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Ventura County

County May Hire Home-Care Aides

Labor: Supervisors tentatively agree to act as 'employer of record' so workers can bargain for higher pay, benefits.

April 03, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed Tuesday to act as employer of record for 1,600 home-care workers as they press for better pay and training.

Home-care workers help elderly and disabled people who would otherwise be placed in nursing homes. Until now, they have acted as independent contractors earning little more than minimum wage.

But a statewide push to unionize the workers and place them under the authority of a public entity resulted in the issue being brought before the supervisors.

A county labor group that is trying to organize the workers urged supervisors to speed the process so negotiations for higher wages can begin this summer.

Home-care workers earn $7.11 an hour and have no medical coverage. Leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 998 have said they will push for a $9.50 hourly wage, plus health benefits.

Supervisors unanimously agreed, in concept, to take on responsibility as the workers' employer. State legislation mandates that counties name an "employer of record" by Jan. 1.

But some board members said they are concerned about how much the decision will cost the county. They asked staff members to research the fiscal effect and report back when the issue returns for a final vote in two months.

Labor activists and home-care workers pressed for the change, saying it would bring "economic justice" to a low-paid and largely ignored group of health-care providers.

Lillian Sharples, an Oxnard home-care worker, said the job she does results in lower public costs than if a patient is institutionalized.

"In-home workers are the ones who do the dirty job that no one else wants to do," Sharples said.

Their care is also better, Sharples and others said. While nurse-to-patient ratios at nursing homes hover near 8 to 1, home-care workers usually care for just one person.

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