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Unionization could help home health care workers, experts say

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Health & Fitness

Paul Osterman, in his 2017 book, "Who will care for us? Long-term care and the long-term workforce," wrote that "it is clear that with respect to hourly wages, home care aides benefit from organization," although median wages can provide a mixed picture nationwide.

Existing situations

Wages for caregivers in Washington state, where the minimum wage is $13.69 per hour, are higher than in many other states.

Nationally, the median hourly wages for home care workers stood at just under $13 per hour in 2020, according to the care research and advocacy group PHI. In Washington state, the median hourly wage for home health and personal care aides stood at more than $15 per hour.

Young has seen her own wages rise from around $7 in the early 2000s before she was a union member to more than $19 an hour today. Some workers, according to SEIU, average more than $20 per hour with hazard pay.

"Today, home care workers in Washington state are among the best compensated in the country. It certainly wasn't always that way. When workers started to form a union back in 2000, 2001, caregivers here made minimum wage," according to Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer for SEIU Local 775, which represents about 45,000 workers in Washington State and a few thousand more in Montana.

 

SEIU represents about 500,000 home care workers nationwide.

Individual health care, a retirement program, raises based on experience, added training and more personal protective equipment during the pandemic are some of what Glickman described as union wins. Hazard pay during the pandemic, an extra $2.50 per hour, is another.

"The increased wages created a big role in helping people to survive and stay in these jobs. The challenge now is caregivers don't just need the living wage during the pandemic, they need it all the time," Glickman said, noting that the union would like to see health care coverage in Washington state expanded to include dependents but to date that has remained out of reach.

Eileen Boris, Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said unionization or, in a broader sense, organization of caregivers is crucial for creating the infrastructure for a stable and well-paid labor force to serve a rapidly aging population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, adults 65 and older will outnumber people 18 and younger by 2034.

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