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Priest-Labor News

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Kindalay Cummings-Akers has been working as a personal care attendant, caring for the elderly and disabled in their homes, for nearly a decade. But she will soon be making $15 an hour for the first time ever after she and her union, 1199SEIU, reached an agreement with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) at the end of last week.

“I’m so excited, I am,” she told ThinkProgress with joy filling her voice. “I’m happy that we have opened the door. It’s a big thing.”

Home care workers have long been poorly paid, thanks in part to the fact that they are excludedfrom federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. They make just $9.61 on average, while a quarter live in poverty and three in five rely on public benefits.

Cummings-Akers’s wages and those of her fellow attendants had stayed stuck at $10.84 an hour for years before a contract last year brought them up to $13.38. But after she and other home care workers joined up with the Fight for $15 movement, those in her union have become the first home care workers in the country to win such a wage level.

Despite the low pay, home care aides do tough work. For her client and his wife, who has dementia, Cummings-Akers gives them showers, lifts them and their wheelchairs, gives them medication, makes them meals, takes them to doctor’s appointments and talks with the doctors, does the grocery shopping, cleans their clothes, and even helps care for their cat. “It’s a lot of work, it truly is a lot of work,” she said. “When you do work like this, you have to be a very strong person.”

Even while doing all of this hard work, though, she struggled to support her family. Both her husband and her eldest daughter have disabilities, and her husband’s Social Security payments plus her wages made it barely possible to scrape by. In the winter, they had to choose between paying the mortgage and other necessities. “It’s like, well do I pay the home mortgage bill or do I pay so much money in the propane bill or how much food can we buy for the house,” she said. “Those are hard choices that we have to make.” This summer, her son couldn’t play football like he normally does because they couldn’t afford the program. “There’s no McDonald’s and pizza or going out for dinner or taking a vacation, because you can’t afford it.”

Making at least $15 an hour will start to ease those difficult choices. “Oh my god, it’s going to make a big difference,” she said. “That way we don’t have to pick and choose as much. We can do a little bit more.”

She still sees more work to do, of course. She noted that many home health workers don’t have health insurance themselves. She also noted, “I personally deserve more than $15 an hour, but it is a start in the right direction.”

But she’s proud of how quickly they were able to make progress on a higher wage. “Maybe $15 now and a little bit more later,” she noted. “I’m really happy that we won this $15. It was a long road to get there.”

A $15 minimum wage wasn’t under much consideration before 2012, when fast food workers first went on strike demanding they make at least that much. Since then, they have staged a number of strikes across the country and been joined by Walmart workers, adjunct professors, and home care aides. That minimum wage has also now become law in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

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