Five long years and we’re still at the bare minimum; board of supervisors refuses to value its essential workers

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, Lassen caregivers are taking to the streets to share their stories with the community at 2545 Main Street in Susanville.

According to a statement by union organizer Jacob Hibbitts, “We’ll be present to reassure other caregivers in the community that we are here, and to invite them to join us in solidarity. At this moment, elected officials across the rural north state — in counties like Lake, Solano and Modoc

— are all in the final stages of signing off on better wages for home care workers. The same workers in

Lassen County are still waiting after more than five years to receive anything above the bare minimum.

“Over these five years, Lassen County care providers fought hard, and were grossly disrespected. Even after a neutral fact finder found in the caregivers’ favor, the Lassen County supervisors decided they would rather pay a fine than give a raise which was well within their means. Instead of giving frontline essential workers an affordable and well deserved wage, they sent your tax money off to Sacramento.

“In doing so, the county exposed its failure to value the workers who care for your elderly and disabled neighbors and family. In 2016 the county spoke loud and clear: These caregivers are worth the bare minimum. Earlier today, these workers were able to once again come back to the table to start negotiations with Lassen County, and we’re asking for a wage above the bare minimum wage.”

According to Hibbitts, many work more than one job to keep a roof over their family’s head and food on the table. A great deal of these workers were left with little choice to upend their professional lives to care for a family member and make less than most fast food workers; and far below other healthcare workers. None of them are in this to get rich. All of them are in this because they care.

Some of these workers are disabled veterans who served for decades. Others are cancer survivors. But most are women who care for multiple people with chronic, severe and long-term illnesses that would otherwise put them in a nursing home.

Emma Schweitzer, who is all three, has worked as an IHSS provider for more than a year. She’s also stepped up as a member of the union bargaining team. Schweitzer said of her experience as a home care worker and veteran.

“Being able to provide essential services to someone who is homebound or in need has given me the opportunity to use prior service skill sets and training to ensure my clients can stay in their home and still be independent for as long as possible,” Schweitzer said. “This alone gives me hope and faith that with just a little tender care, you can truly make an impact on all who you come into contact.”

On being both a cancer survivor and caregiver, Schweitzer wanted to express, “Being able to go back to work after recovering from cancer made me realize how important home health care workers are. This could be the only contact the consumer has with others, I find it very humbling and rewarding to be able to connect with others in the community on many different levels.”

On why it’s important for homecare workers to receive this dollar-an-hour raise, Schweitzer said, “It’s the difference between having gas in the tank to get to work or not. Can a home care worker afford $4.05 per gallon in this rural area on minimum wage? I don’t think so.”

Home care workers in your neighborhood have waited tirelessly while they work to keep those they care for safe — be it flood, fires or a global pandemic. Like those workers in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, home care workers have borne the worst of odds since the spring of 2020. While families and workers scrambled to obtain PPE and keep consumers safe, they saw them disproportionately hospitalized and losing their lives — some in a matter of hours and days after the first signs of sickness.

Many people cared-for by home care workers worry about their quality of care as well as the longevity of their caregivers. Providers are leaving the workforce seeking employment elsewhere, leaving elderly and disabled people in Lassen County without critical service. The common cause? Wages.

The need for more workers to help them live is only rising, but the number of workers remains stagnant. Without an adequate wage, the disabled and elderly of Lassen County will continue to suffer a staffing shortage detrimental to their health.