Ten years ago, Rosa Villegas decided to leave her $20-an-hour job in the Social Security Administration to care for her youngest son suffering from autism, Down Syndrome and other ailments.
She is one of hundreds of home workers who take care of loved ones without sick leave, vacation, or any other benefits.
Until a couple of years ago, she earned $9 an hour. She’s currently earning $11 an hour. Now Villegas is among the millions of California workers who would make $15 an hour because of the state minimum wage increase law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 4.
Villegas was in downtown Los Angeles for the momentous occasion.
“I was honored and proud to be there. We wanted to be sure that he would sign it,” said Villegas, a Van Nuys resident.
For years Villegas took part in marches, protests, phone calls and letter signings, urging legislators to raise the pay for home care workers.
“I cried with happiness,” she said, after seeing Brown stamp his signature on the law. “This will benefit millions of people.”
For Villegas, it would mean putting a few more dollars in her pocket and give her son Leo, now 17, a “better quality of life.”
“We’re going to eat better, pay all my bills,” said Villegas.
Her husband is on disability, and her low pay has meant mounting credit card debt, and being behind on the mortgage and other payments. While she does save money by not having to travel outside to work, “I’d rather go to work outside and earn more money and have a pension and sick days,” Villegas said
But that’s not really an option. Ten years ago doctors recommended she place Leo in a center for special kids, and Villegas opposed it adamantly. She decided to stay home and take care of him personally.
“I didn’t want that for him. He needed a nurse full time, and we didn’t have the money for it. Who better than his mother to take care of him,” Villegas said.
She’s an activist for her son and other home care workers, whom she said are often discriminated against by people who don’t consider what they do as real work.
That’s why Villegas constantly pressured legislators to recognize what she does for her son “as real work” and make them aware that “no one can live on $9 an hour, especially not in this state.”
“We’ve made a lot of sacrifices. It was a lot of work, but we achieved [the minimum wage increase],” Villegas said.
“This will mean a better quality of life for all of us. Having a fair wage is a right.”