By SHERI GASSAWAY
Home care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the nation. But those jobs often consist of low wages, a lack of training and support and no benefits. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Hundreds of home care workers from private and public sectors met in St. Louis last week for the Home Care Workers Rising Summit to discuss the issues facing home care workers, including the need for livable wages and Medicaid expansion to help families with loved ones who need home care workers in order to continue living in their homes.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the AFL-CIO and the Missouri Home Care Union were represented.
Home care workers in Missouri’s Consumer Directed Service Program earn about $8.60 an hour. Several summit participants attended an Oct. 7 rally at the Wainwright State Office Building to demand Gov. Jay Nixon raise the pay of those workers to $11 an hour.
(Editor's Note: After almost a year of bargaining, Missouri home care workers reached an agreement with the state's Quality Home Care Council on Tuesday, Oct. 20, that will raise wages from an average of $8.58 per hour up to $10.15 per hour for many. Home care workers will also receive holiday pay for the first time.)
WORKER AND CONSUMER RIGHTS
Sponsored by Caring Across Generations, in partnership with local and national unions and consumer and disability rights advocates, the two-day event, Oct. 6-7, at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand focused on the need for quality care, quality jobs and the rights of consumers and care workers to live and dignity and independence.
The event included interactive training and strategy sessions focused on building solidarity among home care workers through employ organizing and the creation coalitions to address home care challenges and opportunities.
Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice and co-director of Caring Across Generations, said there are currently 3 million home care workers employed in the United States. In 20 years, it’s estimated, 27 million people will need support and care to live independently.
“That’s an enormous gap, and we don’t have the workforce to meet those needs because of low wages,” Gupta said. “The wages aren’t livable, and it impacts the workers’ abilities to take care of themselves and their families. Workers burn out all the time.”
Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, said it’s not just labor issues affecting the care of the elderly and disabled. Many families and individuals are struggling to find and afford the care they need, she said, because they don’t meet the income requirements to qualify for Medicaid.
“What we should be doing is expanding our Medicaid program, but every election cycle, there are threats about cutting critical Medicaid services. The need for care is exploding, but our current system isn’t working for anyone. Every way you look at it, people are struggling.”
CALL TO ACTION
Caring Across America is asking voters to become home care champions by supporting a living wage for home care workers and quality care for all families. The Caring Majority campaign encourages participants to make home care a priority when they head to the polls Nov. 4.
“While it’s important to organize and build partnerships, we also need to get consumers, employees and seniors together to call upon our elected officials to develop a solution to improve jobs and provide affordable care for all,” Poo said.
To join the Caring Majority campaign, visit www.caringmajority.org.
For more information on Caring Across Generations, visit caringacross.org.
Home care workers rally for higher wages
Downtown St. Louis – About 100 people joined forces here Oct. 7, demanding that Gov. Jay Nixon raise wages for home care workers in Missouri’s Consumer Directed Services Program.
The rally, in front of the Wainwright State Office Building, included home care workers and their patients, union officials, lawmakers and other community leaders.
Several participants from a national home worker summit held nearby also attended the event.
Missouri home care workers have reached an historic agreement with the state's Quality Home Care Council on Tuesday, Oct. 21, that will raise wages from an average of $8.58 per hour up to $10.15 per hour. Home care workers will also receive holiday pay for the first time.