HomeChinese AmericanHome care workers begin hunger strike against 24-hour workday

Home care workers begin hunger strike against 24-hour workday

By Julia Tong

During her eight-year career as a home care worker in New York City, Candy Song was required to work 24-hour shifts. As a result of the physically demanding labor without rest, Song became too injured to continue work.

Since then, Song has been devoted to ending the 24-hour workday in NYC. On Wednesday, March 20th, she joined over 20 home care workers to begin a hunger strike in front of NYC’s City Hall.

Song says that the strikers are well aware of the risks associated with a hunger strike. However, a “racist and violent system” has compelled them to act. 

“It’s not that we don’t cherish our health. We know that hunger striking harms the body and causes great damage to us. But we have no choice,” she said.

“With our determination, we aim to awaken people from all walks of life to let everyone know that such inhumanity, violence against women, still exists in a democratic country, especially NYC.”

  • Hunger strikers introduce themselves onstage. One holds a sign reading "Stop the 24hr workday."
  • Hunger strikers introduce themselves onstage.
  • Two MCs for the rally stand on stage. A banner in front of them reads "Hunger Strike Stop the 24HR Shift"
  • Home care workers picket in front of City Hall during the rally kicking off their hunger strike against the 24-hour workday.
  •  Councilman Christopher Marte speaks in solidarity with hunger strikers.
  • Hunger strikers, wearing red headbands, listen to speakers during the rally kicking off their strike.
  • A member of Youth Against Displacement, hunger striking in solidarity with home care workers, speaks during the rally.
  • Hunger strikers introduce themselves onstage. One holds a sign demanding that Speaker Adrienne Adams end 24-hour shifts.

“This is an act of desperation.”

At noon on March 20th, over a hundred home care workers and their allies rallied to formally begin the hunger strike. 

Protesters picketed in front of City Hall gates, chanting “no more 24!” and listening to a series of speeches in both English and Mandarin from members of the Ain’t I a Woman (AIW) Campaign, the coalition that organized the strike. 

Wearing red headbands reading “Hunger Strike” and “No More 24” in Chinese and English, hunger strikers then settled into folding chairs outside of City Hall, where they say they’ll remain for at least a week.

During the rally, workers reiterated that the hunger strike is a last resort in response to egregiously poor conditions that the city has refused to address.

Home care attendants– a majority of which are female Asian immigrants– work continuous 24-hour shifts to care for patients with no break. On top of that, workers are only paid for 13 hours of their 24 hour shifts.=

The hunger strike is only the latest step in a long campaign against the 24-hour workday, says Jun Chang, an organizer with the AIW Campaign. For a decade, home care workers have fought the 24-hour workday through bills on the city and state level, sit-ins and demonstrations, union organization, and more. This year alone, they held six large rallies in front of City Hall.

Despite this, Chang observes, the city government has not responded to these actions.

“The hunger strike is not like, as soon as they’ve realized that this is happening this is their first go to,” he says. “It’s actually 10 years of long, hard struggle, where they couldn’t achieve what they needed. This is an act of desperation.” 

During the rally, organizers reiterated the core demand of the hunger strikes: A bill, titled Intro 615, that would end the 24-hour workday. Intro 615 was reintroduced by Councilman Christopher Marte of District 1 and requires 24-hour shifts to be split into two 12-hour ones which cannot be consecutive. 

Supporters of the bill argue it ensures patients get care while home care attendants aren’t overworked. Yet the bill has been stalled by the Speaker of the City Council, Adrienne Adams, who has not allowed the bill to even go to a vote.

“Right now, there is one person preventing our democracy from being activated,” says Chang, adding: “What kind of society are we living in where this one person in the pockets of the insurance companies and the homecare agencies can prevent us from stopping this barbaric and slave practice?” 

Adams has so far remained unmoved by these demands. At the rally, Councilman Marte recalled confronting the Speaker about the bill during a meeting the previous day. When asked why she wouldn’t bring the bill to a vote, he says, she was silent. 

This silence, he says, is symbolic of the lack of care home care workers have gotten over a decade of abuse.

“That silence is what’s killing these women. It’s that silence that’s killing these patients,” Marte said. “It’s this silence that has broken up families. And it’s this silence that continues to oppress all workers here in New York City.”

“It’s shameful that these women are here today.”

The hunger strike was timed to begin during International Working Women’s Month, which usually celebrates and uplifts the achievements of working women. Many at the rally, however, reported mixed feelings as the strike began.

“Today is a somber and disappointing day,” said a representative from Youth Against Displacement (YAD), who MCed the rally in Mandarin. “Today during Working Women’s Month, women homecare workers who have been fighting tooth and nail to end the inhumane 24 working hours day are now having to go on a hunger strike.” 

This disappointment was also echoed by Marte. 

“It’s shameful that these women who sacrifice their bodies, their mind, their life, their time for the most vulnerable people in our city aren’t given the dignity to be a regular human being,” he said. “It’s shameful that these women are here today.”

Still, the road forward for the home care workers is difficult, organizers say. Even if the home care workers win their demand for Intro 615 to be brought to a vote, it would still need to be passed by the City Council to go into effect. Beyond that, workers would still need to fight for backpay for lost wages.

Chang says these are difficult challenges that the hunger strike may not directly solve.

“We don’t expect Adrienne Adams to see these workers go hungry for a week and just immediately pass the bill. We don’t expect that because she’s been torturing these people for 10 years,” says Chang.

Yet still, he remains optimistic that getting Intro 615 passed is “inevitable.” On one hand, the hunger strike will increase people’s awareness of the 24-hour workday’s abuses. But beyond that, he says the AIW Campaign is planning to mobilize people through the strike to take political action and call on their own council people to support the bill.

Ultimately, Chang hopes that seeing the power of workers during the hunger strike will inspire people to take those next steps, and ultimately end the 24-hour workday in NYC.

“It’s really important for anyone that works for a living to come out not only to join us in solidarity, but to also recognize and witness the power of a mass movement of workers that are fighting for our own survival and our own rights,” says Chang. “And I think that’s extremely strong and beautiful and motivating to see.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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