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Santa Cruz: Home Care Workers Rally For Better Pay
Santa Cruz Patch
Ruth Schneider

November 24, 2010
View the Original Article

Shouts of "Si se puede" filled the courtyard at Santa Cruz City Hall on Tuesday afternoon as SEIU United Long Term Care Workers joined allies in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the city's living wage ordinance.

The rally came prior to a unanimous vote by Santa Cruz City Council on a resolution recognizing the anniversary and the critical role in-home service workers play in the community.

The event also coincided with Home Care Provider Appreciation Month, said Nora Hochman, chair of the Living Wage Coalition.

"As workers struggle on, this resolution marks a significant show of support on your part," Hochman told the council.

The resolution highlights the living wages city-contracted workers receive: $13.60 per hour plus benefits or $14.83 without benefits. Both wages are significantly more than the $11.50 per hour home care providers receive.

Hochman acknowledges the wages are low.

"We know that's not really a living wage in Santa Cruz," she said. "But it was the best we could do and it's what we're shooting for for home care workers."

Blair Golson, a spokesman for the union said county supervisors may cut home care workers wages by $3 per hour to $8.50.

Robert Poen, a Santa Cruz native, could not handle a wage cut of $3 per hour. He is one of 180,000 home care providers that ULTCW represents statewide.

He is paid 30 hours a week for the care of his son, a 14-year-old who is disabled. But caring for his son's needs doesn't end when the 30 hours a week do. And his compensation barely covers the necessities.

"I cut corners on all the nonessentials," said Poen. "I am a Santa Cruz native and I have a community of people who will help me out. I feel fortunate."

He's frustrated by the fact he's actually saving the state money.

"If my son was in an institution, it would cost the state three times or four times what they pay me," he said.

Mayor Mike Rotkin agreed.

"If people don't do this work, it becomes very expensive for the city or county," he said. A living wage "is good for the people who do this work, its good for their clients and it's good for the community as a whole."

But he noted that the council's resolution was carefully worded.

"I wanted to be careful in our resolution to not tell the county board of supervisors what to do, but I think that it's important to weigh in," he said.