More than 100 caregivers rally in Spokane for $15

“Drive for Dignity: $15 for caregivers” statewide bus tour
ends with call to legislature for better wages

SPOKANE – A 400-mile statewide bus tour wrapped up Thursday at Riverfront Park with more than 100 caregivers demanding a pathway to a $15 wage.

“If Seattle can do it, Washington can pass a $15 wage for caregivers. We take care of the state’s most vulnerable people and we still live in poverty,” said Anna Rudova, a caregiver from Edmonds. The SEIU 775 member got on the bus in Seattle on Tuesday. “Each day I do hard work to help my client live at home with dignity. But until I get paid $15, I won’t feel like I have dignity as a caregiver.”

Home care aides are among the fastest growing professions in the United State. Yet most Washington caregivers earn a $10.50 starting wage. The low wage results in about a third of the state’s 40,000 caregivers living in poverty, according to state statistics.

“Caregivers take care of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we need to take care of them by making sure they’re paid a living wage,” State Rep. Marcus Riccelli told caregivers at Thursday’s rally in Spokane.

Lawmakers and senior advocates supported each stop of the statewide bus tour.

“I want people who are receiving home care to be in a safe place to live, to have enough food on the table, to be treated with dignity and respect and to enjoy continuity of care,” said Robby Stern, president of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action. Stern, who spoke at the Seattle kick-off on Tuesday, said home care workers can save for education and retirement if they earned a higher wage. “A $15 wage will benefit our community.”

Although some caregivers in Seattle can expect a $15 wage in seven years – as mandated under the city’s new law – most caregivers in Washington must rely on a state contract to raise wages.

Independent providers of home care, workers who are paid through the Medicaid system, make up the majority of the state’s long-term care workforce. They collectively bargain with the state every two years. The most recent contract, signed by Gov. Inslee in 2013, starts at $10.50. Union members and state labor negotiators began last month to negotiate a new contract.

“We must prepare now for the coming age wave,” Rudova said. “Only when we all start at $15 will we be able to attract enough workers to care for the growing number of seniors.”

One in five Washington residents will be 65 or older by 2030, according to demographic trends. And about 70 percent of people over 65 will require long-term care at some point, studies show.

Home and community-based long-term care costs the state about one-third of institutional care, making investments in home care aides both a way to provide more compassionate care for seniors and people with disabilities and save the state money.

Higher minimum wages also helps fuel local economies. When workers get paid more, they buy more from small businesses, economists say.

The three-day bus tour started Tuesday morning in Seattle on Tuesday, before making stops in Everett and Tri-Cities, and ending in Spokane. More than 60 low-wage workers made the 400-mile trek.

Each stop is featuring a rally and demonstrations of the hard work caregivers perform each day for their clients.

SEIU 775 represents 43,000 long-term care workers in Washington and Montana.

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