Tag Archives: homecare workers

Remembering Geneva Evans

Pearl River     Waking in the predawn I found a wonderful and moving email in my in-box from two brothers and comrades in our shared organizing trade and mission, Mike Gallagher and Keith Kelleher.  Mike sent along a poem he had written about the amazing Geneva Evans, an early and longtime leader, in our efforts to organize homecare workers.  As a postscript he attached a remembrance I had somehow missed that Keith had written when Sister Evans passed away in 2018.  The New York Times has begun coming to grips with great lives and contributions of amazing people they had missed.  This is one that you won’t read there, but in these terrible times, I wanted to share some of their heartful words, because it is always worth remembering the heroes whose light has shined on our paths that we still hold tightly in our hearts and memories forever.

Ode to Geneva

 

Geneva Evans was a home health care worker, union leader and friend

Who passed a couple years ago, a too early untimely end.

In poor health in her later years, stuck in a basement apartment wreck

Trying to live on an unlivable $930 a month Social Security check.

 

So every so often, my wife Margaret and I would take her out to eat.

She liked anything — as long as it included potatoes and meat.

We heard about a new restaurant that featured North Carolina fare.

Because that was Geneva’s home state, we all decided to go there.

 

She pronounced the food authentic — so authentic that she began

To tell stories about growing up poor in her large tenant farmer clan.

The harder-edged term for it is sharecropping — chores from dawn to sunset,

Working the landlord’s land, six days a week, never out of debt.

 

Hoe the rows, de-tassel the corn, slop the hogs

Do the laundry, shuck the peas, feed the dogs

Plow the lower field, strangle the old hen

Go to bed tired, get up and do it again.

 

By 19 Geneva had had enough, became part of the push/pull Great Migration

Followed her older sister to Philly, then alone to Boston, got off the post slavery neo plantation.

She lived for decades here in Boston, but never lost her country way.

 

Homecare workers by definition have no common work site

So she would call up dozens of co-workers every night.

She signed up members at the Council of Elders, won the election.

Helped out on the big Suburban strike, took the union in a new direction.

 

And every Friday afternoon she would volunteer to go out to talk

To unorganized workers as they picked up their checks, encouraged them if they would balk.

About every six weeks she would lead a sit-down strike at her job

To make sure her 250 co-workers were paid with checks that did not bounce and bob.

She even traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles to spread the union word

There was no pot anywhere that Geneva had not stirred.

 

She loved Aretha and gospel and soul; that’s just a given, implied.

But also country and western music — and not just Charlie Pride.

We shared a mutual love of George Jones and would spin

His records on her machine, his plaintive voice getting under our skin.

 

So in closing, there are two things you need to know about Mrs. Evans:

She was country and hard working.  The two are very connected.

In this time of pandemic and woe her loss has me sorely affected.

Because of her pioneering hard work and hardworking country manner

More than a half million home care workers now work under the union banner.

 

I miss her.

 

Keith Kelleher, former United Labor Unions and ACORN organizer who founded the Chicago ULU Local 880, which became first SEIU 880, and later was president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois/Indiana/Missouri/Kansas(HCIIMK), the Midwest’s largest local union and the 7th largest local in the country, wrote about Sister Evans when she passed in 2018.

A great labor leader passed away last month. You won’t read about her in the NY Times obituary, but you should. You won’t read about her in labor history books, but you should. You didn’t study about her in your history class in school, but you should.

Her name is Geneva Evans and you should remember her name, because by taking action and organizing on her job, she made life better for hundreds of thousands of homecare workers and for the millions of people they care for every year.

She spent her whole working life in Boston’s South End, where she was a neighborhood leader and tenant activist in public housing.   She was one of the first to respond to the call to organize a union at her non-profit home health care agency, the Council of Elders, in 1981. Geneva was a leader in the campaign to demand a union, which included a march on her employer’s office to demand recognition, and she later led the Labor Board (NLRB) election campaign where all but 5 of her 250 co-workers voted for ULU (United Labor Unions) Local 1475, a small national union founded by ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, to organize low wage workers, like homecare workers, that others thought could not be organized.

Geneva served on the negotiating committee and helped reach the first-ever contract for homecare workers in Massachusetts. Geneva participated in helping to win similar agreements in other agencies in quick succession, most notably by supporting the 500 workers at Suburban Homemaking and Maternity who waged an historic three-week strike for their first contract – one of the first homecare workers’ strikes in Massachusetts and US history.

