A union of workers who care for Kern County’s elderly and disabled say they need a pay increase to survive in the state’s costly environment.
Yet the Kern County chapter of the United Domestic Workers union has been locked in a negotiating impasse with the Board of Supervisors since October 2019, unable to come to a deal over how large a pay increase the workers should see.
Currently, union members receive the minimum wage of $13 per hour for providing light nursing care and housekeeping for individuals who would otherwise not be able to live in their homes. Their salaries are paid by a mix of state, federal and local dollars.
Any raise above the minimum wage, however, would be required to be paid by the county.
County officials have conceded the union should receive 25 cents above minimum wage for the next three years, while CDW is pushing for a 60 cent increase in addition to 20 cents they say will be used for dental and health care, which is not provided by the state or county.
“There’s really no county in California that you can live on minimum wage and pay rent,” UDW Spokesperson Cherie Parker said. “We have folks that are living out of their cars while they are doing some really important work.”
The union held a rally in front of the Kern County Administrative Center on Tuesday, to advocate for raises. The rally came two days before a scheduled mediation with the county was scheduled. However, late Tuesday afternoon, mediation was postponed as the county reviewed options for settlement.
The union hopes to work out its differences with the county before risking the county’s offer being imposed on them by supervisors.
“We keep on fighting for it and fighting for it and they don’t listen. Well now it’s time to listen,” said in-home care worker Teresa Swick. “We want higher raises and healthcare, and all the other things that come with it.”
Like around 69 percent of members the union says care for family members, Swick takes care of her 43-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy.
“She’s in a bed and we have to bathe her and dress her, and all the other personal care she needs,” Swick said. “She’s been like that quite a while. We don’t get her out very much because I can’t get her out of bed.”
While Swick said she is paid for 179 hours of care per month, she said that’s nowhere near how much she works.
“They don’t count the night times,” she said. “Sometimes the night times are even more.”
The county says paying an additional 25 cents per hour would cost the general fund $417,000 over the next three years. For a county that has just recovered from a $44.5 million budget deficit through cuts to county departments, every dollar counts.
“We’re just starting to breathe air and get above the water and we’re still not at a position to give (cost of living allowances) or any increases to other county employees,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Devin Brown.
In May 2019, supervisors approved a pay increase of 18.5 percent for entry-level deputies in the hope of attracting more talent to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The move was seen as an attempt to fix a staffing crisis, and has left other county employees hungry for their own raises.
However, the county claims it can only do so much with limited resources.
“We’re trying to balance what we can do in the short term for these workers without breaking the bank and putting us into a riskier financial position,” Brown said.
If the county and union do not reach an agreement in mediation, a neutral fact finder will be called in to make a determination.