Rally for $15 minimum wage comes to Everett

EVERETT — Unionized caregivers and their supporters on Tuesday rallied during a stop on a statewide bus tour, part of a campaign for a phased-in $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Washington’s aging population means the state needs more home-care aides, but the workforce has huge turnover — fueled by low wages, according to at least one study.

“If our work is so important, why does the government pay us so little?” said Anna Rudova, a home-care worker who lives in Edmonds. She and others spoke at a gathering in the amphitheater outside the Snohomish County administration buildings.

Rudova is one of about 4,000 caregivers in Snohomish County represented by Service Employees International Union Local 775, which represents about 41,000 providers across the state and another 2,000 in Montana.

Workers whose compensation comes from Medicaid often don’t get full-time work. During the recession, the state cut work hours to help close budget shortfalls, said Jackson Holtz, a spokesman for SEIU Local 775.

With less-than-full-time work, it takes longer for caregivers to move up negotiated wage scales. After 13 years, Rudova earns a little more than $3 over the starting wage of $10.50 an hour.

The entry wage “is nothing. People try to get more hours or work other jobs. I know people who work two or three jobs,” she said.

The SEIU is pushing for a path to a $15 hourly starting wage in negotiations with the state for a new two-year contract for about 35,000 independent home-care providers, who are paid through the Medicaid system. The talks began last month.

The caregivers’ campaign got a boost last week when the Seattle City Council approved a $15 minimum wage that will be phased in over several years. Private caregivers will be getting $15 an hour, adjusted for inflation, in seven years.

“We would be supportive of a similar timetable” to the Seattle one, Holtz said.

Low wages are a big part of the reason why about half of all home-care workers in Washington leave their jobs each year, according to a 2012 study by two University of Washington faculty members in cooperation with SEIU Local 775.

More than 20 percent of Washington home-care workers and their families live in poverty, according to the study.

The researchers recommend an hourly wage of $17.58, a “living wage” for a single parent to support a child.

Washington’s 65-and-over population has been rapidly growing in recent years. That trend is expected to peak in 2020, and by 2030, they should make up about one-fifth of everyone in the state, according to the state’s Office of Financial Management.

The rally’s noise brought out Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, who stepped onto the temporary stage. “Thank you for the tremendous work you do,” he said. “I hope you are adequately compensated for it.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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