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Home care union seeking higher pay

September 9, 2014 at 4:00 a.m. | Updated September 9, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.

The Missouri Home Care Union is pushing for higher wages for home care attendants.

Home care attendants help elderly individuals and other people with physical disabilities who need assistance to remain in their homes and stay active in their communities. Participants employ and direct personal care assistants through customer-directed services provided by the state. These attendants or assistants are paid through Medicaid, according to the union.

"We are not glorified maids; we do so much more," said Elizabeth Travis, home care attendant and union member. "We are just looking to be able to stop all the hardships for attendants so they can be dedicated to this work. Right now we have such a high turnover because most attendants are making around $8.60 an hour and they are just not able to get by on it."

A wife and mother of two, Travis cares for multiple consumers. She said she got into this work after providing care to a disabled family member. She provides the only income for her family, which is below the federal poverty line. If the union's demands were met and the attendants' base pay was raised to the requested $11 an hour, her family would still fall below the line, she said. She added that the attendants' wages have been frozen since 2000.

The low pay leads to high turnover in her field. That means more people have to live in a nursing-home environment, she said, which is more of a burden on taxpayers. If the wages were raised, then turnover would drop and attendants could be more dedicated.

"We need more dedicated people to stay with these consumers," Travis said. "Our reliability is how they are able to live independently in their communities and not get shut away somewhere in a nursing home."

Travis is paid through a Center for Independent Living. A lot of attendants are paid through these centers or through private companies. However, these centers just function as a third party for payroll procedures and the base pay for the attendants are controlled by the Department of Social Services, said Jeff Mazur, co-chair of the union.

The vendors who set the wages for the attendants, the centers and private companies, receive $15.56 per hour per attendants through a Medicaid program, according to a report from the union. On average, the attendants are paid approximately $8.70 per hour. Presumably the remaining funds are used to administer and advocate for the program, but the union members said that the vendors have refused to provide information on the cost associated with the program and the use of said funds.

"Admittedly there is some administrative cost that goes along with this program and there is no way the cost goes beyond $1 to $1.50 an hour," Mazur said.

"This (raising wages) does not cost taxpayers an additional penny. ... We are just asking that the attendants who do the work get the biggest part of the allocation."

To raise the base pay for attendants through governmental action, the union must reach an agreement with the Missouri Quality Home Care Council, which was established though by voters in 2008. After the agreement on the base pay is reached, the two organizations would appeal to the Department of Social Services, which ultimately decides if the wages are raised, Mazur said. The union and the council have not reached an agreement yet, but they are scheduled to go back to the bargaining table on Sept. 17.

Recently the union has issued a call to action to request that people write or call Gov. Jay Nixon and ask him to endorse the raise.

Nixon himself cannot raise the wages through an executive order, but his endorsement can carry a lot of weight to the gubernatorial appointees of the agencies involved in the process, Mazur said.

Union officials have said the Department of Social Services controls the pay, while officials from the Missouri Association of Centers for Independent living and the Department of Social Services say it is the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) that control the attendants' pay. The DHSS and the governor's office did not answer questions on the issue.

The union has hosted several events across the state to raise awareness of the issue, said union member Joe Lawrence. They are looking for volunteers to help organizers with local rallies, writing letters to newspaper editors, or speaking with elected officials.

Anyone interested can email Beth Griffin with the Missouri Association of Social Welfare at [email protected]

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