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Unionization could help home health care workers, experts say

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Health & Fitness

The labor that caregivers perform is frequently intimate and invisible to the wider society, Boris said, and in the past, has often been viewed by some as not being real work. That's part of a historical legacy where labor deemed to be women's work was not valued, especially when the work continues to be disproportionately done by women of color.

That viewpoint has begun to shift over the past year and half, said Boris, whose 2012 book with co-author Jennifer Klein, "Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State," explored many aspects of home care labor, including unions.

Boris said organizing of caregivers is not limited to traditional unions and can also happen through worker centers or other organizations.

"The pandemic has shown that care is essential to the economy, that it is in the self-interest of those in power for women to be able to go out to work as well as to go into work, that society needs the labor power of women and other family caregivers in the labor market," Boris said. "I really do think that the pandemic has made it rather obvious that we rely on these workers."

Low pay is often cited as one of the main issues facing caregivers, but there are others, from limited training and lack of benefits in many states to weak or nonexistent workplace protections other workers take for granted.

Elevating the status of caregiver jobs is important, too, but history shows that even jobs with arguably higher status were not always viewed that way.

 

"We think of autoworker jobs, for example, as good jobs. They paid well. They only paid well because the workers were unionized and organized and struck and struggled," Boris said.

Benefits/limitations

Unions that seek to represent caregivers in the home, however, face a unique landscape.

Organizing workers who typically work in isolation in a job with high turnover presents a challenge that unions in other fields might not face.

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