Members of Colorado Care Workers Unite, SEIU Local 105 and other labor groups rallied in support of a Care Worker Bill of Rights outside the Capitol on July 12, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado lawmakers this week passed legislation that advocates say is the first step towards addressing critical staffing shortages in a home health care industry that an increasing number of aging Coloradans rely on.
Senate Bill 23-261, which passed the state House of Representatives on Saturday after being amended, was re-approved by the Senate Tuesday on a party-line vote, with all Democrats in favor. It now heads to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.
The bill would establish a new Direct Care Workforce Stabilization Board within the state’s Department of Labor and Employment, in an effort to improve working conditions for the roughly 60,000 Colorado workers who provide in-home care to elderly patients and people with disabilities.
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“After years of care workers organizing and making our voices heard, Colorado has taken a big step to start to right that wrong,” Charmayne Phillips, a longtime care worker and chair of Colorado Care Workers Unite, said in a statement Wednesday. “Care workers and the people receiving care know best what it will take to fix things and keep workers in these jobs.”
The 15-member board would include four care workers, four representatives of direct care employers and four representatives of people who receive direct care services. The board would be tasked with developing minimum employment standards relating to compensation, working hours and other concerns that care workers say have led to “crisis level” shortages in the industry.
For too long, care work — done mostly by women, many women of color and immigrants — has been dismissed and undervalued due to sexism and racism, leading to low pay, poor conditions and a lack of voice for workers.
– Charmayne Phillips, chair of Colorado Care Workers Unite
Nearly 90% of the 2.3 million home care workers in the U.S. are women, and 62% are people of color, according to the nonprofit Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.
“For too long, care work — done mostly by women, many women of color and immigrants — has been dismissed and undervalued due to sexism and racism, leading to low pay, poor conditions and a lack of voice for workers,” said Phillips.
The stabilization board would make an initial set of recommendations by September 2024, which could be codified either by rules adopted by the labor department or through legislation. Absent further action by lawmakers, the board would continue to make recommendations every two years thereafter, before sunsetting in 2029.
More than 70% of people will receive home care at some point in their lives, according to the Colorado Health Institute, and demographic trends will likely put further stress on the home health care system in the near future. State demographers have estimated that Colorado’s over-65 population is on track to grow by nearly 50% between 2018 and 2030, and tens of thousands of additional care workers will be needed in an industry where workers are already stretched too thin.
“Simply put, we don’t have enough direct care providers in our state,” state Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge and sponsor of SB-261, said in a statement. “This legislation is a key part of how Colorado can address immediate concerns and also plan for the future, to not only stabilize the workforce but also grow and improve it, to ensure better conditions and pay and better care for consumers.”
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