Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Who Cares for The Caregivers?

One of the most interesting -- and depressing -- parts about working for AFSCME was learning about the worklives of those people who are down in the trenches valiently holding our society together despite low pay and dirty, dangerous working conditions.

The organizing efforts of underpaid janitors have been getting lots of news lately, and rightfully so. But there are lots of other workers out there doing valuable work but with little recognition, low pay and lousy benefits: direct care workers supporting individuals with mental retardation.

Patients suffer and the workers suffer:
The harm to workers is obvious. To earn close to a living wage, they must work two or three jobs. Working that many hours makes them more vulnerable to mistake and personal injury. It also sends the unmistakable message that their work is not valued. Even though they are "first responders," the essential personnel that don't get to home on snow days, direct support workers earn less than $10 and hour.
A responding letter to the editor by SEIU organizer Enid Eckstein makes the point that, as with the janitors, organizing is the answer.