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, caregivers now have access to crucial training that makes a difference in their lives and in the people for whom they provide care.
These are the stories of some of those women.
Ana Duarte: Advocating to anyone who would listen
This is what Ana Duarte knows: life can change in an instant.
This is what Ana Duarte believes: she may not understand why it happened, but the accident led her to a newfound purpose, and a belief in making the best of every circumstance.
Duarte was a young wife and mother when her husband was disabled in a car accident in 1986. Their lives changed forever.
“I was 32 and I was pregnant with my youngest daughter when it happened,” Duarte said. “My marriage was very young, my children were very little. My husband (came out of the accident) very bad.”
A social worker told Duarte about caregiving at home, but not before she injured herself trying to lift her husband off the bed.
“I didn’t have any training at all,” she remembers. “It would have been different if I did. If I had known how to (lift), I wouldn’t have been injured. (My husband) weighed 250 lbs. at that time. I had just had a baby. This training taught me how to do things properly. It gave me tools to learn how to do my job better.”
Through SEIU Local 434B, Duarte bonded with other caregivers.
“We wanted to learn how to carry our (patients), how to pick him up from a bed to the chair, from the chair to the car. We had very few representatives. Almost nothing. There were not that many of us. We had to suffer the consequences. We just had to fight.”
Duarte said meetings with union representatives sparked her belief that yes, someone had to advocate for caregivers who did hard, essential work with so little protections. She said she came to a momentous realization: that someone was her.
“By being in the union, I learned how to work to have a voice as a human being and to fight for our values as caregivers and get better wages and medical coverage,” Duarte said.
“Besides the training, we wanted to be recognized for our work, just like firemen and teachers and policemen were. This training allowed us to be recognized by others. I’m very proud we have the little plaque. It says I’m certified. Being recognized for what you do is important. It’s all thanks to this training.”
Duarte remembers a whirlwind of days when she not only cared for her husband and growing family, but also knocked on doors to get union support.
To anyone who would listen, she advocated.
“This training is a benefit for us,” Duarte said. “You can always learn something. With Latinos, it’s fundamental that we take care of the elderly in our own homes. It’s part of our culture. So let’s learn how to deal with elder care.”
Her union work also helped bolster her conviction to stand up for what’s right.
“When I saw my husband couldn’t speak (after the accident) and they kept denying him citizenship, even though two of our children served in the Army, I realized I had to be strong,” Duarte said. “I didn’t think that was right. But honestly, the truth is I can’t say exactly where my strength comes from. Life is what I have to go through and it taught me to be strong and courageous and persistent.”
Those early struggles propelled Duarte into Los Angeles history books, a role she doesn’t much think about. She is, after all, still busy caring for her husband. Aside from their three grown children, they boast eight grandchildren.
“Of course I am working with my husband, I am still his caregiver,” Duarte said. “And as I am talking, I have one hand bouncing one baby, and my feet rocking another one, we have twin babies.”
Life goes on, in surprising ways. What matters is how you deal with it.
Her own experiences motivate her to advocate and protect those who don’t have a voice, Duarte said. At 65, she is working toward a measure of peace, in her life and in the work that has become part of her life’s work.
If she could define success, Duarte said it would be to work for what she got from CLTCEC: an education.
“Prepare yourself to get knowledge on what you do for work,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re washing dishes, become excellent at what you do. If you’re making beds, be the one who makes the bed to perfection.”
Stay tuned for more stories of these strong, courageous women.