in the news

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Feb 27 11:25:48 PST 1999

Marta Russell wrote:
>The unionization of homecare workers is a mixed bag for people with
>disabilities, with many people, including myself approaching this one a bit
>cautiously. Mostly the mix has to do with power differentials. How to
>balance the power between the disabled person who is theoretically the
>employer (although the county pays the wages, the disabled person hires the
>worker and directs the tasks) in need of services and the attendant who is the

Isn't this question of power differential a bit more complicated, when you factor in class, race, gender, etc.? Aren't homecare workers mainly people of color, some of whom are recent immigrants? Don't they tend to be women? What of disabled persons who are wealthy enough to hire homecare workers privately (unlike those who cannot do so without the government paying the wages)? Do they really always possess less power than homecare workers?

>For example, there are old attitudes which often cause problems for the self
>determination of the disabled person. Traditional caregivers tend to want to
>control the disabled person, as they "know what is best." But the independent
>living movement philosophy is that disabled people know whats best for
>themselves. Unfortunately many health care workers are still in the old
>school of thinking in a patronizing way about the people they perform such
>services for. We've tried to get the union to deal with this patronizing that
>goes on and hopefully there will be some changes in attitudes to elevate
>worker's consciousness beyond the "savior" mentality to one that places the
>relationship on equal footing. Frankly their representatives have been some of
>the worst in this department.
>Secondly, it is very important that disabled people be in charge of firing a
>worker on the spot with no union inteference. Many many people on the program
>have been ripped off by their attendants, had their valubles stolen and been
>beat up by their attendants. You can well imagine a disabled person would
>have a hard time stopping someone from stealing from them or from abusing them
>physically or emotionally. I have heard from people who have said that the
>only way they could get rid of the abusive worker was to change the locks on
>the door so that the worker could not get into their home. Initiating a union
>grievance process would, in some cases, be life threatening to the disabled
>person who needed to get rid of an abusive attendant.

Aren't many of the problems that Marta points out rooted in the fact that homecare workers are low-wage workers, whose work is low status and whose training is scanty and not standardized? Wouldn't disabled persons be able to expect better service if homecare workers were paid better, trained better, given a light workload, and regarded as highly skilled workers? It's a miracle if workers who are paid only five or six dollars per hour don't feel like stealing occasionally. (Workplace theft is very common everywhere.) Besides, are those accusations of theft always founded upon truth? All employers of personal servants, whether they are disabled or not, seem fond of making such accusations. Servants are always suspected of some wrongdoings.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list