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Health aides fight pushed to the surface

Stephon Johnson | 8/15/2013, 10:05 a.m. | Updated on 8/15/2013, 10:05 a.m.
Pamela and Valdez

With many of the most recent job gains occurring in low-wage labor, home health aides are starting to push for higher wages and better benefits.

Over a week ago, the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) released a report titled, “Caring Across New York City,” which chronicled the importance of home health aides in the five boroughs. According to the report, the home care system—which employs 155,000 formal sector home care workers and an increasing share of New York City’s 120,000 to 240,000 domestic workers—will be the single biggest driver of employment in the city in the upcoming years. The study states that certified home care workers are projected to grow faster than any other group of workers in the five boroughs between 2010 and 2020, with an almost 50 percent increase in job expansion.

ALIGN’s reports also surveyed those who receive care from home health aides and found that their feelings on the future of these workers align with the workers themselves. Eighty-seven percent of patients surveyed wanted an increase in wages for home health aides (90 percent among health care workers), 57 percent want better quality training for home health aides (62 percent for workers) and 53 percent wanted to ensure better health care access for health care workers.

The median age of all survey respondents was 57 years old.

ALIGN’s study also revealed that the low salaries of home care workers make saving enough for retirement difficult. One participant in the study’s focus groups is a non-union home care worker who works without a pension and told ALIGN about their plight.

“My salary has me super poor,” said the female worker who wasn’t identified. “When I worked, my salary covered everything just fine; I had a good life. But then when I stopped working, I am super poor. I am trying to see if I can find a way to go back to working.”

But the advocacy for home health aides hasn’t ended with reports and focus groups. That same week, over 100 1199 homecare workers joined public officials like Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, New York Assemblyman Carl Heastie and New York City Council Members Annabel Palma and Andy King to speak out and rally outside of AccentCare’s Bronx office to demand that company executives offer paid sick days and affordable health insurance.

“We are going through hell because AccentCare won’t give us sick days and they won’t give us vacation days. We need to stand up for our rights in order to advance as caregivers,” said Joyce Tetteh, a home health aide with AccentCare.

AccentCare’s caregivers voted to form a union in 2010, but are still working without a contract. AccentCare doesn’t offer workers paid sick days, and workers have complained about being pressured to come into work while sick.