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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 13 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 24
Drive for Dignity: Home healthcare workers take $15 an hour campaign on the road
Section One
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Drive for Dignity: Home healthcare workers take $15 an hour campaign on the road

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Home healthcare workers and their supporters kicked off a new phase of the campaign for a $15 minimum wage with an 8 a.m. rally in front of Seattle City Hall June 10.

'Drive for Dignity: $15 for caregivers,' their banner read.

The workers, who provide in-home care for seniors and disabled patients, offer vital services but are typically some of the state's lowest-paid workers. Fresh from the successful campaign to get a $15-an-hour wage in Seattle, they are setting out on a three-day bus tour to take the campaign state-wide.

'We see Seattle as the first step in winning $15 an hour for home healthcare workers statewide,' Sterling Harding, Vice President of SEIU 775NW, told SGN at the rally.

SEIU (Service Employees International Union) 775NW represents some 40,000 workers - many of them home healthcare providers - and was the driving force behind the successful $15 minimum wage initiative in SeaTac last year. SEIU 775NW President David Rolf was also co-chair of the committee that drafted with Seattle's new minimum wage ordinance.

Sixty caregivers and supporters will hit Everett, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane on the bus tour, picking up additional supporters on the way.

'We're taking this around the state,' home health aide Sharon Kitchel told reporters at the rally, 'to let other caregivers know we are a profession, we love our profession, and we should be treated with dignity.'

Kitchel now makes $10.98 an hour, and because she lives and works in Olympia, she will not see an increase in her wages as a result of Seattle's new minimum wage ordinance.

Wages for home healthcare workers start at $10.53 an hour, she explained, with a 15-25 cent increase after every 2000 hours worked.

'There's no way my wage will ever get to $15 that way!' she exclaimed.

Kitchel later told SGN she has worked in her profession for 23 years, and became an SEIU 775NW member in 2005. Asked if union membership made a difference in her life, she replied brightly 'Oh, yes!'

'Before [joining the union] I barely made minimum wage, I didn't get mileage, I couldn't afford healthcare for myself. Once I joined [the union], I got a raise immediately, I got mileage, I get healthcare for $17 a month.'

Uba Adin, another home healthcare worker, told the rally that she makes $10.95 an hour, 'not enough to make ends meet.' A $15 an hour wage would enable her to buy shoes and clothes for her children and still be able to take them out for dinner once in a while, she said.

'Things most people take for granted are things home healthcare workers struggle for,' Rihana Martinson told the rally.

Martinson works at Target, making $9.61 an hour, and will benefit from Seattle's new minimum wage when it goes into effect April 1 next year. She was one of the fast food and retail workers who called a one-day strike last spring, kicking off the $15 an hour campaign in Seattle.

'I wanted to come and show my solidarity and support,' she said, 'because everybody deserves a living wage.'

Other speakers at the rally included 37th District Senate candidate Pramila Jayapal and Robby Stern, president of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action.

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