County Invites Renewed IHSS Negotiations

From the 2.13.13 edition

 

By Daniel Mintz

Press Reporter

 

As county In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers continue to rally for a wage increase, one supervisor has invited them to return to the negotiating table.

The workers’ advocacy for a salary beyond minimum wage has been ongoing and reached a peak with a well-attended rally held outside the county administrative building before the Feb. 6 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The action moved inside supervisors chambers and during an afternoon public comment period, IHSS caregivers, including those who care for family members, joined recipients and union representatives in imploring supervisors to approve a higher wage.

“One year later, you’re still saying ‘no’ and we’re still here saying, ‘why not,’” said Gail Ennis, president of the California United Home Health Care Workers union. “The white elephant in the room is the why of it – why have you never put one cent on the table, not a dime, not a nickel – zero.”

“We’re here to say in solidarity, ‘Let’s just settle this,’” said Cathy Sobilo, an IHSS worker and a member of the union’s negotiating team. She said she recently broke her finger while doing the job and can’t afford medical care.

“I’m so sick of this – sick of saying ‘I can’t afford this, I can’t afford that,’” she told supervisors.

Last fall, a county press release stated that an “economic downturn” since 2008 has limited the ability to increase and maintain wages, with many employee raises withheld for more than two years and salary reductions effected in some cases.

“If the County has to use general fund money to finance an IHSS worker raise, it will have to make cuts to other services such as public safety lay-offs,” the release stated.

But at last week’s meeting, several people described the lack of a wage hike as a moral trespass. “How do you do it, seriously – how do you sleep knowing that people are going without food and medical care?” asked Tammy Orr, the union’s education coordinator.

Loretta Stevens, the union’s lead negotiator, said the county has carried out “bad faith negotiations from the beginning to the end” and has offered “excuses, excuses and more excuses for not doing the right thing.”

When the comment session ended, supervisors responded to what they’d heard, with Supervisor Mark Lovelace offering the most substance. “While this is a great forum to hear from you, this isn’t where or how negotiations happen,” he said. “Negotiations happen at the negotiating table, with our designated negotiator.”

Lovelace said the county’s representative “stands ready to meet and confer with your negotiator but it requires that your negotiator contact him before we can schedule meetings.” Other supervisors also seemed open to collaboration. “All five of us would like to work toward something and we will,” said Supervisor Rex Bohn.

“I just want you to know that you are being heard,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell.

 

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