The homecare workers at the First Chinese Presbyterian Church Home Attendant Corporation in Lower Manhattan will keep their healthcare benefits now that the FCPC and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union representing the workers, have negotiated a settlement.
“I’m so glad and I’m so proud of 1199,” said Maximina Delgado, a caregiver at FCPC for 14 years. “This is for our health. If we don’t have medical insurance, we can’t work for the clients. If we don’t have medical insurance, how can we see the doctors? We don’t make a lot of money. At any moment we can get sick. Our job is very serious and very dangerous. There can be an accident at any moment.”
According to Joseph Rosenthal, legal counsel for FCPC, the negotiations concluded last Wednesday with a “full settlement on all issues and healthcare benefits will continue as they did in the past.”
The workers’ union distributed a press release stating that the benefits of over 750 workers were in jeopardy on April 16. The union also used phonebanking and postcards to raise the issue’s profile in the community. The workers even voted unanimously for a one-day strike.
“We worked together for this victory,” Delgado said. “We want to be an example for the rest of the industry.”
According to David Ho, a vice president of 1199, the FCPC refused to pay into the workers’ benefit fund since February and refused to set a date for negotiations until the beginning of May.
However, Rosenthal denied that the corporation cut benefits, saying that only the union could do that, when he commented in April.
According to a union representative, the FCPC cited billing issues that resulted from New York State’s transition to providing benefits through managed care companies, instead of human resource agencies, as the source of the problem. The 750 workers who had already transitioned to managed care were slated to lose their health benefits prior to the settlement, while a few hundred who have not made the transition yet were not in jeopardy.
The union representative also noted that FCPC has been around for 30 years and that SEIU had a working relationship with them until the recent discrepency.
According to a statement from SEIU 1199, other homecare agencies have maintained their homecare workers’ benefits, despite the transition to managed care.
“The actions of the First Chinese Presbyterian Church Home Attendant Corporation are the wrong direction for the industry — they are dragging down standards,” George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU said in the statement.
The homecare workers receive healthcare from a joint fund between the employers and the union. According to a union representative, the plan has low co-pays and premiums so that care is affordable to workers who make $10 per hour.
“The union wants to provide good jobs and help workers by providing benefits,” Ho said.
Yu, a homecare worker at FCPC, stayed with her elderly client for three days straight during Hurricane Sandy. She helped lift him, in his wheelchair, up and down the stairs of his nine-story building and then wheeled him half an hour each way to a clinic where he regularly received treatment, since public transportation wasn’t working.
However, her job is hardly any easier on a typical day. Yu described her job as “stressful, physically and emotionally demanding.”
“Homecare workers perform all the duties that allow seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable clients to live safely and independently in their own homes,” according to a statement from SEIU 1199. “Caregivers get their clients out of bed, bathe them, dress them, take them to doctor’s appointments, pick up their prescriptions, cook, clean and ensure they take medications on time.”
Yu, a Ridgewood resident commutes to her clients’ homes in Lower Manhattan, which takes 2-3 hours on the weekends.
After almost seven years as a homecare worker, Yu has severe back pain from lifting heavy objects and wheeling patients around. If her healthcare benefits are stopped, Yu will not be able to afford pain medication or physical therapy.
“If I don’t get health benefits, I will probably have to get a new job to be secure,” she said prior to the settlement, also noting that she won’t be able to help her patients go to the doctor or pick up their medicine.
According to Ho, continuity of care is very important to clients. “A lot of workers have been with clients a decade or two,” he said. “Many of the homecare workers have a deep emotional attachment with their clients and treat their patients like family.”
“I’m very happy. I’m very comforted,” Yu said, regarding the recent settlement. “Now I can put my whole heart into taking care of my patient.”