Home Care Workers Win $15 Minimum Wage in Massachusetts

Home care workers have scored a major victory in a national fight to raise their pay, as Massachusetts has become the first state to enact a $15 per hour minimum starting wage.

The announcement came Thursday, following months of negotiations between the union representing home care workers—1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East—and the administration of recently elected Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Baker formerly was the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a not-for-profit health services company.

“As the senior population grows, the demand for home care services is increasing,” said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner, in a statement announcing the agreement. “By helping to ensure a living wage for these vital caregivers, Governor Baker is taking a critical step with us toward reducing workforce turnover and ensuring that Massachusetts families can access the quality home care they need for their loved ones.”

The negotiations with the Baker administration were spurred in part by rallies and other actions that Bay State union members undertook as part of a national “Fight for $15” movement. This is a campaign that also includes fast-food employees and other unionized workers, and has involved protests, strikes and other actions that participants say are needed to ensure a living wage.

In February, home care workers launched a “blitz” of town hall meetings to draw attention to their cause. They have garnered high-profile support from the likes of Hillary Clinton and U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

Cities such as Seattle and Chicago have been on the leading edge of enacting $15 minimum wages for various kinds of workers involved in the Fight for $15. But the state-wide Massachusetts agreement marks a watershed moment for home care workers.

The agreement extends a current collective bargaining agreement and guarantees all personal care attendants statewide will receive the $15 minimum wage as of July 1, 2018. An immediate $0.30 raise goes into effect July 1, 2015, but part of that will be paid retroactively once the contract is ratified, according to 1199SEIU. PCAs will vote by mail ballot to ratify the contract extension and the terms of the wage increase.

There are more than 50,000 home care workers in Massachusetts, including those working for private agencies, according to The Boston Globe.

“The administration is grateful to SEIU 1199 members and leadership for their good faith negotiations, and pleased that PCAs will be appropriately compensated for the highly specialized care they provide,” Jim Conroy, senior adviser to the governor, said in a statement to the newspaper.

Union members had planned to picket the State House on June 30, but now will convene there to celebrate.

PCA Rosario Cabrera, 31, told the Globe that her family struggles to make ends meet even with her husband’s income as a machine operator. The increased wages will make a big difference, she said.

“I’m proud of what I do because I’m helping another human being life their life,” she told the Globe. “But it’s not fair if I can’t live my life.”

Some employers warn that a $15 minimum wage is untenable and might cause them to lay off workers. But some home health agency owners say that payment levels have to be competitive in order to attract top caregivers and remain competitive in a fast-growing sector. Jim Borngesser, owner of Jacksonville, Florida-based Family Focused Home Health Care, is among them.

“I think agencies will have to realize you have to pay more to get what you want,” Borngesser told HHCN in March.

Written by Tim Mullaney