Minnesota home care workers with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the seniors and people with disabilities they provide care for shut down the road outside the Minnesota Capitol Saturday afternoon to forcefully call on elected leaders to take action to support this critical work.
The group came to the corner of University and Park in cars, on foot and using wheelchairs to rally outside the Capitol to disrupt the status quo that had resulted in a “care crisis” before the pandemic where there were not enough workers willing to do this work for the low pay and benefits to support the amount of seniors and people with disabilities who wanted to be able to stay safely in their homes. The crisis has been magnified since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet there has been no action from elected leaders to support this critical work.
Home care worker and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota leader Shari Lackey spoke from the intersection about why workers and clients took this step to show how serious they are about making change in the home care industry.
“Our legislators need to recognize that the work we do is essential and we deserve to be recognized for that hard work. We have been fighting for the last 7 months to get access to PPE, sick time, and a pay increase for those of us that do this work and are keeping our loved ones safe, healthy, and happy in their homes. But they have failed to deliver any of those things that I just talked about, and it isn’t for lack of information. We have gone to them and told them how difficult this work is and how it is even more difficult during this pandemic. They have had multiple legislative sessions since this pandemic began, and every time the message we’ve gotten in the end is that we and the people we care for are not important.”
There has been no action in spite of bipartisan support in both the Minnesota House and Senate throughout the legislative and special sessions, along with support from Gov. Walz following his experience working directly with a home care worker last fall, caring for Jay Spika, a Minnesotan with MS who receives home care services who also spoke at the event from the intersection.
“We’ve all watched this pandemic shut down our entire country, but still my PCAs showed up to support me and my family, all while struggling to pay their bills. No one should have to risk death in their own family for a paycheck, but my PCAs have taken that risk all summer. They’ve given up time with their children and grandchildren so they can safely support me. We have already been struggling for years. My PCAs have to work up to 3 jobs just to get by. That’s not fair to any of us. When my PCAs are stretched too thin, I can’t even leave the house because of the added stress it causes all of us,” said Spika, who was joined by his daughter at the microphone. “Our Lawmakers have completely abandoned us to carry this pandemic on our backs. We should have been given emergency support this summer. I just don’t understand how lawmakers can hear our stories and our struggles and our cries, and choose to ignore us.I want to be an active member of society.”
“I want to parent my children without being constantly exhausted. But my caregivers can’t focus on me because they’re working multiple jobs. They can’t fully help me until you help them,” Spika continued as cars honked support and the crowd cheered. “If you only give them scraps, they’re forced to sacrifice to offer the rest. You would never allow your own loved ones to live this way. We are worth as much as you and your families. You need to wake up to your choices and the suffering you force on people.”
Despite all of the words of support from elected officials, there has been no action to provide support for frontline essential caregivers during this global pandemic. Home care workers are majority women and people of color, and they are on the front lines of facing the dual crises of COVID-19 and racial injustice. This essential work is the last line of defense for disabled Minnesotans and elders to stay out of nursing homes or congregate living institutions, where we’ve seen the highest rates of COVID-19 exposure and death.
Despite the increased risks to workers and increased need for quality staff from clients, there has been no hazard pay (workers currently make as little as $13.25), no PPE for workers and no extra paid sick time if workers are exposed to COVID.
The event came before the legislators hold another special session on Oct. 12th and also as home care workers and the state are beginning contract negotiations this fall for a new two-year contract for the 25,000 care workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. At the event, care workers and clients highlighted both opportunities as a chance for leaders to step up and take action to support this critical work.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents over 40,000 healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care across Minnesota