Elsa Serrano has taken care of other people’s children in her Oxnard home for 25 years.
She works 10 or more hours a day at least six days a week for a wage she estimates at less than $5 an hour for each child. At 56, she isn’t sure she can ever retire. She bought her own health insurance but the $7,800 deductible is more than she would pay to go to Tijuana and pay for medical care there out of pocket.
On Monday night, Serrano and 40 other child care providers, all women and Latinas, gathered at a busy Oxnard intersection to draw support for better pay and benefits. Accompanied by mariachi music, they waved signs with slogans like, “I can’t afford to get sick.” Motorists honked in support.
They’re home-based providers who are demanding that the state, which subsidizes child care for low-income families, provide them with health insurance, a retirement plan and better pay.
“We need our voices to be heard,” said Liliana Rivera, one of the demonstrators who goes without insurance. “We want the governor to listen.”
The protest was part of a national “A Day Without Child Care” call to action. Hundreds of providers across the country shut down their businesses for a day to send a message they need more support from state and federal government.
The Oxnard women decided to stay open with some closing an hour early. They wanted to gather at the end of the day when more people would see them. They also didn’t want to abandon their clients, some of whom work in health care, retail stores and farm fields.
“The families need our care,” said Maria Elena Millings, who runs Discovery Den Daycare out of her home in Oxnard. “They depend on us to get to work.”
The home-based providers said they also stayed open throughout the pandemic when other sites were closed. Many of them have bachelor’s degrees in early education. The children in their programs range from babies to teenagers. They take the older kids to and from school.
The providers open as early as 5 am They stay open on Saturdays because their clients work weekends.
“I’ve known these families for 10 years, for 13 years, how am I not going to work with them?” Serrano said. “I want to help the families.”
They said their voices too often go unheard and their needs unmet. The Oxnard women banded together more than a decade ago to form the Latin American Child Care Provider Association. They unionized, joining Child Care Providers United, which represents 40,000 people across California.
A year ago, the union reached its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the state, bringing a 15% minimum raise for providers who deliver care to low-income families subsidized by the state. A union representative said discussions with the state are ongoing on health care benefits and retirement contributions.
Scott Murray, a spokesman for the State Department of Social Services, cited ongoing efforts to help providers, including supplemental payments provided in the workers’ union contract and efforts to review the state’s rate structure for childcare subsidies that affects compensation for providers.
The low wages and the pandemic forced have worsened the national shortage of child care services. A national survey conducted last summer found that 4 in 5 early childhood learning and care centers were understaffed. Providers across the country said the problem has pushed some of them into lower-stress, higher-paying jobs at warehouses and chain restaurants.
“Child care workers in our state are paid some of the lowest wages compared to other occupations,” said Kristin Schumacher, senior policy analyst for the non-partisan California Budget and Policy Center. She asserted that the inequities are linked to gender and race.
“There is just an assumption that women will subsidize a lack of investment by continuing to provide this care and that has been a case for decades,” she said. “It’s time for state and federal leaders to recognize the critical nature of this work and to provide adequate resources.”
The Oxnard providers said they deserve benefits that reflect the services they provide. Millings reflected on what would happen if the home-based centers closed. leaving families without care.
“It would be catastrophic,” she said.
USA Today contributed to this report.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at email@example.com or 805-437-0255.
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