Pueblo home health care workers call for better wages

Pueblo home health care workers called for improved wages and better working conditions during a protest late last month outside of Argus Home Health Care.

Around 15 to 20 people, some union members, amass outside Argus in University Park to argue for better wages for home health care workers who work there and at other agencies across Colorado. Many of those who participated said they felt they’re undervalued in addition to being underpaid.

The members mobilized outside of Argus also as a show of support for Nadine Mondragon, a Cañon City home health care worker who filed a wage theft claim with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. She and the Colorado Care Workers Unite and Service Employees International Union claim that Argus, as of June 29, owed her $174 in unpaid wages.

Melissa Benjamin, external health care coordinator at SEIU Local 105 and a care provider for 20 years, said workers staged the demonstration because they want better wages and “decision-making power in the industry,” among other requests and expressed needs.

“What’s happening right now is there is a care crisis across Colorado because these workers are leaving the industry in droves for different jobs, which is leaving people needing care,” Benjamin said.

Mondragon said that home health care workers lobbied state representatives for legislation that would offer them more support and a voice. It helped lead to Senate Bill 23-261, which created the direct care workforce stabilization board that will review the care industry and develop recommendations for its workers.

Nadine Mondragon, center, participates in a chant for fair wages for home health care workers during a rally outside Argus Homecare on June 29.

Nadine Mondragon, center, participates in a chant for fair wages for home health care workers during a rally outside Argus Homecare on June 29.

The board must also hold public hearings to engage direct care workers and report recommendations that are approved by eight board members to Gov. Jared Polis. Direct care employers can’t retaliate against employees if they participate in board meetings or activities.

“Now we can have a voice and stand up for ourselves,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon decided to voice her concerns during the union action because her attempts to reach her superiors at Argus, including Regional Director Danny Manzanares, to discuss her wages have been unsuccessful, she said.

Manzanares told the Chieftain he could not discuss an employee’s wages but said that “every location has staff that are dedicated to assisting all caregivers with any issues or information.”

During the protest, Manzanares walked out of the Argus building and told the protestors that he would call the police.

Despite the warning, the union members continued to chant they please for more support from their employers and improved wages.

“We have home care workers who face housing stability issues because of lower wages,” Benjamin said. “That’s why we’re fighting.”

Hilary Glasgow, executive director of the Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions union, said that one day after the protest, Argus sent a memo to employees notifying them of a pay raise to $15.75 per hour, an increase from $15. Glasgow said that wasn’t issued in response to the protests, but because of a legislative directive.

“The reason that these companies like Argus have to follow rules like this is because they’re funded so much by government funds, Medicaid dollars,” Glasgow said.

Pro-union activists rallied for fair wages for home health care workers outside of Argus Homecare in Pueblo on June 29.

Pro-union activists rallied for fair wages for home health care workers outside of Argus Homecare in Pueblo on June 29.

Benjamin said that fact makes any instances of wage theft egregious. She also said wage theft and mistreatment of workers can affect patients because it could force workers to leave the industry, leaving agencies short-staffed and less equipped to provide care.

“Workers deserve to make enough money to work one job and make ends meet, but also to be able to have enough work-life balance that they can participate in their communities and raise their families,” said Glasgow. “(There shouldn’t be) this constant scraping to make ends meet.”

Earlier this year, the Biden-Harris Administration announced its push to increase wages and provide more support for care workers and family caregivers. Colorado in 2021 appropriated American Rescue Plan Act funding towards “home and community-based services,” which include home health care, case management and self-directed personal care, among other services.

Chieftain reporter Josue Perez can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @josuepwrites. Support local news, subscribe to The Pueblo Chieftain at subscribe.chieftain.com.

This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: Pueblo home health care workers protest for better wages

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