justice act and it would be a care act,” Hughes said.

Home care workers and clients also took time at the event to celebrate gains made during the recently concluded legislative session, including approval of workers’ union contract with the state. That agreement will raise minimum pay to $15.25 in July 2022 and expand workers’ access to paid time off and holiday pay.

The St. Paul event was part of a 24-city day of action organized by SEIU, kicking off a major campaign centered around jobs, care and justice for the 2.3 million home care workers nationwide.

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