Democratic lawmakers back ‘Bill of Rights’ for Colorado home care workers

Organizers of a group representing home health care workers in Colorado said Tuesday that more than 50 lawmakers and legislative candidates have signed on to support increased protections and benefits for workers in an industry advocates say is too stressful.

The Home Care Workers Rights Act includes higher wages and benefits, protections against wage theft and harassment, and more “decision-making power” for workers. While the legislation has yet to materialize, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and next year’s legislative session, activists hope to soon see the results of years of organizing on behalf of some 60,000 care workers in Colorado.

“We’ve heard time and time again about the challenges our home health care staff face,” Senator Faith Winter, a Democrat from Thornton, said at an event on the steps of the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday. “Low wages. Bad conditions. Wage theft. Companies that don’t treat them fairly.”

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Winter, along with other Democratic lawmakers, members of the Colorado Care Workers Union and other labor groups, recounts her own recent experience of needing a home care worker. More than 70% of people will have home care at some point in their lives, according to to the Colorado Health Institute.

“They deserve to be treated with the same love, the same sympathy, and the same dignity they show each one of us,” she said. “We are preparing to go back to the hearing next year, take what we said and turn it into policy.”

Cassandra Matthews, a CCWU activist, has spent more than 23 years as a home care worker. She fought back tears on Tuesday as she described the working conditions she faced and eventually pulled her out of the industry.

People ask us, why do we stay in this industry? …that’s because we learn to love our customers.

– Cassandra Matthews, from the Colorado Care Workers Unite

“I was working 16 hours a day to take care of other people’s families, and I don’t have enough time to take care of my own,” she said. “It’s not right.”

“People ask us, why do we stay in this industry?” Matthews added. “This is because we learn to love our customers.”

nearly 90% of 2.3 million Homecare workers in the United States are women, and 62% are people of color, according to the nonprofit Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. They provide care for a wide range of patients, from children and adults with disabilities to the elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But despite being an integral part of the health care system, health care workers often lack their own health insurance, and often do not have guaranteed sick leave or paid leave either.

In 2021, Governor Jared Polis and Colorado lawmakers approved a budget clause requiring state-funded home care employees to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour, but advocates say more is needed, especially as demand for home care is expected to continue to grow.

State demographers estimated in 2019 that Colorado is 3rd fastest aging A country in a country, its population over the age of 65 is expected to grow by nearly 50% between 2018 and 2030. Experts say Tens of thousands Additional care workers will be required to make up the difference.

In addition to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, care workers and their advocates are blaming much of the blame for the state of the industry on private providers who are incentivized to maximize reimbursement from health insurers while reducing their employees’ wages and benefits. Reports Wage theft and other labor violations Common.

“These companies charge insurance companies fees and don’t pass them on to home care workers,” Matthews said.

With turnover and labor shortages at critical levels, advocates say it is time for lawmakers to enact regulations that not only increase worker protections but give them a voice in shaping the future of a vital part of the health care system.

“Right now, decisions about the healthcare industry are made by those who make the profits,” said Melissa Benjamin, a former care worker and CCWU organizer. “It’s time for real experts, and care workers, to be a part of the decision-making process, so we can really build a care industry that works for Coloradans now and into the future.”

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