Home-care workers, among the lowest paid government employees in the state, won a 50-cent-an-hour raise Tuesday from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but said they still cannot make ends meet.
The workers said the raise to $6.75 an hour, without health insurance, is too low and should be increased to at least $7.50 per hour with health benefits. To make that point, several got themselves arrested Monday during peaceful demonstrations in front of the supervisors' offices.
Most of the supervisors agreed that the wages for the county's 74,000 home-care workers are still too low but those officials continued to argue that only the state can provide the funding needed to increase the salaries to $7.50 per hour.
"This is an injustice that all of us as a society allowed to go on," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who along with Gloria Molina drafted the 50-cent raise proposal.
About a third of the raise will be paid by the county, costing nearly $12 million annually, and the rest will be state-funded. The deal was approved on a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Mike Antonovich opposing the measure, saying it would take too much away from other crucial county services. The raise takes effect Nov. 1.
Nearly 200 home-care workers attended the meeting, accompanied by several elderly and disabled people they serve in such tasks as shopping, cooking and accompanying them to doctors' appointments. The workers argued that the county has the money to fund the additional raise without the state's help.
"The action today, although it's a step [forward], is not righteous or justice," said Tyrone Freeman, general manager of the home-care workers union.
Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said at $6.25 an hour, the workers only make $1,000 a month.
"A thousand dollars a month doesn't make it," he told the supervisors.
The workers are employed by a publicly funded group called the Personal Assistance Services Council, but their pay is determined by the state and counties.
Last year, after the workers joined the powerful Service Employees International Union in the largest unionization nationally in decades, labor activists pushed for health insurance and a pay raise. Gov. Gray Davis offered to boost the workers' $6.25-an-hour salary to $7.50 an hour plus health insurance--but only if the counties picked up 35% of the tab.
Other counties have accepted that formula, but the supervisors say Los Angeles County's share would be $18 million and contend that they can't afford it.
Hoping to end a standoff, Yaroslavsky and Molina offered a compromise Tuesday, agreeing to pay the county's 35% share of a 50-cent raise instead of the $1.25 raise offered under the governor's deal. For now, the state is expected to go along with its share of the 50-cent raise proposal.
Yaroslavsky and Molina urged the home-care workers to lobby the governor and the legislature to pick up 80% of the overall tab so the workers can get the $7.50-per-hour salary.
"We have to get the Legislature and the governor to own up to their responsibilities," Molina said.
Supervisor Don Knabe agreed. "Let's stand shoulder to shoulder and point our fingers north" to Sacramento, he said.
In addition to emotional testimony from home-care workers, the board also heard from their clients, many of whom rolled to the podium in wheelchairs.
Audrey Harthorn, 43, a Van Nuys resident who has been in a wheelchair all her life because of a muscular disorder, said she has occasionally paid her home-care workers extra money out of her own pocket to help them make ends meet.
"It's unfair that we must be punished for being disabled," she told the supervisors.
Harthorn was among 15 home-care workers and their advocates who were arrested Monday when they blocked the intersection of Temple Street and Grand Avenue for nearly 2 1/2 hours to bring attention to their plight.
The arrests bring to 58 the total since the home-care workers started demonstrating last week. Most of the other arrests took place when home-care workers and supporters swarmed the county Hall of Administration to try to meet last week with county Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen.
No further demonstrations are planned, and there is no talk of a strike.
Lillibeth Navarro, a disabled Koreatown resident who has relied on a home-care worker for 13 years, called home care "God's favored profession."
She said a 50-cent raise was not enough. "If you want to help people, help them all the way."
Earlier in the board meeting, representatives of more than 90,000 current and retired county employee union members crowded into the chambers to protest the county's use of pension earnings to balance the county's $15-billion budget.
The unions, representing firefighters, probation officers, lifeguards, sheriff's deputies and others, said that a $3.4-billion reserve from pension earnings should be spent to improve the benefits for union workers.