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Alameda County In-Home Caretakers Seek $20 Wage, More Accessible Health Care

According to Lupe Martinez, who is SEIU 2015’s chief negotiator, many caretakers work well over 80 hours a month, but don’t receive healthcare, because much of those hours are off the books. As a result, many caretakers are effectively working a full-time job with no healthcare benefits. To help with this problem, SEIU 2015 wants a contract that would lower the minimum hours caretakers would need to work per month to qualify for such benefits.

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Alameda County IHSS caretaker Allen Whitfield (left) sits next to his mother, Charlene Smith, who is also his caretaking client, in her apartment complex in Union City. Whitfield and other caretakers in the SEIU 2015 union are preparing to ask for a $20 wage and expanded access to health care in their new contract. Photo by Zack Haber on December 13.
Alameda County IHSS caretaker Allen Whitfield (left) sits next to his mother, Charlene Smith, who is also his caretaking client, in her apartment complex in Union City. Whitfield and other caretakers in the SEIU 2015 union are preparing to ask for a $20 wage and expanded access to health care in their new contract. Photo by Zack Haber on December 13.

By Zack Haber

SEIU 2015, the union that represents more than 21,000 caretakers who work for Alameda County’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), will be starting negotiations for a new contract early next year that they hope will ensure a $20-an-hour wage and improved access to health care for its members.

“Alameda is one of the most expensive places to live in the Bay Area,” said Lupe Martinez, who is SEIU 2015’s chief negotiator. “In order to provide their essential services, our members need to be able to have the proper wages to live here.”

SEIU 2015 sees their proposed wage increase as a way of reducing the wage gap across gender and racial lines. Across California, 81% of IHSS caretakers are women and 74% are people of color.

IHSS caretakers support those who are disabled or over 65 years old, and who are also unable to live at home safely without help. Typical duties include cooking, cleaning, giving out medications, helping with grocery shopping and bathing, and taking clients to doctor’s appointments.

“People do in-home care work because they love the people,” said Allen Whitfield, a lifelong Oakland resident who’s now in his 60s and works as a caretaker for two clients. “It’s definitely not for the pay.

Currently, Alameda County IHSS caretakers make an hourly wage of $15.75. Starting next year, their wage will increase to $16.75. The union plans to ask for a contract that allows all its members to make at least $20 an hour by 2024, and they’ve been circulating a petition calling for all California caretakers to get this wage increase.

Whitfield likes his job and says he’s “all for being there for people who need help, especially the underdog.” With the current rate of pay though, he can’t afford to rent his own apartment. Even renting a room in a house with roommates is so expensive that he often has to do odd jobs over the weekend to pay his bills. He regularly gets opportunities for steady work in other places for a higher salary, but he doesn’t take the work for one key reason.

“The only reason I don’t take other work,” Whitfield said. “Is that it would get in the way of taking care of my mom.”

Like many, but not all, IHSS caretakers, Whitfield’s clients are family members. In addition to caring for his mother, one of his distant relatives is also a client. Although on paper Whitfield works a little under 30 hours a week, he says he spends well over 40 hours a week caring for his mother and his distant relative.

According to Lupe Martinez, Whitfield’s experience is common among IHSS workers. She says that many clients’ need for care often far exceeds the number of hours that the county allots them to hire a paid caretaker. As a result, many caretakers, and not just those who work for family members, work extra hours off the books because they want to be there for their clients who often have no one else to turn to.

“If you see someone badly in need of care services,” she said. “You’re going to want to help them.”

“It’s an endless job because most of the time [clients] need more care than the hours provided,” said Whitfield.

The extra, unpaid work sometimes makes the job unsustainable. In the mid-2010s, Whitfield had another client who was blind and needed a lot of extra care. But Whitfield couldn’t get enough on-the-book hours to afford to be able to keep him as a client. The blind man has a new caretaker now, and he keeps in touch with Whitfield as a friend by calling him occasionally. While looking back on the forced separation, Whitfield described it as “kind of heartbreaking.”

Partly due to the reality that caretakers work off-the-book hours, SEIU 2015 wants to change how the county provides them health care. The county currently requires that all IHSS caretakers have at least 80 on-the-book hours per month to qualify for health care benefits.

According to Martinez, many caretakers work well over 80 hours a month, but don’t receive healthcare, because much of those hours are off the books. As a result, many caretakers are effectively working a full-time job with no healthcare benefits. To help with this problem, SEIU 2015 wants a contract that would lower the minimum hours caretakers would need to work per month to qualify for such benefits.

The Oakland Post called the Alameda County’s administration office and e-mailed that office detailed questions about how IHSS hours are allocated to clients and if the county plans to expand health care coverage and/or provide a $20 wage in the new contract but was met with no response.

Although Whitfield is committed to taking care of his clients, he feels the wage he makes from the county as a caretaker as well as the lack of appropriate hours is unfair and that the low pay “keeps people in poverty.”

“We just don’t get paid enough for the job that we do and the care that’s needed,” he said. “I don’t think we’re valued at all.”

