TELL US YOUR STORY...
I started working in the health aid field in 1987, with hopes to provide a better future for my family. I have worked in facilities and homes, providing both hospice and general care for 25 years, until I became disabled in 2012.
I took care of my patients and their families, but struggled to find enough money and time to care for my own family. Every day, I pushed myself to work more hours, pushing my body past its limits, to the point where I was in constant pain.
After 25 years of caring for others, I was making only $11 an hour. After 25 years, disabled by the work I’d been doing, I had no pension, no health care benefits, no private disability insurance. If it weren’t for social services, I’d be living in the streets right now.
My disability left my family in crisis. It affects not only me, it affects my family, as I must rely on them for my care. My grown daughter also wants to be a home health aide, but she may put her future on hold to care for me.
Since becoming part of [Rochester Workers' Center], I have started talking to other workers about their situations. I have shared with others who have lived, or are living, experiences similar to mine. I see that the that the problems I experience not only affect me, but also affect my family and my community. We can’t deal with these problems as individuals - we have to work together, because together, we have more power to change the home health care industry. We deserve fair wages and benefits. We need to share our experiences, know about our rights, and more important, act together for our own health, and the health of our community.
I was a home health aide for 15 years. I’ve always been a caretaker - it’s who I am, starting with my siblings. The agencies need us to keep their companies thriving, and they need show some respect.
Hours and scheduling are a big problem. You’ll tell them your availability, and then they’ll call and say you have to come in during the times you just said you weren’t available. They’ll give you your schedule three days before the week begins, but they might cancel a shift or call you to come in anyway.
The schedule is always up for revision. They can fire you if you leave when your replacement doesn't show up. They don’t care that you have to get your child at the bus, or that you don't have childcare. We’re treated like we’re expendable.
It’s hard to plan or budget when your schedule is never predictable. One week it’s 45 or 60 hours, the next week, it’s 20 hours.
Before my eyes were opened to the tricks of the agencies, I’d wonder why, at the end of the year, I'd receive a large check. After inquiring, I found out it was for hours I'd worked that weren't paid.
I want to tell other home health aides that they don’t need to tolerate indecent treatment, be it the low salary or the way they talk to you. I think some home health aides didn’t want to come to a Rochester Worker Center meeting because of fear. They don’t want to shake things up at work. And a lot of aides are tired. They work a lot of hours just to get by, and when they get home, they’re just too tired.
Others haven’t encountered these issues yet. They will.
I was a home health care aide for twenty-plus years. I’m in constant pain from it. The job itself is wearing on the body. I’d like you to find me a home health care aide who’s worked for more than five years who doesn’t have issues with their body. People will say, “you didn’t bend your knees right when you lift,” but we’re talking about taking care of a 200- or 300-pound person who can’t hold themselves up. We’re bathing them, we’re dressing them…
That’s not to say we don’t love what we do. I’ve always cared for people - my brothers and sisters after my mother died — no matter what I do, I’m a caregiver. I’m good at it.
A lot of people start off with a passion for the work, but the agencies kill that passion.,.when someone works overtime, they’ll say, “We don’t pay overtime - we’ll put those hours on next week…” If they need you at the last minute, and you say no, they’ll cut your hours the next week. You may not work at all the next week. One aide told me she’s down to 9 hours a week because she refused something.
When I talk to home health aides, the first thing they’ll say is, the pay is too low. You know you can’t make a living on $9 an hour! In Monroe county, for a mother with two children, the living wage is $22 an hour. Nine dollars an hours is a slap in the face. Fifteen dollars is still a slap, but we’ll take it. It’s an honor for me to take care of people. It’s an honor to treat your Mom like she’s my Mom. It’s an honorable job - so why not treat me honorably?
At-Large Officer, 2017 Leadership Team
Rochester Workers' Center Staff Organizer
I’m retired, but I have 32 years of experience in home health care and nursing homes. I know the issues many aides face today.
There is not enough pay, no respect from the nurses, and the company — they talk to you any kind of way. These homes wouldn't be able to run without aides. I know that the Rochester Workers Center is needed.
Come to the meetings. I want these home health aides to show the companies that being a home health aide is important. If there was a union for you, the union would fight for you. You can act as your own union. They fear unity.
If all the aides come together, they can get more pay, dignity and more respect. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have worked those long hours, I got double pay, but they don't care if you get rest. They just need a “body" on the floor. There are not enough aides to care for the number of seniors. I care about what happens to the aides. I've heard about their issues. I've fought for what is right, on different issues starting about 20 years ago with the welfare rights. We didn't really knew what I was doing, but we knew the problems, and we fought for the state to help — and we won!
The first and most important thing people learn when they attend a Rochester Worker Center event is that they’re not alone - there are other people in Rochester who are experiencing the same problems at work, things like wage theft, last-minute scheduling, sexual harassment, discrimination, unsafe working conditions…
A lot of our events are informational, but it takes more than information to solve these problems. It takes working together. Sometimes when a member has a meeting with one of our attorneys, the attorney has to tell them, “I’m sorry, that’s really terrible - but it’s not illegal.”
Even when the attorney thinks they have a case, it can take a long time to go through the court, and the worker needs the problem solved now.
Rather than sue your employer, sometimes you’re better off if you make a plan to approach your employer as a group — with community allies and members of the Rochester Worker Center standing behind you. I would describe the Rochester Worker Center as 1/3 union, 1/3 community group, and 1/3 support center.
If we don’t have a living wage, we can’t support ourselves or our children. Rochester has a high poverty rate and a task force on poverty. They've been working the poverty problem for more than a year, when we already know the reason for poverty: low wages. We have to organize actions to show we’ve got the power of numbers. More and more people are realizing it’s not an individual answer, it’s a community answer.
We are a community group. We have home health workers who work with the elderly and know that having a strong voice at the table is essential for elder justice.