November is National Family Caregivers Month. Caregivers need this kind of recognition and appreciation and much more. They need support in carrying out their crucial missions to care for the elderly of society. It is possible that a union for family caregivers would lift some of the burden from their shoulders as well as result in better care for seniors.
Unions are a significant factor in many workers' lives. Used properly, a union can help to ensure fair treatment and living wages for its members. Yet some occupations have no unions, even though the people in those occupations surely could benefit from one. One such group of workers are those relatives who provide free care to an elderly family member. Here are some reasons why family caregivers need a union.
Medicare does not, for the most part, pay anything to people who provide care for a family member. This is true even though caregivers work at caregiving just as hard as they would at a full-time job. In fact, almost half of family caregivers spend at least 30 hours each week providing caregiving services. That's almost like holding a full-time position. For some, those hours are given in addition to the full-time hours they put in at paying jobs.
Yet, with a few exceptions for seniors who are in the lower income brackets, Medicare refuses to pay these caregivers. This makes no sense, because many caregivers are forced to continue working another job in addition to providing care. This costs society more in the end. Working so hard leads to faster burnout and to health problems for the family caregivers. Then, when they are no longer able to provide care, their elderly loved ones go to nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Both are significantly more expensive than it would be to pay caregivers a decent wage for their services. At that point, Medicaid often ends up paying much more for care than it would have had the caregiver been supported enough to keep providing care.
Unionizing could help caregivers form a single unified voice. This voice could influence lawmakers to pass laws recognizing caregivers for their contributions and paying them for their services.
In fact, some federal and state laws do protect people who need to take leave from work under certain circumstances. However, the sad reality is that many caregivers have no such protection. Sometimes employers retaliate against them for taking time off work to provide care for their elderly loved ones. This means that, barring action under a different federal or state plan, many caretakers find their work lives compromised. They may be in danger of missing promotions, receiving smaller than normal raises (or no raises at all), or suffering other career-damaging consequences. Sadly, these are not unusual results of the decision to sacrifice one's self to care for an elderly loved one.
Many employers view employees who must act as caregivers as liabilities. Such employers will not hesitate to cut hours, reduce benefits, or even let caregiver employees go. Again, there are a few protections provided under certain federal and state laws, but not nearly enough. As a result, many caregivers find themselves suffering financially from their decision to act as a caregiver even years after their caregiving duties have ended.
This is a serious issue. In fact, the majority of caregivers find their work schedules impacted by caring for their elderly loved ones. In like manner, nearly one out of every five caregivers misses a large amount of work. As such, the numbers of caregivers who may be subject to employer retaliation is significant.
A caregiver union would be able to push for better laws protecting caregivers. What's more, it could provide information and resources to caregivers whose employers have unfairly punished them for acting as caregivers.
When an elderly person needs medical supplies, medications, and other things, caregivers frequently find themselves footing the bills. Overall, almost half of all caregivers spend at least $5,000 each year purchasing things that their elderly loved ones need. Many spend significantly more. Some spend literally tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to purchase things for their patients.
If the elderly patients were in facilities covered by Medicare, obviously these things would be covered. Thus, it makes sense for the government to provide some level of reimbursement to caregivers when they purchase things the government would pay for if they were not acting as caregivers.
Yet without a powerful lobbying bloc, caregivers may find lawmakers ignoring their situations. Unionizing would provide caregivers with a voice in Washington and their respective state legislatures.
Acting as a caregiver is a serious undertaking. It means dedicating long hours to a difficult and often thankless job. What's more, it means juggling yet one more responsibility in life, and it can quickly cause burn out. In addition to all that, it can lead to permanent career damage. By unionizing, caregivers could band together and give themselves a voice. They then could use that voice to obtain more protections than they currently have.
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