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Activism

Friendship Christian Center Provides Tests, Vaccines to Thousands

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.
A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.

Friendship Christian Center Church (FCCC), pastored by Dr. Gerald Agee, is located at 1904 Adeline St. and is one of the dozens of Black churches across the state of California, who, in conjunction with the California Health Agencies and California Black Media, has stood on the front line, with the Black Press for over a year providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to minority communities.

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: After Jan. 6, An MLK Day Deadline for Voting Rights and Democracy

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

We all know the images of Jan. 6, 2021. Lawless rioters ransacking the Capitol. Police being tortured and beaten. Members of Congress hiding in fear in the House gallery. The gallows and a noose meant for former Vice President Mike Pence.

We all saw the video images one year after and astonishingly they did nothing to pull our nation together.

Nothing.

They simply confirmed the only thing everyone can agree on.

Our democracy’s in trouble. Real trouble.

We already sensed that after the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s such things as race, policing, and income inequality are still major issues in 2022.

But we’ve got trouble in a different key.

C Major. No sharps or flats. This trouble goes right to the core of our democracy. They’re coming after your vote.

That is, after all, what the Jan. 6 rioters were attempting when they tried to stop the certification of the election.

But now the GOP politicians who may have been behind the Jan. 6 rioters all along, are going legit.

The majority of Republicans, notably California’s Kevin McCarthy, continue to sing the fictional tune “The 2016 Election Was Stolen.”

As if in a song battle, the Democrats counter with the loud truth, “The Election Was Fair. Trump Lost.”

But enough people keep singing the lie as if it’s their battle hymn.

And now they are looking for the ultimate control of any election. Legally. In plain view.

Republicans are taking over or running for top election official posts in key states. State legislatures are proposing laws to limit absentee ballots, mail-in voting and other conveniences. They are putting up obstacles to make voting harder with the hopes of suppressing your vote.

This is why Biden spoke in Georgia this week, saying “I will not yield, I will not flinch in protecting voting rights.”

Let’s hope he’s serious, starting with new voting rights legislation to make election days federal holidays and require federal approval of any state and local election changes.

It may take changing the filibuster law to make sure Republicans can’t block any Democratic reforms, but it must be done. And done now.

That’s why even the family of Martin Luther King Jr. is calling for “no celebration” of MLK Day without the passage of voting rights legislation.

This is how Democrats are talking to Biden.

The Republicans’ post-Jan.6 strategy is simply Orwellian. Where truth and lies are indistinguishable. And Republicans loyal to Trump are dead set on forcing their lies on everyone.

Witness Sen. Ted Cruz last week caught in a moment of truth calling the Jan. 6 rioters “domestic terrorists.” But how quickly he recanted when called on the carpet by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the Trump Confessor, for all the Republican congregants to see.

Like a loyal Trumper, Cruz knelt, confessed, and did his penance.

It used to be called hypocrisy. Now it’s just called Modern Day Republicanism.

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

That’s even worse than the Jan. 6 rioters’ wildest dreams.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

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El Cerrito Hosts 33rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and Rally

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

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“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.
“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

By Clifford L. Williams

The City of El Cerrito invites all of its residents and surrounding cities in the Bay Area to join in its 33rd Annual Community Celebration honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

“Keeping the Dream Alive – Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

Event chairperson, Patricia Durham said “this peaceful protest began in 1989 on the back streets of El Cerrito because of the City’s refusal to acknowledge King’s birthday as a federal holiday.

“Members of St. Peter Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), the City’s only African-American church, and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, in true Dr. King style, took to the streets. The City eventually came around and acknowledged the peaceful and powerful works of Dr. King.”

Durham added, “El Cerrito’s birthday celebration of MLK is one of the longest-standing parades and rallies in the Bay Area.”

Because of the global pandemic, this is the second year the city will have a car parade because of COVID-19 protocols. Participants will meet at 9 a.m. at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station (in the parking lot of Key Boulevard & Knott Avenue). At 10 a.m., the parade will caravan down San Pablo Avenue to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station and at 11 a.m., the rally will begin. To ensure everyone enjoys the parade safely, all CDC guidelines will be enforced. Masks and social distancing are required.

“Keeping the dream alive even during a pandemic is a necessity,” said Durham. “We are fighting for our democracy and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that we need each other to embrace our new normals of survival.”

“The City is expecting more than 100 cars, so we encourage everyone to decorate your vehicles so that yours stands out the best,” noted Durham. “Entertainment will be provided by the Japanese American Citizen League, The Black Cowboy Association, Ujima Lodge #35, the Mardi Gras Gumbo Band, Mighty High Drill Team, Smooth Illusions Band, and El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, Ms. Eevelyn Janean Mitchell, among other talents.”

The MC of this illustrious event will be Jeffery Wright, president of the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce. The event’s keynote speaker is Diana Becton, the first female African American to be elected District Attorney in the history of Contra Costa County.

For more information, contact Patricia Durham at (510) 234-2518.

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