The union represents more than 1.1 million workers in the healthcare industry and sees joining the $15 wage protests as a way to raise awareness of the relatively low pay for home health workers, an SEIU spokeswoman said. The SEIU has been supporting the fast-food workers efforts even though they are not members of SEIU. Demonstrations Thursday are planned in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities.
“We’re facing a care crisis,” the SEIU spokeswoman said. “We need an unprecedented amount of home care workers, and we need people who are paid well and are trained.”
The median hourly wage for home health aides in the U.S. is $9.38, according to data from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, an advocacy group for health workers who care for the disabled. One in 4 home health workers live in households below the federal poverty line, and more than 1 in 3 doesn’t have health insurance, according to PHI.
Workers in both the fast-food and home health sectors have struggled to attain higher wages and benefits, said Peter Lazes, director of the Healthcare Transformation Project, a program at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations that works with labor and management to improve the effectiveness of healthcare organizations.
“It’s even more significant that we’re not paying home care workers a living wage because of the kind of work they do that’s very important, in the sense that it’s someone’s life that they’re focusing on,” Lazes said.
The SEIU’s decision to have home health workers publicly join in the wage struggle comes not long after the Supreme Court ruled in June that home care workers who receive state funding for services but are employed by a private client cannot be forced to pay member fees if they decide not to join a union.
“We are determined to not let the Supreme Court ruling stand in our way. Our members really want to take action,” the SEIU spokeswoman said.
Higher wages will result in lower turnover rates, which will help reduce training costs for home care agencies, Lazes argued.
Liliana Cordero, a non-union home health aide in Chicago who makes $9.75 an hour, said she has to work for two home care agencies to make ends meet. She said many aides struggle to afford gas and maintenance for their personal vehicles, which are often used to transport patients. Cordero was reached for comment through the SEIU.
“I feel privileged having this job and I don’t want to lose it. I love what I do.” Cordero said. “I don’t want to go somewhere else because they pay more, considering that my passion is taking care of the elderly.”
Adam Rubenfire is a freelance writer based in Detroit.