During the past six years as a home care worker, I’ve cared for many mothers and grandmothers in my community. I’m also a mother myself, and my children mean the world to me. Historically, home care workers have always filled this role of caring for other people’s families while raising our own, but our vital work has been shamefully undervalued.
When I was a little girl, I used to watch my grandmother provide in-home care for older folks and neighbors who were sick. My mother and I both went on to become home care workers, so I like to say that caregiving is in our genes. They taught me to always have a giving heart and a nurturing spirit. I see my home care work as a spiritual calling to sow seeds of mercy, love, and grace, that will grow to create more compassion in our society.
I try to bring that loving energy to each of my clients. One of the people I care for is a mother like myself, who has limited mobility due to a major surgery. I help her with all of the daily activities—such as bathing, meal preparation, grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions—that allow her to live a full life with dignity and independence.
Because we provide hands-on care, and then have to go out to crowded stores to run errands for our clients, social distancing is impossible. I worry daily about potentially exposing those I care for, or bringing the virus home to my young son.
That’s why I’ve been active in my union, SEIU 775, to make sure home care workers everywhere have basic protections. Recently, we successfully convinced the home care agency I work for to provide face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and bottles of industrial disinfectant to all employees. I’m grateful that I have paid sick days guaranteed through my union contract, so I’ve got a certain level of support if I or my son get sick.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for about two million home care workers in the U.S. who do not have a union voice, and have no way to advocate for their clients or themselves. Non-union home care workers struggle in the shadows. Median wages of just $11.52 an hour, and the lack of basic benefits like paid sick time and affordable healthcare, force many home care workers to make a wrenching decision: either work while they’re sick and expose their clients, or take time off and have no way of paying for food and rent.
Because home care workers are almost 90 percent women, and the majority are people of color like myself, we have faced systemic sexism and racism which have held our profession down for too long. Our vital jobs have been dismissed as “women’s work,” and we’ve never gotten the recognition we deserve.
Throughout the years, in-home caregivers have been unfairly cut out from many of the legal protections that cover other workers. Now, the Trump administration is continuing this disgraceful tradition by giving healthcare employers the option of excluding many caregivers from the paid sick leave provisions in the recent federal stimulus bill. This Mother’s Day, we’re calling on Congress and the Trump administration to ensure that all home care workers have the coronavirus protections we need to safeguard our high-risk clients, our children, and ourselves.
To control this pandemic, America needs to finally acknowledge the valuable role we play as essential health workers. We are providing care to vulnerable adults every day, and our work is keeping people out of crowded hospitals. We are calling on the federal government to ensure that we have the resources to defend our clients from the coronavirus, including access to personal protective equipment, paid sick days, affordable healthcare and rapid testing.
Thousands of people have lost their mothers to this terrible virus, and so many working moms are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. It’s time for President Trump to honor our nation’s mothers, by ensuring home care workers have the protections we need to provide safe care.
Brittany Williams is a third-generation home care worker and single mother in Seattle, Washington. She is an Executive Board Member of SEIU 775, a union representing 45,000 long-term care workers.
The image in this post has been updated to properly reflect how masks should be worn.