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Indybay Feature

Caregivers Win Owed Wages and Join in Release of National Excluded Worker Report

by Kimi Lee
SF Caregivers Win Over $70,000 in Back Wages
& Join in release of a national report on workers’ rights
Marking a major victory for workers’ rights in the growing caregiver industry, two Filipino homecare workers have won a settlement in which they will be paid over $70,000 in unpaid wages and penalties by their employer. Today, on International Human Rights Day, Victoria Aquino and Lourdes Torres will speak publicly about their case and recent wage victory.

“This community and worker victory is a landmark case among the thousands of Filipino migrant workers leaving the Philippines every day in search of work abroad, many ending up right here in the U.S. as caregivers. We are inspired by Tita Vicky and Tita Lourdes standing up and fighting for their rights to a basic wage. The Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in Northern California (NAFCON-NorCal), will continue to work with them and thousands of others facing similar workplace rights violations,” said Terrence Valen, Director of the Filipino Community Center (FCC).

The case of Aquino and Torres underscores the widespread exploitation occurring in the caregiver industry. Aquino and Torres worked as live-in caregivers, on call 24 hours a day, solely responsible for 6 patients in a Bay Area rest home. They worked 14 or more hours per day without being paid the required San Francisco minimum wage or overtime or receiving legally required meal periods.

In her first year of work at the Parks Family Rest Home in 2007, Aquino, over 60 years old at the time, worked 7 days a week, singlehandedly and lovingly caring for 6 elderly and disabled patients, cooking every meal, cleaning, dispensing medication, doing laundry, and helping to maintain the care home facility. She routinely worked from 6 am to late in the evening, and was then on call all night for patient needs. When the Parks employed Lourdes Torres as a reliever for part of the week, Torres also faced long working hours.

The women sought help and found the support of the FCC and the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic (WERC) at Golden Gate University School of Law. Together the FCC and WERC built a growing campaign to support Filipino caregivers and their workplace rights. Aquino and Torres won an initial victory in April 2010, when their workday was reduced from over 14 hours to 8 hours per day, with no reduction in pay. In a widely viewed press conference, they called on their fellow caregivers to join a new grassroots organization of homecare workers and fight for their rights against these instances of “wage theft” by employers. After lengthy negotiations, the employers agreed to pay Aquino and Torres all back wages owed to them.

"It was an honor for me and my students to represent these courageous workers who are helping to bring out into the open widespread violations of labor laws at California group homes. These practices are not only harmful to workers, but are unfair to patients. Employers should not be allowed to run group home facilities with only one 24 hour employee caring for 6 severely ill people - day after day without fair pay, required meal periods, time off, or guaranteed sleep time." said Marci Seville, Director of the Women's Employment Rights Clinic.

Thousands of other workers face the same harsh working conditions and do not receive their owed wages. A new national report on low to no-wage workers is being released today, entitled Unity for Dignity: Expanding the Right to Organize to Win Human Rights at Work. This report highlights on-going efforts to dramatically expand workers’ human right to organize and collectively bargain. While many states attempt to curb the right of workers to form and join unions, workers from various sectors are uniting to share their stories and to call for expanded rights, including the human right-to-organize.

The Excluded Workers Congress (EWC) and the report highlight workers who have historically been excluded from labor protections, the right to organize, and underrepresented in the labor movement - domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, day laborers, guest workers, workers from Southern “right to work” states, workfare workers and formerly incarcerated workers. The EWC is a collaboration among working people that face exclusion from the protections of core US labor laws, whether by design or by default, based on industry or social sector in which they work. Race and immigration status lie at the core of many of these exclusions. These workers include more than a 1 million and a half farm workers, nearly two million domestic workers, millions of public employees in eleven states and private employees in twenty-two states that have right-to-work laws, plus nearly three million tipped workers and hundreds of thousands of guest workers and day laborers.

In addition to highlighting specific stories of workers, the report discusses on-going campaigns of their organizations, and innovative strategies to expand the right-to-organize in the United States, including the fight to win collective bargaining rights for domestic workers and the campaign for the POWER Act, which would protect immigrant workers from employer retaliation if they file a labor complaint. “Unity for Dignity” lays out a vision for an expanded labor movement, including collaboration between sectors, traditional trade unions, worker centers, and international partners.

“Expanding the workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain in existing and new jobs is a key factor in guaranteeing a real economic recovery,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice. “When working families have the means to live a dignified life, the economy as a whole will benefit.”

Copies of the full report can be seen here:
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