February 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Advocates for poorly-paid home health aides are challenging Albany lawmakers this week to make sure that caring for the state’s most vulnerable citizens pays just as well as fast food jobs.
“We cannot leave this budget cycle where people who deliver pizza are valued more in this society [than professional caretakers],” State Senator Diane Savino [D-23rd District] told home health aides assembled at 1199SEIU headquarters on Thursday.
The Brooklyn/Staten Island legislator joined Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein [D-34th District] in pushing passage of a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, which, if approved, would build upon the pay raise specifically established for hard-pressed fast food workers late last year.
“We don’t treat you as well as you deserve to be treated,” State Senator Savino continued.
Sheila Gibson, a home health aide with the Puerto Rican Family Institute, has spent the last 13 years caring for developmentally disabled clients. Yet, despite the massive amounts of care and expertise her job demands, Gibson still earns little more than $10 an hour, and has been forced to seek public assistance.
“Whatever the difficulty, I love my job,” Gibson said. “[But] right now I just live paycheck to paycheck."
While deriding critics who insist raising the minimum wage to $15 hour would somehow hurt the economy, State Senator Klein, also complained that the plight of home health aides needs to be more widely discussed.
“We’re not talking about the workers that need it the most,” State Senator Klein said.
Far from hurting business, the Bronx/Westchester lawmaker said that raising the state’s minimum wage would actually create thousands of new jobs, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy.
Lisa Johnson, a home health aide with a company called Best Care, said that she is forced to work three different jobs just to support her family of four.
“My job is taking care of my clients when I really should be home taking care of my own,” Johnson said. “We take time out everyday [and] sacrifice our own, to do for others. [Yet] we’re on food stamps, we’re on Medicaid, [and] we can’t support our children in college.”
George Gresham, 1199SEIU president, and head of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, said that it “ought to be a crime” to pay home health aides like Gibson and Johnson less than a living wage.
“Home care workers will be invisible no more,” Gresham said.