Founding Women: Fighting for value and respect

By November 19, 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.

Cecilia Rivas: Fighting for value and respect

She did it for working men and women. She did it for her family. And on her way to making history as a union organizer, Cecilia Rivas said she did it, simply, because who else would?

Rivas is celebrating 33 years as a caregiver. She got involved with SEIU when she met organizers at Angeles Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

“ (A staff organizer) told us how healthcare workers can get better pay and better benefits. He explained we have to fight,” she said. “Our labor is very important. It’s a difficult job but in the meantime, it’s a very human-centered job.”

Even though Rivas had her home care work, as well as her family, which included three sons, she stepped up.

“I started inviting people,” she said. “We met in our homes. We started with three people and (the union rep) gave me power. He said, ‘Cecilia, you can do it. You can talk to people,’ so I started like that.”

Rivas would knock on doors and talk to anyone who would listen. She spoke to fellow home care workers about the value of their work — they helped senior citizens stay at home, but they were not paid a living wage. She realized home care workers needed more training, in order to protect their own health but also to do their jobs better.

“We had nothing first, but later, when we had our first contract, we had training from how to lift our consumers to how to talk to them, giving them medicine like insulin, treating Alzheimer’s patients,” Rivas said. “This was when the training center was founded.”

With the establishment of the Homecare Workers Training Center, which later became the California Long-Term Care Education Center (CLTCEC), Rivas said the union underlined the importance of training, not only about caregiving, but also literacy and computer skills.

“Training was the top issue,” she said. “Our supervisors always told us you don’t have any training. It was insulting to us. We said, then we need to have the training. We need to help our workers see the value of our work.”

Rivas herself used the free training to improve her caregiving skills.

“We learned how to take care of our patients and ourselves,” she said. “This is a very important job. This kind of work we do, caring for others, we will need it one day, too, and I would like to have someone help me who knows how to treat people.”

The training center helps home care workers find validation and respect, Rivas added.

“Even though we work from homes, we need to feel professional,” she said. “We work like we are our consumer’s daughters or we are their sons. We are compassionate toward our consumers and part of that means we have to resolve to get better.”

Now in her 60s, Rivas is semi-retired. She continues to be inspired by the work CLTCEC does through the training center, which offers practical skill-building on CPR, first aid, infection control, nutrition, and body mechanics. From its early days 20 years ago, the center now offers classes in six languages, including Spanish, English, Armenian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean.

She said her dream for the center is that it remains open to all who need it. “I hope it will stay open all the time, and that the training center never closes and stays open for everyone to help people,” she said.

Thinking about the thousands of IHSS homecare workers who have graduated from training, and realizing how they are improving their lives and that of their consumers, is the thanks she gets for the work she has done.

“I spent a lot of years with the union, and I spent a lot of time giving,” Rivas said. “I’ve never asked why I feel good in my life. When I do, I feel so happy to have the union. I never said I’m not going to do this or that for the union. I didn’t know I had so much to give.”

Stay tuned for more stories of these strong, courageous women.

Read Ana Duarte: Advocating to anyone who would listen