“One needs a lot of love, a lot of patience, a lot of endurance, because sometimes we do it all, even counseling,” Agustina García says. “We’re cooks, informal first aid providers; we’re mothers.”
Indeed, the children the 58-year-old mother of two has cared for at her Pacoima home-based day care over the last 20 years – babies as young as 40 days in some cases – have taken their first steps and pronounced their first words in her presence. Some have even addressed her as “mom.”
“Who are we, then?” Agustina asks, driving the point home. “We are those children’s first teachers. That’s why the beautiful and delicate work we carry forward for society also has to be recognized.”
“And thanks to our union it is being recognized,” Agustina says. “And there’s still much work to be done.”
Many child care providers work with center-based agencies who contract with them to provide care.
“What’s happening to us home child care providers is that we have the same requirements as large child care agencies, but we’re actually small businesses,” she says. “We are individuals who love teaching and caring for children, but our work and dedication are often not recognized.”
Even so, she’s clear on who bears most of the responsibility. “Agencies’ high demands and low pay are the root cause,” she says.
If that’s the cause, the solution is clear, judging by how some agencies view providers joining forces for a voice at work.
“They don’t want us to join the union because there’s strength in numbers,” Agustina explains.
Yet for nearly 15 years providers have led efforts to form their union and win collective bargaining rights, which are currently denied to them under state law. This has not stopped them. and child care providers have reaped some of the benefits of unity.
Before, Agustina says, providers would get paid for four weeks of work per month, even though most months have more than 28 days. So providers would be owed several work days each month. They now get paid for those days.
“Our union has also helped providers stay up to date with Licensing Department requirements,” she adds, “besides offering relevant workshops on things such as CPR procedures.”
“There is indeed strength in numbers,” Agustina maintains. “And the stronger we are, the more difficult it is for bosses—and politicians—to ignore our demands,” which she herself corroborated on a lobbying trip to Sacramento last year.
On that occasion, a state politician asked her point blank: “If your job is so hard, why don’t you quit?”
“You know why I do it?” the native of Guatemala remembers replying. “Do you know why I woke up at 4 in the morning to travel all the way to the state capital from the San Fernando Valley? Because the child I take care of in my home may one day be the one who holds your position.”
He had nothing to say to that, Agustina recalls.
It’s that same determination that keeps her fighting for a union and the right to negotiate a contract with the state to achieve better working conditions and improve the quality of care and education.
“The last thing that a human being should lose is faith,” says the certified catechist, who’s currently attending an advanced two-year course on Liturgy. “Young or old, we must keep the hope alive that things will get better one day. Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. I have many dreams.”
When working people stick together in a union, they gain the power in numbers to improve their jobs and the services they provide. But working people’s freedom to form a union is under attack. A case before the Supreme Court this year called Janus v AFSCME is the latest attempt by big corporations to rig the system against working people. Find out more and fight back by signing a union membership card.