It’s something we’ve all done as kids. You say something over and over — it doesn’t matter what. The word banana, the phrase Emancipation Proclamation. And it rapidly becomes boring, absurd and ultimately funny. The same thing is often true of repeated public comment — no matter how true — in the meetings of governing bodies.
For instance, for nearly two years now, the 70,400 home health-care workers of Los Angeles County have been asking for a raise. They deserve it. They even thought they had it. You read about it here, you read about it there. The raise at issue — a tiny one of 39 cents from the current $6.75 an hour — was offered early last year by the state. As it happens, Sacramento has paid a similar small increase. The three-bits remainder is supposed to come from this county. But L.A. County is the only county in the state not to pony up on this. The SEIU Local 434-B members come downtown, say the same thing, over and over. They demonstrate. But they’ve been ignored for so long that it is getting hard for anyone to hear them when they speak.
Now there are plenty of people in this town — including skilled blue-collar workers — who would not even notice a raise of 39 cents an hour, which comes out to about $15 in a 40-hour working week. Of course, 95 percent of the local health-care workers don’t work that many hours. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate the tiny dollop of extra money. There’s a simple reason why these people aren’t getting their extra pittance: The county, which this week had to balance an increasingly tough budget, complete with proposed curtailment of library services, thinks that it can get away with not paying it. “It’s gross negligence,” says 434-B head Tyrone Freeman, who says that if, as he expects, the board denies the raise this year, he will start an initiative to order the raise.
But there are even stronger reasons why the caregivers ought to be getting their raise. As health-care worker Molly Longley put it, “[Why] we should be compensated a little bit more is [because] we are giving the people we care for the dignity of remaining in their homes, being their own bosses . . . to not have to be in an institution, which, obviously, does cost the taxpayers more money.” But the extra institutionalizing costs go to the state. The Scrooge-ish savings go to our Hall of Administration. And the two entities simply are not communicating in a way that makes it possible to sort this one out sensibly.
Longley was one of about 30 members of SEIU Local 434-B who Tuesday afternoon spoke the simple truth to a Board of Supervisors, who’d just been through a long day’s meeting, and a few of the rest of us, who all realized that, with the final budget revisions due to be approved within a week, the good guys were going to lose again.