In a move labor leaders hope will lead to higher wages for 423,000 in-home care workers, California would create a new state authority to negotiate future pay as part of the budget deal lawmakers are expected to send to Gov. Jerry Brown today.
The change eventually would strip counties of responsibility for negotiating with In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers, giving that power to a board with five members who answer to the governor.
In-home care workers serve low-income disabled or elderly residents who need help bathing, cooking or cleaning, at rates that range from $8 to $14.78 per hour depending on the county, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. An estimated 72 percent of IHSS recipients receive care from a relative.
Service Employees International Union, which represents 250,000 IHSS workers and is a major backer of Democrats, pushed for the change during budget negotiations, three Capitol sources said.
The move accompanies Brown's shift of in-home services into managed care to save on treatment for low-income Medi-Cal patients.
The managed care and bargaining changes start with eight of the state's most populous counties. That includes Los Angeles, where IHSS rates have generally lagged those in other expensive areas, such as the San Francisco Bay Area. Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday approved an increase from $9 to $9.65 per hour.
Rebecca Malberg, home-care division director with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, said the change to statewide negotiating would improve cost planning because California wouldn't have to rely on 58 counties to negotiate wage fluctuations. She believes IHSS wages throughout the state are below a livable level.
"I think statewide negotiation allows us to look at the state as a whole and figure out how to keep the wages and benefits adequate to keep the workforce that can care for this population," Malberg said.
The federal government pays about half of IHSS wages, while the state picks up 32.5 percent and counties pay about 17.5 percent, according to the LAO. The new proposal, Assembly Bill 1496, would freeze the county share at the current level with increases only for inflation. State and federal governments would be responsible for pay hikes above inflation in future years. That was enough to keep counties neutral on the shift to statewide bargaining.
Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist who worked for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, observed that the move runs counter to Brown's efforts to decentralize government and give counties more power.
"This is a governor that says he wants to realign government to the locals, and this is a take-back for expansion of state government to the benefit of labor unions," Stutzman said.
He added that labor unions have greater sway in the Capitol than at the county level: "I think their power base is in Sacramento."
As part of the budget deal, Democrats rejected Brown's proposals to cut IHSS hours 7 percent and to eliminate pay for services like housework and cooking provided by relatives. Democrats agreed instead to maintain the 3.6 percent cut in hours that is currently in place.