Flexibility or Security? In-Home Personal Support in Ontario and California

cynthia crawford

This study compares tensions, alliances and compromises between worker security and service user flexibility within personal support services. It compares in-home personal support -- help with activities of daily living provided to people with disabilities or elderly people – across three models in Ontario, Canada and California, USA using qualitative interviews from multiple viewpoints. It finds security and limited flexibility in Ontario Attendant Services, flexibility and insecurity in Ontario Direct Funding and some flexibility with security in California’s In-Home Supportive Services. Gender, disability and racial inequalities, state policies, employer practices and disability and labour movement strategies shape the relationship between flexibility and security. Yet worker and service user experiences reveal a varied relationship across two levels: labour market (who provides services) and intimate labour process (what is done, when, where, how). Direct Funding users’ labour market flexibility coincides with an intimate flexibility, resulting in worker insecurity at both levels. Attendant Service workers’ job security conflicts with users’ labour market flexibility, yet there is potential to negotiate flexibility with security in the labour process. In California IHSS, an innovative alliance between labour and disability movements achieved some labour market security with flexibility but it is limited by insufficient attention to the intimate labour process.

Dr Cynthia Cranford is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She is the co-author of Self-employed Workers Organize (2005 McGill-Queens University Press), and of several articles on economic restructuring, immigration and union renewal published in Gender & Society, Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, Social Problems, Work, Employment and Society and elsewhere. She is currently writing a book comparing the social organisation of personal support services in California and Ontario from the vantage points of workers, service users, labour and disability activists, employers and state officials.

Chair: Professor Deb Brennan

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