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When Tiffany Hunter first heard an ad for the Fight for $15 on the radio she was intrigued, but also skeptical.
“My first thought was: How much is this gonna be costing me?” she remembers, “I already had money set aside for my Metro card and I didn’t want to have to make any extra trips.” But she was curious enough to go along to a meeting and find out more.
She listened to what 1199SEIU had to say about the Fight for $15 and by the third meeting she was “all in”. Tiffany is now one of the most outspoken supporters of the DC Home Care workers campaign for $15 and a union.
“I know I deserve to be paid more for the work I do. I shouldn’t have to struggle just to pay for necessities,” says Tiffany.
“My current client is 92 years old. She depends on me for everything. I bathe her. I dress her. I prepare her meals.
“I work hard to give my client the best possible care, but I’m struggling to take care of myself. When I get my check, it pays the bills and that’s it. I have to go to friends and family sometimes for a plate and it’s hard,” she adds.
At age 26, Tiffany is one of the youngest members of the DC Home Care workers campaign, but also one of its most active supporters.
And she has a lot to fight for. Since becoming active in 1199 campaign for $15 and a union in DC, she has faced direct threats from her employer, who noticed her speaking to a union organizer in the street.
When Tiffany went to the agency to pick up her paycheck, she was told: “The union will not help you. If you’re with the union, I let you go. You’re either here or there. I saw you walking with the woman. She’s not going to help you.”
Tiffany did not say anything and only replied with an “uh-huh” to placate the manager, who repeated: “anyone with the Union; I let them go.”
But Tiffany didn’t let that scare her off. She speaks out publically for the Fight for $15 and a union campaign at every opportunity she gets. Recently, she introduced the Washington DC Mayor, Muriel Bowser, at a press conference and was asked by NBC News to tell her own story on camera.
Growing up in DC’s Ward 8, times were always tough for Tiffany. When her mother became seriously ill in 2009, just after she left high school, things got even harder.
Having struggled with diabetes for many years, her mother’s kidneys started to fail and she developed a flesh-eating infection in her foot. Tiffany found herself having to take time off from her job at IHOP to help look after her mother.
She realized that if she attended classes and got certified she could become her mother’s official caregiver and earn money for it, thereby bringing more cash into the household. Tiffany did get a job as home health aide, and now earns $13.84 an hour. But she was only able to look after her mother officially for a few months before she passed away, aged just 47. Tiffany’s grandmother also suffered from diabetes and was only 54 when she died.
Asked whether she was worried about contracting diabetes herself, Tiffany says: “Of course I am. But I know it is related to diet and it’s expensive to eat healthy. By the time you pay rent, transportation, electricity and telephone, there is very little left over groceries.”
The right to Paid Family Leave is another battle she believes union organization could help fight in DC. She recently spent two weeks helping her great aunt in Virginia who was recovering from major surgery, which left her in intensive care for a month. Losing two weeks wages made things even tighter for Tiffany. In New York State, for instance, union campaigners recently won the legal right to 12 weeks paid family leave for every worker to care for sick family members and infants.
“The union is what we need behind us so that we have a voice,” said Tiffany, “But we have to stand together.” The agencies are not going to give us $15 an hour without a fight. If we work together in the union, I know we can win that fight.