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Home-Care Workers Press Pay Demands

Labor: Hundreds employed by government march in L.A. for raises and health insurance.

May 10, 2000|NANCY CLEELAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of government-paid home-care workers and their clients--including some in wheelchairs--marched through downtown Los Angeles Tuesday afternoon to underscore their demands for a substantial raise and health insurance.

Wearing purple T-shirts and chanting "No justice, no peace," the demonstrators were clearly borrowing tactics from the successful janitors' strike of last month, which featured boisterous daily marches. Both sets of workers are represented by the fast-growing Service Employees International Union.

The home-care workers, who marched from the governor's office to the county building, vowed to escalate their actions unless the state offers a substantial wage hike.

About 72,000 unionized workers in Los Angeles care for the disabled and elderly in the patients' homes under a program funded by federal, state and county governments. They earn $6.25 per hour with no health benefits.

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed a 35-cent raise for each of the next five years, and county officials have refused to budget any wage increases. Workers are seeking an immediate jump to $7.50 per hour plus health insurance.

"I'm a nurse, a mother, a cook and more for these people," said Theresa Edwards, who cares for two women in their 90s and a younger client left partly paralyzed by a stroke. She said she is paid for 291 hours a month, which does not include the bus commute between her clients, who live in South-Central Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

"I do it because I like working with people, and they need someone to help them," Edwards said as she marched, holding a picket sign. "But I have to live too."

Davis is due to release a revised budget early next week, and union officials said they were optimistic that it would include funding for a higher wage. A spokeswoman for the governor said she could not comment on the home-care issue until the revised budget is released.

Union leaders said part of the state's projected multibillion-dollar surplus should be used to help home-care workers, particularly because those workers allow patients to stay home rather than move to more costly state facilities.

"This is a question of political will," said Tyrone Freeman, general manager of SEIU Local 43B, which organized the workers a year ago. "The surplus is there. If we can't do it now, we'll never get there."

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