Nursing home workers join those seeking $15 an hour

State House News Service
Last modified: 1/29/2016 2:03:32 PM
BOSTON — Nursing home workers joined the ranks of airport workers, fast food employees, personal care attendants and others pushing for a $15 hourly minimum wage on Tuesday as advocates called on Gov. Charlie Baker to back their quest for a higher pay rate.

Members of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association on Tuesday delivered a letter to Baker’s office, asking for his support on an initiative to increase wages for certified nurse aides and the dietary, laundry and housekeeping staffs at nursing homes.

“By investing directly in nursing home staff, Massachusetts will remain a leader in providing quality care for residents and their families and improving the lives of thousands of workers across the Commonwealth,” the letter reads. “More than 77,000 men and women work tirelessly in the state’s nursing facilities to ensure that each resident’s social, personal and nursing care needs are met with great compassion and skill.”

The association, which represents over 400 facilities across the state, says it gathered more than 8,700 signatures from nursing home residents, their relatives, workers and other caregivers over a two-week period in December. The signatures were presented to Baker’s staff in three cardboard boxes, topped with a red glitter bow.

The association wants to see $90 million allocated in the fiscal 2017 budget for a “rate add-on for wages, benefits and related employee costs.” Baker plans to file his fiscal 2017 budget proposal on Jan. 27.

The money would be distributed to nursing homes based on the number of residents whose care is paid for by Medicaid, said Tara Gregorio, the association’s senior vice president. Facilities would have to demonstrate those funds were used to increase wages and benefits.

The association also wants to see language in the budget requiring the add-on to be adjusted with inflation in the future. If pay for certified nurse aides had been tied to inflation over the past eight years, it would already be at $15 an hour, Gregorio said.

According to the senior care association, certified nurse aides earned a median wage of $13.36 in 2015, with a median $10.33 for dietary aides, $11.10 for housekeeping aides and $11.07 for laundry aides.

Gregorio said the association’s proposal includes “solutions to how we might find the money.”

“For example, we’re really looking for the state to leverage federal dollars,” she said. “There are federal dollars that are available to the state, so in a lot of ways we could do this without any cost of the state.”

Gregorio said a nursing home’s ability to increase spending on staff, wages and patient care is “largely dependent” on government funding because 70 percent of nursing home residents have their care paid for by MassHealth.

On Jan. 1, the Massachusetts minimum wage rose to $10 an hour, tying the Bay State with California for the highest statewide pay floor in the country. The wage floor is set to rise to $11 at the start of 2017.

Workers in several industries have been fighting for higher base pay in their fields, with some success. Last November, the Legislature’s Labor and Workforce Development Committee endorsed a bill (S 1024) that would set a $15 minimum wage for workers at fast food chains and so-called big box stores. Two major Boston hospitals, Tufts Medical Center and Boston Medical Center, recently agreed to a starting pay of at least $15 for their workers.

“We feel as if there’s equal opportunity, or should be, for CNAs to also earn $15,” Gregorio said.


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