DC Homecare Workers Speak on Providing Quality Care Despite Receiving Shoddy Treatment from Agencies
At a 2014 Labor Day weekend service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, DC homecare worker Michael Thompson told those gathered how he worked for three months this year without pay, caring for a very sick patient who has no other source of assistance.
“I had a client who had a disease in his bones and I couldn’t abandon him because he has no one else to take care of him if I don’t show at that door,” Thompson told the congregation. “So I go to work for three months with no pay and still deal with this client because that is the professional in me, that’s the care in me, the humility in me, that’s the mercy and grace that God shines on me so I can get up and go.”
Thompson was speaking at a service that was part of “Labor in the Pulpits,” an annual program sponsored by Interfaith Worker Justice and the AFL-CIO, that gives workers like him an opportunity to speak to congregations about labor issues in their communities. Thompson and another DC homecare worker Lynette Reece were on hand to represent the plight of up to 6,000 homecare workers in the District of Columbia. Many of these workers have faced hardships since their employing agencies were cut off from Medicaid funding during the district’s fraud investigation earlier this year.
When agencies were cut off from funding, some, in turn, refused to pay the homecare workers—even while insisting that homecare workers continue to work and threatening workers with the loss of their license if they did not work.
“The domino effect of that was for some us to lose our apartments, families split up and abandonment of some of the clients and patients throughout the city,” Thompson said. “April to June with no pay—and when we went back to get our pay, it was the union that backed us up.”
Both Thompson and Reece participated in the service as a part of an effort by the homecare workers and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East to get justice for the workers and ensure quality care for the District’s vulnerable populations that rely on home care. DC’s homecare workers (anyone who works in DC) are joining together to take legal action to secure unpaid wages and monies owed if their employer has not paid them the city’s living wage since at least 2011.
Reece told the gathering that a living wage has made a big difference in her life: “Because of the DC Living Wage Law, I am able to pay my rent with one check,” she said. “This wasn’t possible before. I can take my other check and do things for my children and for myself.
“Home health aides enjoy this type of work and that’s why we are in the field,” she added. “People have to remember that everyone gets sick, everyone gets old. Employer agencies treat us like we are not human beings yet we are providing the human touch in all the work that we do— we are taking care of the elderly and the sick. We are here to take care of people’s family members. When home health aides are not valued, then not only are we being devalued but our patients are being devalued as well.”
After the service, dozens of the church members filled out and signed support cards for the workers, moved by the stories of those who have been denied fair pay while doing so much for others.
“We show up on the doorstep, and we come in,” Thompson said of his work. “And we deal with the physical, the mental, the spirit of bringing someone back—just for today.”