Jasmin Almodovar has been a home health worker for 11 years and has always worked for the same company in Ohio. But while she started out at $7.85 an hour, and despite repeatedly asking for a raise, she’s been stuck at $9.50 an hour for the last five years.
‘If I had to be here by myself, I wouldn’t be able to live in my house’
Life on $9.50 an hour is tough. She estimates that after taxes, she takes home about $370 each week. After rent, bills, and other expenses, she is left with just $100 for things like gas and medicine. She can’t afford to live in her current house without a roommate, so she and her 11-year-old son share it with a woman and her four children. “If I had to be here by myself, I wouldn’t be able to live in my house,” she said. “I would have to move.”
Meanwhile, she works from 6:00 in the morning until sometimes as late as 9:30, six days a week, but doesn’t have any paid days off. “If I have to call off for a family emergency, I lose all my hours,” she said.
“That’s why I joined the fight for 15,” she explained. “I know the pay raise they could give us, plus being in a union, I could get more benefits… Otherwise, I don’t know how I’m going to survive.”
Almodovar is one of the home care workers who are kicking off the Home Care Fight for $15 campaign this week. Starting Tuesday, they will spend five days in a dozen cities demanding elected officials take action to ensure a higher wage and better working conditions and rallying with those who have already pledged their support. The activity comes about a month after home care workers joined striking fast food workers in their call for a $15 wage and the ability to form a union.
The fast food movement, which has staged a series of strikes, the most recent of which hit 159 cities across the country, has put the $15 wage on the map. That’s the new minimum in Seattle, and the idea has spread to major cities like Chicago and New York, as well as to workers in other industries.
‘I can barely pay my bills, I can’t save’
Home care workers want to adopt that success. They just recently won minimum wage and overtime labor protections that had been granted to all other workers, but their median wage is $10 an hour. As Paula Gibbs, another home care worker who lives in Atlanta, put it, fast food workers “have set the tone and we’re going to pick it up…and continue this fight.”
Gibbs’s struggles look similar to Almodovar’s. She’s been in the industry for 25 years but makes just $9 an hour. “I can barely pay my bills, I can’t save,” she said.
But a $15 minimum wage would make a huge impact for both of them, even if it’s still not an extravagant living at $31,200 a year. “If I got $15 an hour I could buy into health insurance,” Gibbs said.
Almodovar would like to go back to school, and a $15 wage might allow her to do it because she wouldn’t have to work so many hours to get by. “It would open more doors to me,” she said. It would also ease her everyday struggles. “It would make life a lot easier and less stressful,” she said. It would mean “a better future for me and my son.” She also pointed to unionization making a big difference. “I could get paid days off, get paid vacation, a 401k going…so I could retire comfortably.” As it is, though, she said, “I have nothing to fall back on.”
Even with the intensely physical work, long hours, and low pay, Almodovar wouldn’t choose anything else. “I love my job,” she said. “I’ve tried to do other things…this is what I like to do.” But she wants her pay to reflect the importance of the work she does, particularly in such a quickly growing and in-demand line of work. “If it’s either McDonalds or home care, [companies] can’t function without us, they need us,” she said. “Without us, who are you going to get to serve your customers?”