Geneva became the president of ULU Local 1475 and remained so until the local affiliated with SEIU in 1984. In those years, homecare workers made great strides in winning increased reimbursements and higher pay highlighted by a 12 percent increase plus health insurance and sick days in 1987.

Geneva didn’t just organize in Massachusetts, she traveled across the country spreading the union gospel and spoke to the 1500 homecare workers gathered for the founding convention of the Los Angeles Homecare Workers Organizing Committee on Martin Luther King Day in 1988. That committee of homecare workers eventually became the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2015 that today represents over 300,000 homecare workers in the state of California.  We would meet Geneva at local and national ULU, SEIU and ACORN conventions and she always encouraged us to keep organizing and keep pushing forward no matter what the obstacles – and we did. Eventually, we organized over 50,000 homecare workers in the public and private sector, and raised wages from only minimum and a $1 an hour in 1983 to $13 today, plus winning health care, improved training, hours of service, increased funding, and other benefits. Geneva’s encouragement to our leaders in Chicago, and the leaders in L.A. showed us what could be done when workers and consumers stuck together.

We all miss, Geneva.  We join millions who are in her debt.

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Is Wage Theft Inevitable without a Fixed Time Clock?

BOS-Homecare-20131105-580pxNew York    Finally, it’s settled. The Supreme Court refused to hear the last gasp appeal from the industry that represents homecare employers, so it is now indisputable that homecare workers will be eligible for the minimum wage and overtime pay. This issue has been a festering sore since domestic and household workers were included in coverage under the Fair Labor Standards Act when amended in 1975 and set for full compliance in 1978-1979. We organized the Household Workers Organizing Committee in New Orleans to take advantage of the fact that they would be covered under what many of them called the “top wage,” rather than the minimum wage then.

Now, the question will be whether or not homecare workers will really receive the money, especially the overtime. Like other informal workers and even the much touted “gig” workers celebrated by techsters and others without a fixed workplace and a reliable time clock will wage theft become simply a given assumption as part of the terms and conditions of employment? The promoters endlessly flack the flexibility supposedly enjoyed by informal workers, but is this a euphemism for instability and an invitation for wage theft.

Transportation is perhaps the best example of the penalties experienced by non-workplace based workers. Over the years, the nonpayment of hours spent in transportation to various worksites by homecare workers was frequently an invaluable tactic for our unions to create leverage at the bargaining table or to punish recalcitrant homecare employers.

The FLSA has a number of advisories on how to handle transportation between your home and the central office of the employer.  It’s common knowledge that transportation time to and from your workplace is not compensable under FLSA, but when you don’t have a fixed workplace how do you calculate your hours when you are going from worksite to worksite during the day as homecare workers do or are moving from place to place on assignment as part of your job? The DOL Wage and Hour Division is clear. Essentially, once you discount the “normal” travel period back and forth between you home and the central office of the employer, the rest of the hours of travel between client locations is all compensable. For years homecare companies have tried, many times successfully, to only count the hours when a worker is with the client and walk away from their obligation by assigning three or four clients to a worker’s day spread out throughout a city and making the worker eat the travel time. The same is true if a worker’s hours would normally end at a certain time, but they have been sent to the far reaches of Los Angeles County or an outlying borough of New York or a neighboring county or parish in the metro area of any city. If rather than the usual thirty minutes of travel to home, they would have to log in another 30, 60, or 90 minutes, all of that additional time is compensable, including overtime if applicable.

I don’t see too many hands up from people who are seeing these hours paid, but the examples are numerous for any workers on the move from worksite to worksite, whether formal or informal. It would seem if you don’t have a time clock, you can assume you will experience wage theft. Why isn’t there an app for that? There are apps that tell you how many steps or miles you have walked in a day or how many calories you had for lunch or where the nearest bus stop is or how long it might take a taxi to get to you, but are you telling me that there is nothing that can verify a worker’s hours adequately to be used by both an employer and the DOL to assure that a worker is paid fairly? Certainly, there must be, but as long as it’s not in the interests of the employer to use it and DOL is powerless to enforce it, wage theft seems like it is just part of the not so hidden subsidy that lower waged workers pay to keep the companies in the service economy sitting on their shoulders and swimming freely on their sweat.

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