NEW YORK CITY,September 16 — Some 10,000 homecare and healthcare workers of Local 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) marched in Midtown Manhattan to demand a decent contract. Homecare workers are among the most exploited section of the working class despite many being unionized. The average union wage is $8/hour with limited health benefits and no pension. Still worse, sleep-in homecare workers get no overtime pay and are paid for twelve hours a day when they usually work sixteen. These workers are overwhelmingly immigrant women from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and some from Russia and China. Less than half of all homecare workers are unionized.
Agencies like BestCare are threatening to eliminate healthcare benefits when the contract expires on Dec. 31. The agencies are funded by NY State and keep half of all funding as “administrative expenses,” i.e. profits. A “decent” contract for homecare workers would have to double their subsistence wage and guarantee full healthcare and pension benefits.
But there’s no such thing as a decent contract for workers, because of capitalism’s drive for maximum profits. The union is only asking for a $2/hour wage hike and healthcare, and no pension. They want the state to take over administration of homecare from these agencies, cut the administrative cost and use some of that money to pay for increased pay. This collaboration with the state will not win a decent wage or benefits for these workers — especially in these days of financial crisis and endless wars — and weakens the will of workers to strike and prepare for the larger struggles ahead.
The relatively higher-paid hospital workers in 1199 will also face increasing pressure for future wage and benefit cuts. The racism used to divide hospital workers and the mostly immigrant homecare workers must be smashed. Anti-racist unity, fighting for all health workers, must be organized to win these struggles.
At the rally, Progressive Labor Party members, some in 1199 SEIU, talked with workers as we marched. That same day AIG, the world’s largest insurance company, was being bailed out by the Fed to the tune of $85 billion (see page 2 on the financial crisis). The workers expressed indignation that we’ll be paying to save Wall Street and yet can’t receive a decent standard of living or job security. But that is the nature of capitalism: workers pay and pay for the bosses in boom or crisis times.
We distributed hundreds of PLP fliers and CHALLENGES which pointed out that, to satisfy workers’ needs, the only real solution to the failure of capitalism is building a PLP-led movement to fight for a society where production is based on the well-being of all workers, who produce everything of value. We must continue building our CHALLENGE networks in our workplaces, turn them into PLP study groups and and Party-led on-the-job groups to lead the struggles against the racist bosses’ attacks and recruit more communists.