Legacy of May Day continues as we fight to right wrongs that corporations, policies impose on workers

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An Op-Ed by Madeline Velasquez

During the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women and children were dying every year from poor working conditions, and who knows how many more would have died or gotten injured if workers hadn’t united in labor unions on May 1, 1886, to say, “Enough!”

While May 1, 1886, now known as May Day, was a fire that lit the torch of worker justice for years to come, the ugly truth is that workers are still getting injured today and corporate bosses are prioritizing their pocketbooks and ignoring the safety of their workers.

May Day is fresh on our minds as we fight today to correct the backward policies that affect one of the nation’s fastest growing workforces — long term care workers (nursing home and home care workers who are most commonly referred to as “caregivers”).

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As a caregiver, I can tell you that the work we do can be literally back-breaking. In a study on injuries in home care work in California, researchers found 31% of home care workers reported symptoms of injury. The same study noted that 58% of home care workers reported assisting with transferring a recipient, and 85% of those workers reported that lift equipment or aids were not available. Additionally, in 2017, the California Department of Industrial Relations estimated there were 6,600 cases of worker injury in the nursing home industry. Among industries with at least 6,000 cases of injury, the nursing home industry had the highest incident rate of worker injury. Policies that prioritize the safety of caregivers are lacking in California and too many nursing home bosses are not being held accountable for their lack of dignity and respect for their workers.

The ugly truth is that nursing home industry leaders don’t want to respect the important work caregivers do, and archaic policies insinuate that caregivers should expect to work for free with little to no resources. Unfortunately, we see these ugly truths every day in California nursing homes that refuse to staff facilities appropriately to safely provide care to nursing home residents, and in county governments, like San Bernardino and Fresno counties, that refuse to invest in the in-home care programs that seniors and people with disabilities depend on. The lives of our ailing loved ones are being dismissed, and the life-saving work caregivers do are being taken for granted.

Caregivers deserve dignity and respect. We do, after all, take care of grandparents, mothers, fathers, and children, too. We help with the most intimate to the most basic of tasks, such as: personal hygiene, trips to doctor appointments, ensuring that medications are being taken properly, and replacing breathing and feeding tubes.

As caregivers, we are working to right these wrongs. Together, we are fighting in Sacramento with legislative proposals that will ensure nursing home owners invest taxpayer dollars in the care and safety residents and workers depend on. And we are moving legislation that ensures county governments are supporting their local In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program. But the fight doesn’t stop in Sacramento. This May Day we say, “Enough!” to all policies and billionaire owners that don’t respect long term care, and enough with turning our heads to the inhumane, unjust belief that caregivers should scrape their way through life with little pay and resources.

Caregivers are getting injured and disrespected like it’s 1886, and to this, we say, “Enough!”

Madeline is a caregiver with San Bernardino County’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program and a Regional Vice President of SEIU Local 2015. She is also a member leader of the bargaining committee fighting for a fair contract for IHSS caregivers.

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