SEIU Healthcare pay pact lauded but will it be enough?

Pay increases should be coming for direct support workers, who provide care to Minnesotans with disabilities. But will those wage increases […]

soulful moment. portrait of mother and her beloved son with disability in rehabilitation center

Pay increases should be coming for direct support workers, who provide care to Minnesotans with disabilities. But will those wage increases be enough?

 Debate has flared on social media over the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa announcement that starting wages could rise from $15.25 to $20 per hour by 2025 for new workers. Experienced staff could see additional wage increases. 

The 31 percent increase is seen as way to bring new workers to a field where they are desperately needed. Union leaders, people with disabilities and their family members applauded the negotiated contracts, which goes to union members, then the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz for approvals. If the contract is signed by Walz, it goes into effect July 1. 

The pact would cover more than 20,000 caregivers across the state. Walz praised the measure, calling it “historic.” The contract would cover between one-fourth to one-third of the state’s home care providers. 

The broader industry of roughly 100,000 personal care and home health aides has been strained to the limit. More people with disabilities and elders need services but cannot hire staff. 

The agreement includes a historic wage increase, raising wages for new workers from $15.25 to $20 by 2025. The agreement also takes important steps toward professionalizing home care in Minnesota, establishing a wage scale to provide higher pay based on experience in the field for the first time and ensuring that all new caregivers entering the workforce receive a high-quality orientation. 

But is the proposed wage increase enough, in light of a general labor shortage where even fast food workers can make more than $20 per hour? Members of a Facebook group called Waiver Reimagine Minnesota DHS Disability RIGHTS Issues have debated the proposed increase. One poster, Kathy K Dub, has a child with disabilities. She recounted having a recent hire quit after one shift, because the caregiving tasks were too difficult. Describing the many tasks care workers provide, she said, no one is coming in at $20 an hour to do the myriad of caregiver tasks. 

“Nobody is coming in 2023 for $20 per hour to help adult men & women with disabilities to live quality, happy, lives,” Dub said. “Nobody. The wage goes up to $20 in 2025. Nobody will come today for $20 in 2023. The work ‘is too hard’ The work is ‘more than I can manage’.” 

Others disagree and praised the tentative agreement. 

Tavona Johnson is a veteran home care worker from Austin, who served on the bargaining team. “Winning a wage scale makes me feel recognized, seen, heard, and shown some respect and appreciation for my chosen profession as a homecare worker by compensating me for my dedication in a way that is meaningful and can actually cause positive change in my life. I feel that together with the big wage floor increase, this new wage scale means that home care workers will be able to protect our own dignity and integrity by having the option to work our way out of poverty and maybe not having to work multiple jobs any more to make ends meet,” Johnson said. 

Highlights include: 
• A $3.75 (25 percent) wage increase to $19 per hour for all workers in 2024 
• An additional increase to $20 per hour (a 31 percent increase over the current wage floor) in 2025 
• The establishment for the first time of a wage scale rewarding home care workers for their years of experience, bringing long-time caregivers up to as much as $22.50 per hour (a 48 percent increase over the current wage floor) in 2025 
• A one-time $1,000 retention bonus for any worker who has provided home care for six months or longer, beginning in July 2023 
• A long overdue professionalization of the home care workforce through the establishment of an orientation program for new caregivers 

Lauren Thompson, a home care client who was on the bargaining team, emphasized the importance of the contract for people who rely on home care services. “As someone who receives home care services, I am relieved and hopeful with this deal. I have been part of previous bargaining teams and the wage increases are at a level we have never seen before. That speaks to the great progress in understanding the value of this work and what it means to disabled people and our communities that we’ve been able to make over the last few years,” Thompson said. 

Kerry Adelmann, a family caregiver who has cared for her disabled son for the last seven years, also supports the agreement. “One of the things that is so important to me is knowing I can hand off this work to someone who will be caring for my son when I can’t do the work any longer. This isn’t just a job for so many of us. Raising wages and making this a real career gives me hope that I’ll be able to get help and more people will want to do this important work. This can and should be a beautiful career, but that has gotten lost because of the miserably low wages. . . . It’s a relief to me, as a mother and a family caregiver, that we now have a path to bring other people in who choose to do this work. These gains are worth all the hard work we had to put in to get here.”

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