Do we care? - Page 2

Local activists push for better recognition for caregiving professions

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Lil Milagro Martinez (left) wants all domestic workers to be treated with the same respect she afford to the nanny of her son.
PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN

In California today, caregivers find themselves under attack. Despite playing an important role in electing Brown as governor and in keeping Kaiser Hospital in Oakland and CPMC's St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco open to the low-income residents they serve, the California Nurses Association is still stuck in a years-long contract impasse with those huge hospital corporations.

"We don't think of ourselves first, we think of others first," says Zenei Cortez, a CNA co-president who has been a registered nurse for 33 years, noting that patient care and advocacy standards have been key sticking points in their negotiations.

During each year with a budget shortfall, in-home support services for the sick, elderly, and disabled have been placed on the budgetary chopping block in California and many of its counties — including San Francisco, which has about 21,000 such workers — saved only by political organizing efforts and a longstanding lawsuit against the state (which was just settled on March 20 and will result in an 8 percent across-the-board cut in services).

"This program has been under assault for a full decade," says Paul Kumar, a public policy and political consultant for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, calling that attack short-sighted, in both fiscal and human terms. "People get better care in a home setting."

 

UNDERVALUED, ACROSS THE BOARD

If people generally act in their financial self interest, as economic theory holds, Oakland resident Lil Milagro Martinez would oppose the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and its requirement that she pay her nanny at least minimum wage and allow for breaks and sick days.

After all, Milagro and her family are barely scraping by, with her husband working four jobs as she balances care for their infant son with coursework as a theology graduate student. Instead, Milagro said, she offers their nanny a living wage, benefits, and good working conditions.

"I wanted to feel that we were affirming her rights, so she would pass on that level of respect to my son," Milagro told us. "If I can do this, and there are companies out there saying they can't afford to do the right thing, that angers me."

She was also angry when Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. She's been working with a domestic worker employer group called Hand in Hand, a part of the larger National Domestic Worker Coalition.

"Our goal is to bring people together to create the kinds of worker relationships they want with people in their homes," Danielle Feris, the national director of Hand in Hand, told us. "There will just be more and more people that need care in the home, so this touches all families."

Milagro and other domestic worker employers say their stand is about much more than enlightened self-interest. They say this is an important step toward recognizing the important contributions that women and minority groups make to society and creating an economy focused on addressing human needs.

"Care, we can say, is undervalued across the board," Feris said.

In addition to reintroducing the bill in Sacramento this year, the coalition is pushing similar legislation in Massachusetts and Illinois.

"I think the domestic workers have done a fantastic job at organizing across the country," Ammiano said. "Making a movement of something isn't easy, but once it gets traction then it's tough to ignore."

Like Milagro and Ammiano, Molina said she was bitterly disappointed by Brown's veto, although all say it only strengthened their resolve to win the fight this year. "I felt very sad, depressed, and betrayed," Molina said. "But we will win this...And I think the movement for women, workers, and immigrants will only grow from us winning."