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Legislation would help protect home-care workers

Gov. Jerry Brown shakes hands with Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose before his State of the State address. Kalra is now pushing AB 1513, backed by the SEIU.
Gov. Jerry Brown shakes hands with Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose before his State of the State address. Kalra is now pushing AB 1513, backed by the SEIU. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California’s Silver Tsunami is coming, but we’re not ready. Our ability to care for our most vulnerable population is in jeopardy because the care-giving workforce is underpaid, lacks training opportunities and is disempowered. That’s why SEIU is sponsoring AB 1513, which will give private home caregivers the chance to change their working conditions and build their skills. (Re: “In the name of helping workers, this bill would strip them of basic privacy,” Dan Morain, July 11).

A National Employment Law Project report found nearly 1 in 5 home-care workers was paid less than the minimum wage, and more than 80 percent worked overtime without requisite pay. Workers’ ability to have a voice in strengthening this abusive industry is crucial as California looks to meet the needs of our population.

Caregivers routinely face sexual harassment, violent attacks and unsafe working conditions. When workers face such appalling conditions, they have the right to form a union and change them, right? Unfortunately, private home-care workers do not. In reality, they have no way to come together and address their situation, improve their skills, and change their working conditions, because they work in isolation in private homes on temporary assignments. This reflects the larger trends in an economy where work is increasingly fragmented and isolated.

That’s why caregivers like Richard Carpenter, who cares for three to four elderly clients at any time, recently asked the Legislature to approve AB 1513, which would open the door for workers to connect to one another and choose to join a union. AB 1513 would give workers the choice to share their information with labor unions to access low-cost or free training opportunities, the ability to address labor violations and other violations directly, and, of course, the ability to negotiate for fair wages and benefits.

AB 1513 addresses the privacy concerns of the technological age. AB 1513 utilizes a gold standard for how privacy matters should be approached, giving each worker the option to share his or her information and strictly limiting its use. California needs to build the workforce infrastructure to care for our aging population. You can’t do that with underpaid, untrained and exploited caregivers. Giving power to workers is the surest path to prepare for the future.

Butler is president of SEIU Local 2015 and SEIU California. Laphonza.Butler@seiu2015.org

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