At 61 years old, Carl is a life-long resident of Washington DC. For the past 22 years, Carl has dedicated his life to helping others. As a homecare worker, Carl’s primary concern is making sure his clients’ needs are met and he hopes that by doing his job well he is able to make their lives just a little bit easier. It’s evident to see just how dedicated Carl is to his clients. For the past 21 years he has cared for the same client, David, 61, who is paralyzed from the neck down and requires assistance with almost every aspect of his daily life. Carl helps David with cooking, cleaning, and bathing. “He’s like a brother to me.” Carl says of David. “We’re very close. My own brother died 7 or 8 years ago and both of David’s parents passed while I was with him. He’s my family.”
A father of eight children, Carl has worked hard to put seven of them through college. The youngest one, now 13, has 5 years left before following in their footsteps. When his eldest was ready to go to college, Carl was making $10.50/hr and working a total of 112 hours per week in order to make ends meet. Despite this, Carl still depended on food pantries and soup kitchens to feed his entire family. Working these type of hours also affected his relationship with his wife. “My wife and I didn’t get to spend much time together. We still don’t. I’ve always worked two jobs and she was always working two or three jobs. But this was something we had agreed to. We were going give our kids the opportunity to go to college and we weren’t going to let money be the reason why they didn’t.”
Currently Carl works 72 hours per week for two different agencies, which prevents him from receiving any overtime pay. He works M-F 8am-4pm, while on the weekends he works a grueling 8am-midnight. “I don’t get any time off. I don’t even get any sick days, even though I’m supposed to get seven days off a year.”
Being able to claim those seven days of paid sick time would have meant the world to Carl earlier this year when he was diagnosed with MS. He was out for two weeks and did not receive even one paid sick day. “When I came back to work I was lucky to even get my clients back. That doesn’t happen very often. You usually don’t get back your old clients.”
For Carl, the ability to make a living wage, receive overtime as well as sick days, underscores the importance of being able to achieve $15 and a union. Making $13.80/hr means that Carl spends a check and a half just on rent. The other half of the check is spent on the basic necessities of daily life: food, clothes, and utilities. Making $15/hr would mean that he’d be able to breathe a little easier. He’d be able to go through life without making some of the tough decisions about what bill to pay first. Should he put food on the table? Or should he pay the electricity? He’d be able to cut back on some of his hours and spend more time with his family.
Carl also stresses the importance of connecting with other homecare workers. “Workers that come together are stronger in numbers and that’s why unions are important. Knowledge is power. If it wasn’t for 1199 I wouldn’t have known that my agency owes me seven paid sick days a year. That’s mandatory.” Carl also talks about how 1199 was also instrumental in advocating for the rights of workers and mandating that agencies pay the living wage. “From 2011 to 2013 they (the agencies) were supposed to give us a dollar raise, but they didn’t give it to use until the union started working with us. It’s nice to have someone who has our best interest our heart. I can’t say that about our employers. I thought at one time they were our friends – but if they were our friends they wouldn’t have held on to our raises.”
Thanks to Carl, his clients and their families are able to go on with their daily lives. Carl and other homecare workers take care of our sick. They take care of our elderly. They take care of our loved ones. Carl provides compassionate and loving care to his clients and has become a leader in the movement towards achieving $15 and a Union. This movement would not be where it is today if not for Carl.