Home Care Workers Protest Nationwide for $15 Wage

Nationwide, home care workers protested on Tuesday, Nov. 28, to push for a $15 minimum wage, with many risking arrest. The planned “day of civil disobedience” was organized by the national organization Fight for $15, which lobbies for a $15 minimum wage and union rights, and is supported by workers from fast food, home care, child care, airports and higher education.

Hundreds of thousands of workers took part in the protest in cities all over the country. The date marks the fourth anniversary of the Fight for $15’s first protest, when fast food workers walked off the job to protest for higher wages in New York City.

Home care workers on the front lines of the protest were arrested in numerous cities, including Detroit, Milwaukee and locations in Minnesota. Some home care clients protested with their caregivers. Home care workers have an average annual salary of $13,300, making it one of the lowest-paying jobs despite being one of the most in-demand jobs. Home care workers protested Tuesday on their time off or day off, and patients were not left without care.

Renita Wilson, a home care worker in Detroit, who makes $8.50 per hour, was arrested early Tuesday morning for taking part in the protest. In addition, her client, Carl Watkins, stood with Wilson in civil disobedience. Watkins decided to join Wilson in support of higher wages and the right to unionize, she told Home Health Care News.

“My expectations this morning were to show up and let them hear our voices that we will not back down,” Wilson told HHCN. “This is our right, and we deserve it. As far as being arrested, I have never been arrested before. It’s not comfortable, but it’s for a great cause, and I would do it again. I have no regrets.”

Wilson has 21 years of home care experience and has been involved with the Fight for $15 for three years.

Moving the Needle

The protests and arrests come as the push for a higher federal minimum wage has gained significant momentum, thanks in part to grassroots movements like the Fight for $15. The momentum culminated in the recent national election, which saw four states approve higher minimum wage rates in ballot measures. A few states, including New York and California, have already adopted minimum wage increases that will reach $15 per hour in the next few years. Some cities, such as Seattle and Washington D.C., have similarly adopted a path to $15 per hour.

Avonne Hargrove, a home care worker based in Philadelphia, has noticed the minimum wage movement gaining steam in the past few years, with more mentions of home care workers during the recent presidential race, she told Home Health Care News. Hargrove has 19 years of experience in the home care industry, and was taking part in the protest after caring for her patients earlier in the day.

Currently, she makes $13.45 per hour and is limited to 30 hours per week by the agency that employs her. Her main motivation to protest for the first time and risk arrest is “for the future,” she said.

“The main reason is for my grandkids,” she told HHCN. “The need better opportunities. When they go out and get a job, I want them to be able to take care of themselves.”

Since the Fight for $15’s first protest in 2012, 22 million workers have seen wage hikes, with more than 10 million guaranteed a path to $15 per hour over the next few years, according to the advocacy group.

Union groups like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has roughly 2 million members working in the health care industry, public sector and property services, supports a $15 minimum wage. Union members across the country joined the protests Tuesday. SEIU did not respond to requests for comment from HHCN as of press time.

Added Business Pressures

Opponents of a higher federal minimum wage, and specifically an hourly wage as high as $15, say the financial impact on businesses will actually hurt the lowest paid workers in the end. To pay for higher wages, employers may have to cut staff numbers and/or reduce numbers, according to Tom Rogan, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a right-leaning news organization that contributes to Forbes.

Some home care companies hit by higher minimum wage regulations have reportedly struggled with the added pressures, and have been forced into seeking alternative business options.

The Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) cautioned its home care members about retaliating against any workers that take part in peaceful protests Tuesday. HCAOA did not respond to requests for comment from HHCN as of press time.

With a potential caregiver shortage on horizon for the growing number of seniors, higher wages may be a necessity to continue recruiting enough workers to the space. While fast food workers were among the throngs of low-paid workers in the protest Tuesday, the home care industry has seen some of its caregivers jump ship in favor of working within the fast food industry, where wages can be higher.

Written by Amy Baxter