NJ Lawmakers Join Home Health Aides to Protest Wage Cut Proposal

April 26, 2012

A group of New Jersey lawmakers joined home health aides in Roselle Park Wednesday to protest a move by their employer to cut workers’ hourly wages by as much as 30 cents.

The home health aides are employees of Personal-Touch Home Health Services, which provides in-home care services for the elderly and disabled. 1199 SEIU represents the more than 350 workers, and is currently in negotiations with management to determine the terms of a new employment contract.

Among the elected officials attending were Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-East Orange), as well as Roselle Borough Mayor Jamel Holley.

Assemblyman Cryan and others addressed the crowd gathered in front of the Personal Touch offices, and emphasized the importance of the work home health aides perform and their right to fair compensation. “This is about folks earning a decent living, and doing the things that matter to people,” said Cryan. “What you do each day, those people can’t do. For the lives you touch, you deserve a whole lot more than a pay cut. You deserve a pay raise, because what you do matters to people each and every day. When corporations make millions, they can spare 30 cents a head every hour.”

Assemblyman Schaer also addressed the crowd. “I came here to support you, because frankly you’re supporting my mother right now,” Schaer said. “For the past four years, she’s had a home health aide, and that home health aide has been the difference to her between life and death. I’m here representing my mother. Although you might think you are few in numbers, there are a whole lot of us standing right beside you.”

Bianca Leon, a home health aide who has worked at Personal Touch for six years, also spoke. “There’s a lot of single mothers here, and I’m one of them,” Leon said. “My coworkers and I are working hard every day to care for patients that management has never even met. If [the wage cuts] happen, we’re not going to be able to survive. It is already so hard to make ends meet. How are my coworkers and I going to support ourselves?”

Acting Executive Vice President of 1199 SEIU in New Jersey, Clauvice St. Hilaire, echoed the statements made by legislators and workers. “These caregivers provide crucial services that allow their patients to live with dignity in their own communities. They should be able to live with the same dignity that they so compassionately provide for others every day,” said St. Hilaire. “The state of New Jersey is focusing more and more on home and community-based services as an alternative to institutional care. It’s important that we pay close attention to the standards being set in this industry, and that we work together to maintain the quality of patient care wherever it’s administered.”

The caregivers also drew support from other lawmakers, 38 of which signed a letter to Personal Touch management this week to urge a fair settlement that would provide decent wages for the company’s home health aides. In addition to the attendees, the signatories included Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fair Lawn), and Rep. Frank Palone, Jr. (D-Long Branch). Leaders from New Jersey government including Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees), Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Pennsauken), Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), and others also signed the letter.