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Following Seattle's Minimum Wage Increase, Home Care Workers Push For $15 An Hour

Ashley Gross
Ubah Aden, a home care worker in Seattle, at a rally calling for a new state contract that phases in a $15/hour minimum wage for independent home care workers

The union that represents home care workers across Washington state is calling for a new contract that phases in a $15-an-hour minimum wage. They’re hoping Seattle’s recent vote to gradually hike the wage floor will help bolster their argument. 

Home care workers take care of elderly and disabled people so they don’t have to live in a facility. The state and federal governments pay their salaries through Medicaid.

Every two years, their union, SEIU 775, bargains with the state for a new contract, and they recently started bargaining for the next one.

Sharon Kitchel earns $10.98 an hour taking care of a 23-year-old man who needs full-time assistance in Olympia. She says it may be a bit tougher to get $15 an hour for home care workers statewide than it was in Seattle, but she’s optimistic.

"You know it could be harder, but we are strong together and we stand and we make miracles happen," Kitchel said, as she boarded a bus for a statewide tour from Seattle to Spokane to advocate for the higher wage.

SEIU 775 represents about 35,000 independent home care workers in Washington state like Kitchel. They won the right to collectively bargain after voters approved a statewide initiative in 2001.

Similar to Seattle’s approach, union spokesman Jackson Holtz says they’re advocating that the state raise the wage for home care workers in phases.

"Fifteen dollars right away would be terrific, but we believe that’s probably not realistic, so we’re asking instead for a pathway to $15," he said. 

Once the union and state officials reach a contract agreement, the governor includes that amount in his budget proposal and the legislature votes on it.

"We realize that when the state requires more money to pay for services like taking care of older adults and people with disabilities... the state also needs to find revenue to support that, which is one of the reasons why we're asking that the legislature consider closing tax loopholes for big corporations that are earnings billions and billions of dollars," Holtz said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.