by Julia Tong, AsAmNews Staff writer
On April 12th, over 700 homecare workers and their supporters held a rally against the 24-hour workday outside of New York’s City Hall. With chants, signs, and speeches, they demanded that Speaker of the City Council Adrienne Adams bring Intro 0175-2022, an act banning the 24-hour workday, to vote.
Adams, however, did not respond, prompting workers and allies alike to stage a 3-day sit-in outside City Hall. Wearing red headbands reading “No more 24” and weathering 90-degree heat, the workers say they are determined to continue fighting until the bill is passed.
“At the end of yesterday’s rally, workers were furious Speaker Adams did not bother to come out and speak to so many of them assembled there! They decided to stay and wait for Speaker Adams to come out and hear their demands,” read a statement posted to Ain’t I a Woman Campaign’s Instagram page.
“Home care workers invite all New Yorkers to join them in this sit-in to let Speaker Adams know they are holding her accountable and she should do the right thing and end the racist violence of the 24-hour shift.”
The 24-hour workday requires home care workers— many of whom are immigrant women of color with low English proficiency— to work continuously, often for multiple days on end, without rest. Workers are further only paid for 13 hours of work per day— despite often spending the full 24-hour period looking after patients.
The “No More 24” Act, or Intro 0175-2022, will end those 24-hour shifts, as well as limit working hours to 50 per week. The bill, however, has stalled in the city council, despite having bipartisan and majority support. Workers claim that Adams, who has the power as Speaker of the Council to bring Intro-0195 to a vote, is blocking the bill.
Though Adams did not come out, her office has publicly stated that the bill is currently going through the Council’s legislative process.
“New Yorkers with disabilities, among other important stakeholders in our city, have raised significant concerns about this bill that need to be resolved,” the statement reads, according to City and State NY. “The speaker and this council have also prioritized efforts that support people with disabilities, and have no interest in pitting groups against one another.”
During a September 2022 public hearing, disability rights activists argued that Intro 0195 risks forcing disabled people back into nursing homes and other institutions, robbing them of the ability to live at home.
“I support the idea of workers being paid for 24 hours when they work,” testified disability rights lawyer T. K. Small, “but not when it comes at the potential jeopardy of people like me and others in the disability community being forced back into institutions.”
“This is a matter of civil rights for people with disabilities.”
Home care workers, however, disagree. Grassroots worker organization Ain’t I A Woman observes that continuous 24-hour shifts are not standard to the home care industry; the practice, in fact, only occurs in New York City. Furthermore, they say that the strenuous nature of home care work ultimately disables numerous attendants as well.
Vincent Cao, who is responsible for worker intake for the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association (CWSA), says he meets with every home care worker who comes to the organization. According to Cao, many suffer from chronic pain, insomnia, and other injuries directly caused by continuous 24-hour shifts.
“Lots and lots of people’s bodies are ruined by the [24 hour workday,]” Cao said in Mandarin.
“A lot of them find they are injured here and there. Some became sick. Small issues become big ones. It’s like this for a lot of people.”
One such home care worker is a woman who asked to be identified as “Sister Chen.” At the sit-in, she repeatedly taps her shoulder, which was injured doing home care work and now requires regular hospital treatment.
Those are not the extent of her physical struggles. 16 years of working 24 hour shifts— causing long separation from her family and little sleep– severely damaged her health. Through a translator, Sister Chen described the shifts as being “worked to death.”
“I have already worked until my body is ruined,” Sister Chen said in Toishanese. “So I want to get my backpay, and I want to stop 24 hour shifts.”
These harmful conditions can harm patients as well. Physical injuries prevent workers from lifting, rotating, or assisting patients; many workers are forced to retire early as a consequence. In addition, the chronic lack of sleep can be equivalent to being drugged— leading to adverse outcomes for home care patients.
Zeke Luger, a member of the Flushing Worker’s Association, says that his grandmother with dementia has been on 24-hour home care for 7 years. Though his grandmother had lost her sense of balance, she would still try to get up and move around. As such, she required 24-hour monitoring for her own safety.
“If someone wasn’t watching her 24 hours a day, she would be falling, and that’s so dangerous,” Luger says. “So if there’s a home attendant who hasn’t slept— they talk about when you’re driving going without sleep is as bad as being drunk. We can’t have people who are drunk taking care of my grandmother.”
“The home attendants are doing the best that they can, but this isn’t good for the patients.”
On Friday afternoon, home care workers rallied once again, closing out their three-day sit-in. They raised concerns about an article published in the Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese newspaper, in which an anonymous member of Adams’s staff (later amended to “someone familiar with the inner workings of City Hall” in an online version) claimed that workers are aiming to end 24-hour care and force the government to pay millions in back pay.
But Intro 0175 would institute split shifts for 24-hour care, not eliminate it entirely. A statement posted to CSWA’s Facebook page further pointed out that the backpay owed to workers would come from agencies and insurance companies, not the government.
Activists say that these inaccurate statements reveal a deeper problem: The unwillingness of the city government to even bring the No More 24 Act, which has already been in the legislature for a year, to a vote.
“We strongly demand that the city council speaker put the interests of the vast majority of New York people first, not to harm home care workers, their families, and the patients they care for by the 24-hour workday,” reads CWSA’s statement.
“The 175 bill must be passed before May 1st!”
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