In-home health workers stage union protest against Sacramento County supervisors over wages

Long-term care workers who make $16.50 an hour streamed into the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to condemn what they described as a shamefully low offer in the latest round of negotiations between their union and the county.

Members of the union began camping outside the Sacramento County Administration Building on H Street Monday night as part of a three-day protest, saying that many of them were at risk of becoming homeless because of their low pay.

Sacramento County has 30,000 in-home supportive services workers who provide daily care to people who are disabled, elderly or sick.

In almost a year of negotiating with the county, they have demanded a gradual raise to $20 an hour over the three- or four-year contract. That increase would still leave a full-time caregiver making almost $20,000 less than the income the state considers “low-income” for Sacramento County.

During the most recent negotiation meeting Sept. 11, the county said a raise to $18 an hour starting in January was its final offer.

“The supervisors are totally out of touch with poor people,” said Marcus McRae, the lead negotiator for SEIU 2015.

A county spokesperson, Janna Haynes, confirmed that the county’s negotiators said an immediate increase to $17.50 and an increase to $18 in January was presented as the final offer. Additionally, she said, “The Public Authority is committed to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement that balances the needs of the workers with the economic reality of the overall budget. We want to reiterate our commitment to an open and constructive dialogue.”

During the supervisors meeting, about 30 people, mostly wearing purple, stood every time a member or a supporter spoke during the off-agenda public comment period.

Steven Payán, a full-time single dad raising his 8-year-old daughter in Woodland, addressed the board and said, “I know the creativity inside your mind — you can do this. You’re finding millions of dollars to incarcerate people, millions dollars for all these other programs.”

The board recently approved an almost $1 billion bond to build a new annex at the Sacramento County Main Jail, on I Street downtown. The SEIU 2015 proposal would cost the county up to $15 million a year by 2025-26.

Kim Evon, executive vice president of the union local, took off her mask and told the board, “Shame on you for proposing that providers choose between hanging on to health care or getting a couple of nickels to their pay that’s already too low.”

Evon pointed out, as many SEIU 2015 members have said at previous meetings, that the supervisors approved 36% raises for themselves in May, bringing their own salaries to $173,000 a year. After she finished speaking, dozens of protesters in the chamber chanted, “Shame on you.”

Organized labor says living wage prevents homelessness

McRae said that many members struggle to pay their housing costs with their current salaries — just over $34,000 a year for those who work full-time. He argued that raising their wage to $20 an hour was a homeless prevention strategy.

Sacramento County directed $141 million in federal and state emergency rental assistance funds to the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency in the 2020-21 fiscal year. In the 2022-23 budget, the county spent an additional $1.9 million on homelessness prevention, and about $80 million — more than 40% of the homelessness budget — on temporary and emergency shelter.

Members of the union have been showing up to comment at supervisors meetings for months, but after the offer made Sept. 11, they have stepped up their protests.

And some political candidates have rallied behind them. At the first night of the campout, Sacramento mayoral candidate Flojaune Cofer said, “We’re gonna have a hot labor fall, because we are fighting for living wages for SEIU 2015 home health care workers.”

On Tuesday morning after the public comments in the meeting, City Council District 6 candidate Amreet Sandhu held up a bullhorn next to the workers’ blue tents and said, “I’m here today because you care for us. It’s our turn to care for you.”

“It feels good that IHSS caregivers are fighting for their worth,” said Estuardo Polanco, a labor organizer with SEIU 2015. Minutes later, he led the people gathered around the tents in a chant: “When we fight, we win.”