Home Health Care Workers Win $16 Hourly Wage

The Fight for $15 may be just the beginning. About 34,000 state-contracted home health caregivers in Washington state have fought for a wage of $16 per hour, and won.

Specifically, by the time their contract expires in 2019, the average wage for state-contracted caregivers will exceed $16 per hour.

The newly negotiated contract also doubles the retirement funding from the state, includes an increase in paid time off, and guarantees a raise of 50 cents an hour for caregivers who undergo certain advanced training, Public News Service reported.

The caregivers represented in this contract work with elderly patients and kids with disabilities, and some are parents who provide care for their disabled adult children.

“It’s a respectable field. It’s something that I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I do anymore—because I felt like we were considered glorified babysitters,” Melissa Ringer, a Washington State Individual Provider and member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 775 bargaining team, told Public News Service. “These wins help caregivers to produce better caregivers.”

The bargaining team will turn to the Washington Legislature in an effort to guarantee the new contract is funded for 2017.

As the average age of Washington’s population quickly rises, politicians are changing how they view at-home caregivers, Ringer added.

“The baby boomers are aging out, and a lot of our politicians are now seeing this real world, what’s happening with their families,” Ringer told Public News Service. “Family members need to be taken care of and we want good, quality caregivers to go in your home, and this contract helps us to produce those.”

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, a recently approved bill means home care workers will now earn at least $15 per hour by 2020. Additionally, in California, more than 440,000 health care workers will see their pay increase over time to $15 an hour by 2022. And in New York, minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $15 an hour—first in New York City, and then elsewhere.

While these wage increases have workers cheering, home health care agencies are under pressure as labor costs mount nationwide.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson