Anticipating age wave, legislature funds improvements for caregivers

OLYMPIA (July 1, 2013) – Caregivers, the people who provide daily services for Washington’s most vulnerable, will receive a $1/hour wage increase during the 2013-2015 biennium raising the starting wage to $11/hour, the first raise for caregivers since 2008. A smaller subset of experienced and trained home care workers will qualify for a career wage of $15/hour, closer to a living wage. The compensation improvements for low-wage workers were approved under a new contract funded Friday by the Legislature.

“Washington is proud of our reputation for providing the best long-term care to our most vulnerable citizens,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I’m proud to sign a budget that helps stabilize the skilled, long-term care workforce and helps Washington remain a national leader.”

Adoption of the 2013-2015 Washington budget included funding for a new contract for individual providers of home care supports and services. More than 43,000 members of SEIU Healthcare 775NW provide critical care for more than 52,000 seniors and people with disabilities. In addition to the 30,000 individual provider home-care workers covered by the contract, the wage bump also triggers vendor rate increases for private agencies serving Medicaid clients. SEIU members are now bargaining with these private agencies over new contracts using this increased funding.

The newest contract is part of the long-term investment the state is making to prepare for the coming age wage. More than one-in-five Washington residents will be over 65 by 2030, according to state statistics.

All home care workers will receive a raise of 50-cents per year, increasing starting pay from $10/hour to $11/hour by July 2014. Caregivers who have worked 14,000 hours – the equivalent of seven years of full-time work – will make just over $14.50/hour, and can earn an additional .50/hour through certification and advanced training.

“We work hard every day to provide quality, loving care to the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Monique Taylor-Swan, a SEIU 775 caregiver from Renton. “This contract is a good first step towards lifting caregivers out of poverty. Most caregivers will still make just $11/hour – not enough to support a family – but at least now there is a pathway to a living wage for experienced and well-trained home care workers.”

The need for caregivers in Washington will increase as the population ages and baby boomers reach retirement. Still, turnover among caregivers is high, the result of low wages and limited career options.

“Career caregivers like me are being recognized for our experience and our commitment to working for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Anna Rudova, a SEIU 775 caregiver in Edmonds, who will qualify for the career wage. More than 5,400 workers, caregivers with more than seven years experience, will qualify for a so-called career step by the end of the biennium. “Now, caregivers can earn close to a living wage if we remain in the field and stay committed to caring for the most vulnerable.”

The newest contract comes after caregivers were forced into arbitration by then Gov. Chris Gregoire. An independent arbitrator, former state Senator Sylvia Stratek, issued a contract last fall. Stratek said she balanced the state’s economic woes with the harsh reality many caregivers face while living in poverty. In her ruling, she determined that career caregivers help promote a stable long-term workforce to provide quality and reliable care to vulnerable.

The contract provides, “The opportunity to modestly improve (caregiver’s) financial situations which have been losing ground over the past several years while at the same time (the arbitrator) carefully considered the financial circumstances of the state of Washington,” Stratek wrote.

Voters statewide support providing fair wages for caregivers, according to a poll conducted earlier this year.

“Voters recognize the need to lift caregivers out of poverty,” SEIU 775 Secretary-Treasurer Adam Glickman said. “Our members will continue to fight tirelessly until all caregivers – individual providers, agency workers and nursing home aides – earn a living wage; and all these jobs are transformed into viable careers.”

SEIU 775NW members provide critical home care services to Washington’s most vulnerable citizens. Home care avoids placing this at-risk population into costly nursing homes.

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