COLORADO SPRINGS — Demand for caretakers and direct service professionals or DPSs. has been rising steadily as more people are diagnosed with disabilities and the population becomes older. However, conditions within the industry have caused many to leave, and others to consider unionization.
There are around 60,000 caretakers providing assistance to their clients every day in Colorado. This profession has around a 60% turnover rate every year. By 2028, Colorado will need 80,000 more DSPs to meet demand.
Melissa Benjamin was a caretaker of 20 years in Colorado Springs. She says she was the exact type of person to do the work.
"I really enjoyed taking care of the people that I took care of for as long as I did, I just could no longer afford to feed my kids, I could no longer afford to pay my rent," said Benjamin.
She says she left the industry to organize with fellow former caretakers and form Colorado Careworkers Unite, a local union. Last year, they successfully advocated for a bill to set the minimum wage for Medicaid care workers in the state to $15 an hour.
But Benjamin says that's not enough. Poor working conditions and alleged wage theft from several private care companies have prompted them to create the employee bill of rights.
The bill of rights currently has 50 state legislators supporting it. The bill includes items like guaranteed livable wages, minimum benefits, a workplace free from harm, and decision-making power.
"Historically, caseworkers have been women, mostly women of color, making low wages with no benefits and no real labor protections," says Benjamin.
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