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Founding Women: Caregivers are important people

By December 21, 2020News

As CLTCEC marks its 20th anniversary, we celebrate the courageous women who founded the training center

Before 1999, caregivers made up an invisible workforce. They worked with low pay, had no benefits, no protections. When a group of strong, courageous women organized home care workers in Los Angeles County to join SEIU in 1999, they faced obstacle after obstacle. But they fought. Even back then, they already knew caregivers needed three crucial things: livable wages, benefits, and training. Because of these women’s tenacity, home care workers became recognized as a formidable workforce. And because of the women’s vision, we can now provide crucial training that makes a difference in caregivers’ lives and in the people for whom they provide care.

These are the stories of some of those women.

Photo of home care workers

Laurene Mackey, right, with a team of home care workers in 2002 (Photo courtesy of UCLA Labor Center)

Laurene Mackey: “Caregivers are important people”

People change people. Just ask Laurene Mackey.

In her 91 years, Mackey has raised a family, run a successful downtown Los Angeles business, fostered children, and advocated for everything from voter’s rights to union representation. Her calling as a caregiver further underlines the pride Mackey says she feels about her life.

“Caregivers are important people,” Mackey said. “We take care of people who can’t help themselves.”

As one of the union’s pioneers, Mackey said she came to SEIU with a wealth of personal experience in caregiving, having tended to her parents, two aunts and her husband. She did this while also running Mackey Cleaners, which she started in 1963 as one of the few African American businesswomen in south Los Angeles.

After her three children were grown, Mackey said she thought she needed to slow down. But the leisurely life didn’t set well with her.

“I needed to get up and do things so I started taking care of Mrs. Turner,” she said.

Mackey’s relationship with Annie Mae Turner was lovely, she said. At Turner’s home, Mackey would sing while Turner played the piano. They went to church. Mackey drove her friend to the doctor or the park. They would go out to eat.

“I’d come over and see about her and then I went to the union,” Mackey remembers. “The union was organizing so I got started with them. I did phone banking at first. But then they saw how devoted I was to my work, and how I just kept talking to people. They kept asking me to come back. I just worked for the union because I liked it. We had a nice time. We fought for so long.”

Mackey said she helped union efforts to start the training center because she believed in helping not only the caregivers who honed their skills, but also their consumers who would benefit from the training. She later served on the executive board for SEIU Local 6434, speaking out in support of home caregivers and garnering support from the community and lawmakers.

“I wanted to help people who couldn’t help themselves, and that goes for the workers in the union and the people they helped,” she said. “We did a lot.”

After Mrs. Turner passed away about eight years ago, Mackey said she turned her attention to fostering children. She earned her certification as a foster parent, and set about sharing her compassion with children and teen-agers.

Like consumers, foster children mostly needed someone to look after them.

“People just need people to treat them nice,” she said. “So I became that person who treated them nice. I said, I can’t help all these people, but I can help some.”

Just like in the union, Mackey said her interaction with her foster children was simple: just reach out and talk.

“In the union, I talked to people about voting and they would say, ‘my vote don’t matter’ and I would tell them we fought so long for the vote, I would tell them about my grandparents who couldn’t vote, and I told them it matters,” Mackey said. “With my foster kids, I told them I had three rules, one, don’t talk back. Two, when I tell you to come in by 10, I expect you to be back five minutes before 20 and three, this is our home, yours and mine. You help me. Let’s help each other.”

Mackey laughs and says she can’t do much anymore. But the businesswoman who for years greeted each customer who came through the door of her dry cleaners, the union pioneer who talked and advocated for caregivers, and Mrs. Annie Mae Turner’s faithful friend who made sure she always had someone to talk to, she hasn’t slowed down much. Mackey still juggles calls from two phones, chatting with and catching up with friends and family.

Friends tease her about seeing her name “all up and around” Los Angeles and in books and newspapers. Mackey laughs. Her legacy isn’t in the history books, she said. It’s in the people she’s helped, the people who have changed her.

“I love doing things for people,” she said. “I love going to church and working with kids. I loved working with the union. I learned you have to keep doing things. Don’t lay around. Get up and do things. The Lord gives me my strength, the Lord keeps me going. I just did so much stuff I am so proud of all of it. I’ve done my part. The Lord has blessed me. I have lived a beautiful life.”

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