By DAVID GREENE
A few dozen home care workers held a rally in the Bronx on Friday, March 12, to push for the passage of the “Fair Pay for Home Care Act,” which aims to guarantee workers better conditions. Low wages and poor conditions have been causing a mass exodus from the profession, affecting both elderly and disabled people, who are usually cared for in their homes by such workers. However, due to the shortage, seniors and people with disabilities are increasingly being forced to enter already overburdened nursing homes.
The Fair Pay for Home Care Act (S-5374) was introduced on March 3, by State Sen. Rachel May of Morrisville, who represents New York’s 53rd district, upstate. Local State Senators, Gustavo Rivera, who represents the 33rd district, and Luis Sepúlveda, who represents the 32nd district, have both co-sponsored the bill, which would raise wages 150 percent above the minimum, and give the average home care worker an annual salary of $35,000.
The rally was held at the Fordham Bus Plaza, between Park Avenue and Third Avenue, with many workers holding signs and chanting, “What do we want? Fair Pay! When do we want it? Now!”
Denise Clark of Cooperative Home Care Associates, the largest worker-owned cooperative in the nation which trains over 600 low-income women every year to provide home care services to New Yorkers who are elderly, chronically ill, or living with disabilities in their communities, addressed the crowd. “We are here today to tell the leadership of the state legislature, Carl Heastie, who represents many of us in the Bronx, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins that they must support our work to raise health care pay and make sure that “Fair Pay for Home Care” is in the house budget,” she said.
As if addressing the state elected leadership directly, she added, “Every legislator in New York State has a choice right now. After 15,000 deaths of nursing home residents, one million jobs lost, and economic devastation, what will you do now to prevent this from ever happening again, to fight for older and disabled people, to create jobs and restore our economy?”
A recent study conducted by CUNY’s School for Labor and Urban Studies found that passage of the legislation would generate $5.4 billion for the state economy through new income and sales tax revenue and would bring an estimated 200,000 new home care workers into the industry over the next decade. It would also create 180,000 jobs in other sectors and related industries.
Norwood News reached out to Penny Lewis at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies to ask what type of other jobs would make up these additional 180,000 positions. We did not receive an immediate response.
Meanwhile, Clark said the deaths of the nearly 15,000 nursing home residents in New York from COVID-19 has exposed the dangerous conditions in overburdened nursing homes that existed before the pandemic. “If we are serious about keeping seniors and people with disabilities safe, we need to make sure that everyone has the home care they need to live in their own homes,” she said.
Citing figures from the CUNY study, Clark concluded, “New York is the epicenter of a national home care workers shortage, with a projected shortage of 50,000 workers by 2023, and over 83,000 by 2025. This shortage comes as tens of thousands of New Yorkers are currently at risk of being forced into nursing homes because they cannot receive the services they need.”
The importance of addressing everyday problems that affect seniors living at home was further highlighted last month, on Feb. 28, when local elected officials stood, in Co-op City, with Congressman Jamaal Bowman and a number of health care professionals, as the congressman for New York’s 16th congressional district announced the introduction of his new “Care Economy Resolution.”
It calls for higher pay for home care and childcare workers, medical coverage for those workers, and paid medical leave. Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernández was also present at the same Dreiser Loop press conference, which was organized, in part, in response to the recent black-out that occurred there.
“I want to thank the congressman for introducing this resolution and bringing the much-needed attention to a decades-long problem,” Fernández said. “We need the investment, we need the attention, we need the funding to our community.”
Meanwhile, referring to the legislation, State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said, “I want New York care workers to know that your representatives at every single level of government are working, and they’re advocating on your behalf, and I’m very grateful to be here today, and look forward to making sure that this is a reality.”
For his part, State Sen. Jamaal Bailey said, “When you provide your professional life to the service of others, you should be taken care of.” He added, “Whether that’s economically or that’s in terms of health care, or that’s in terms of just simple respect, caregivers deserve to be taken care of.”
Meanwhile, Bowman said the gathering was an example of government coming together, working in collaboration to meet the needs of all people, particularly the most vulnerable.
“I’m tired of living in a country where we invest in Wall Street and allow stock buybacks, while our seniors are struggling to pay for prescription drugs,” he said, before asking the crowd, “If we are a nation that doesn’t take care of our seniors, what does that say about us as a country?” He added, “Where is our moral standing as a world leader if we don’t take care of our seniors?”
At the same event, Bowman acknowledged the tragic passing of local, Co-op City resident, Ada Longmore, 73, who reportedly died after climbing several floors to her apartment in the De Kruif Place building during the recent black-out.
According to the New York Post, the elderly Jamaican immigrant climbed the stairs after the power outage shut down the elevators. When her oxygen tank apparently gave out, she collapsed, her husband Algon Longmore, 77, told The Post.
Bowman said the investigation into her death was still pending but there seemed to be a link with the black-out and her ultimate passing. He said it raised an excellent question. “Often times, when we think about care, we don’t think about the overlap between something like a black-out and what happens with care,” he said.
“There are so many people who require electricity for the devices that they need to keep themselves safe and alive, and when the power goes out and the electricity goes out, those people are left vulnerable and that seems to be what happened with Ada Longmore,” he said.
Bowman added that he was working with colleagues in government, State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, City Councilman Kevin Riley and others, to implement safety measures to ensure that if another black-out occurs, the City will be better prepared for it. He also acknowledged the technicians who worked quickly to restore the power. “They’ve done a remarkable job to get the power back on, quickly,” he said, adding that the long-term causes of the outage had also to be investigated.
Linda Burke, the president of Riverbay Corporation, which manages Co-op City, who also spoke at the event, said that Co-op City is a Mitchell Lama co-operative community of over 45,000 people. “We do have a lot of seniors and a lot of people dependent,” she said, noting that there are 35 buildings, that eight lost power, and that Building 8 has a generator that provided full power to that building. She added, “We will be providing back-up generators to all the buildings until we can figure out what the problem is. All the electricity is hard to determine, so all those things, we will be working on.”
In response to a reporter’s question about Co-op City generating its own power, and whether there was something bigger or structural happening that caused the black-out, Burke said, “What happened this weekend is extraordinary. This has not happened before. We’ve had a black out in a building, and have had it back up in an hour, an hour and a half. The city has had black outs; we’ve always had electricity.”
Noel Ellison of Riverbay Corporation later confirmed, by phone, to the Norwood News that the Co-op City housing development harnesses and generates its own power from a nearby power plant.
A Con Ed representative also affirmed that this was the case and added that whatever power was not used onsite by Co-op City, was sold back to a central power grid.
He also said that Co-op City has stand-by service feeders to Con Ed, should the Co-op City on-site system and back-up generators fail. He said that in the case where Con Ed would activate such feeders, Co-op City would still have to have a functioning power distribution system to transmit the electricity to its residents.
Burke said, “This is some type of unusual fluke, and we will have to decide and determine what caused it, but it is extremely unusual to have happened as it did.”
Meanwhile, Bowman said, “The ‘Care for All’ agenda is about centering care in a holistic way, centering care at the rebirth of our nation and at the rebirth of our economy… and centering those who are most vulnerable, from our seniors to our children, to our babies, to people with special needs.”
*Síle Moloney contributed reporting to this story.