Hundreds of local home care workers and labor activists demonstrated over pay raises Monday at the San Mateo County Government Center in Redwood City, with some protesters disrupting a county Board of Supervisors meeting before being arrested.
Protesters said they were angry that negotiations between the county and the union representing In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers had not resulted in an adequate pay increase for those caregivers.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 Director Khanh Weinberg said the county's most recent contract offer, made last week, would give the workers a raise of “about a dollar per hour” from their current pay rate of $11.50 per hour, but she claimed that still wouldn't create a living wage.
The Board of Supervisors meeting began with just three SEIU representatives expressing their displeasure with the proposed contract during the public comment period. But before the supervisors could move on to other business, labor reps and their supporters in the audience began a loud chant of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, poverty wages have got to go!”
With five activists staging a sit-in on the floor at the front of the room and protesters continuing to chant various slogans, Supervisor Dave Pine acknowledged that the meeting could not continue, and the elected officials left the room. The chanting continued for several minutes before San Mateo County Sheriff's Office deputies cleared the room and arrested the five sit-in protesters.
Among those arrested was SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who said, “I'm proud to join these very brave women – some of whom are getting arrested for the first time in their lives — to stand up for a living wage of $15 an hour.”
The union reps drew parallels with the national push for a $15 per hour minimum wage, which they said was started by fast food workers in New York City. San Francisco voters approved a measure in the Nov. 4 election to boost the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. While that pay rate would be more than the $12.60 per hour San Mateo County reportedly offered, Weinberg said it's still less than the $17.33 per hour wage that would be considered a self-sufficiency income in the region.
In a written statement, County Manager John Maltbie noted that the 10 percent wage increase proposed by the county would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and make San Mateo County's IHSS workers among the highest paid in the state. He also stressed that although the county is responsible for setting IHSS provider wages, the caregivers are not employees of the county.
Weinberg explained that the home care program is paid for with state, county and federal funds, and the county has a special Public Authority under the Board of Supervisors that determines the workers' wages and benefits.
When she asked one of the care workers what a $15 per hour wage would mean to her, Henry said the woman replied that she would be able to afford Internet service in her home among other possible benefits.
Protester Dolly Clemente, who serves as her disabled sister's caregiver, said earning $15 an hour would improve both of their living conditions.
SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer Luisa Blue was another sit-in participant who got arrested in connection with the demonstration. She claimed that the county could easily afford the raise requested by care workers, and she noted that the caregivers are mostly women and people of color. “The economic recovery in San Mateo County is leaving women and minorities behind,” Blue said.