Home care workers are one of the largest groups of front-line health care workers who provide a critical link in successful health care and rehabilitation. Such jobs are precarious and mostly performed by women and minorities: low wages and benefits, unsafe working conditions, emotionally and physically draining labor, and lack of career advancement. In particular, the most recent study shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were pushed to higher workloads without receiving sufficient personal protective equipment, COVID-19 related information, training, or support from their agencies. This all, in turn, risks the quality of services for older adults, people with disabilities, and other service users. The median caregiver turnover rate across the industry was 82% in 2018. This high turnover rate among home care workers creates a significant service gap.
In order to improve precarious working conditions of home care workers, a labor union, 1199 SEIU, has organized home care workers for the last several decades in NYC. This study aims to understand if and how labor union approaches for home care workers affected their workers’ job crafting. Job Crafting refers to the process of workers proactively crafting their job designs by changing task (adding, dropping, and redesigning tasks), relational (creating, sustaining, or avoiding relationships), and cognitive boundaries (reframing the meaning of the job). It captures the active changes workers make to their own job design in ways that can bring about numerous positive outcomes.
This paper uses a qualitative case study. We interviewed 15 home care worker members of 1199 SEIU in NYC. We use semi-structured in-depth interviews with audio recording (some in person and some through Zoom) and participatory observation. This study uses template analysis, which is a method of thematically organizing qualitative data by developing a coding template.
This study found that 1199’s strategies positively encouraged home care workers’ job crafting. In specific, job training and educational programs promoted task and cognitive crafting. They applied what they learned from training to their tasks and extended their tasks in order to better satisfy their clients’ needs. In addition, they began to think of themselves as a professional and developed aspirational career plans. Leadership training encouraged them to pursue a higher level of involvement in 1199 and to voluntarily take more tasks like being a delegate. Through this process, they began to consider themselves as an agent who brings changes into their work environment. Relationship building opportunity and advocacy activities promoted interviewees’ relational and cognitive crafting. By participating in diverse meetings arranged by 1199, they began to value other members of 1199 like a family and to engage in advocacy activities. This led cognitive crafting in that they began to believe that they have power because they are protected by 1199 and can change policies and work environments by working together.
These results imply that labor union's support can be important for precarious workers who lack individual resources and power to develop job crafting, which proactively change their work environment and meaning of their job.