Fight For 15 Racks Up Big Win In Massachusetts

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Fight For 15 Racks Up Big Win In Massachusetts

The nationwide “Fight for 15” campaign by low-wage workers for a living wage of $15 an hour, and the right to unionize without employer interference, racked up a big win in late June in Massachusetts: The state government agreed to a starting wage of $15 hourly by July 2018 for 35,000 union-represented home health care workers there.

The agreement, announced June 25, produced joyful uproar among home care workers assembled in a Dorchester, Mass., Service Employees union hall to witness its signing. 

GOP Gov. Charlie Baker reached the pact in negotiations with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. It makes the Massachusetts personal care attendants (PCAs) “the first in the nation to achieve a statewide $15 per hour starting wage,” the union said.

As a result of the pact, what was going to be a 15-hour picket line at the state capitol building on Beacon Hill on June 30 will be a 4 pm celebration on the capitol’s steps.

“This victory, winning $15 per hour, it means we are no longer invisible,” Kindalay Cummings-Akers, a PCA from Springfield and a member of its bargaining team, said.  She cares for a local senior and became a union activist at the onset of the $15 campaign.

“This is a huge step forward not just for home care workers, but also toward ensuring the safety, dignity, and independence of seniors and people with disabilities,” Cummings-Akers said. “We are a movement of home care workers united by the idea that dignity for caregivers and the people in our care is possible. Today, we showed the world that it is possible.”

“Massachusetts home care workers are helping to lead the Fight for $15, and winning,” said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner. “We applaud Baker for helping to forge this pathway to dignity for PCAs and the tens of thousands of Massachusetts seniors and people with disabilities who rely on quality home care services to remain in the community or in the workforce.

“As the senior population grows, the demand for home care services is increasing. By helping to ensure a living wage for these vital caregivers, Baker is taking a critical step with us toward reducing workforce turnover and ensuring that Massachusetts families can access the quality home care they need for their loved ones.”

The union and home care workers successfully lobbied the legislature in 2006 for the right to organize and vote for unionization. They joined 1199 in 2008. 

Before the legislative and organizing campaigns, PCA wages stagnated for years at $10.84 per hour. In three contracts since unionizing and using major mobilizations, rallies, and public campaigns, the PCAs won an hourly wage of $13.38 on July 1, 2014. 

The new pact extends the current contract and mandates the $15 starting hourly minimum by July 1, 2018.  Workers got an immediate 30-cents an hour on July 1.  Bargaining with the state will begin in January on steps to get the starting wage to $15. 

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Photo from Milkwaukee Teachers' Education Association.

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