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The Fight for $15: A home care worker's perspective

Today my guest blogger is Brenda Williams, a Florida home care worker. Brenda works a difficult job and balances it with her home life. Along with other home care workers, she is fighting for higher wages. This is a hot button political issue but one that deserves our attention.

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(Brenda Williams and her client Mr. Dukes at his 102nd birthday party)

 

This election season, I’m thinking about my grandson. I’m looking for a set of leaders that will fight for our families and communities and our ability to care for one another. And for me, and thousands of other home care workers, that means supporting $15 an hour and union rights for low-wage workers everywhere.

In my eight years as a home care worker, I’ve worked miracles to keep families together. I provide daily support services to seniors and people with disabilities that allow them to age with dignity and independence in their homes, surrounded by friends, family and their community. But how can I take care of my loved ones when I’m struggling on low pay?

I am paid $11.50 an hour, and it’s not a fair wage. I live paycheck to paycheck, with one eye constantly on when my next bill is due. It isn’t right that I’m 62 years old, work constantly and am unable to make ends meet. A raise to $15 an hour would mean an opportunity to save for the future, and not just for myself. I moved to Florida 17 years ago to support my grandson, and I dream of being able to put aside savings for him. Home care workers everywhere are wondering how they’ll be able to provide for their families’ futures on low wages.

Sadly, low pay for home care workers has discouraged many from the job. Across the country, the number of seniors in need of home care services has outpaced the number of home care workers available. In Florida, there is one home care worker for every 35 seniors who need care. It’s clear that the system isn’t working for our elderly, it isn’t working for home care workers, and it isn’t working for families. We all deserve better, and we’re demanding that elected leaders stand with our call for change.

I’ve had some of the most remarkable home care clients. The first of them, Mr. Dukes, was a wonderful man and like a grandfather to me. Mr. Dukes had muscular degeneration and impaired vision. Over the years, he’d lost contact with his family and his home was filled with stacks of letters he was unable to read. I began reading the letters and reaching out to relatives and friends who had written them. When Mr. Dukes turned 102, I invited everyone to a birthday party. I told him 13 people would attend and over 50 came, including many long-lost relatives. His alma mater even sent a picture of him from his college years. It was a moving and powerful experience to help my client reconnect with his family and community, and he felt it too. 

Home care workers provide invaluable services to seniors. We help with cooking, bathing, and doctor’s appointments and provide the stability and consistency of care that allows families to stay together and thrive. But too often, low wages mean we can’t cover the basics of food and rent, much less take care of our kids and grandkids the way they deserve. It’s a simple matter of fairness that home care workers should be able to provide for our family members the way we provide for others.

Today, November 10, is one year from the 2016 election. I’m coming together with other home care workers and low-wage workers in the Fight for $15 in our largest nationwide mobilization yet. For too long, our families have been on the line. Now our votes are too. We’re letting candidates know that, whether they’re running for local office or President of the United States, they’ll only get our support if they support $15/hr and union rights.

Home care workers need leaders in office that know what families need. If you stand with us, we’ll stand with you. 

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