Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh headshot

Nevada home care workers bent the ear of U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh Wednesday over higher wages and benefits for care economy workers. Walsh’s meeting with members of Local 1107 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was part of the union’s latest effort to drum up support for the Biden administration’s plan to invest $400 billion in home-and-community-based services.  

“We saw in the last year the importance of making investments in your industry. We saw glaring issues with COVID. We ask you to take care of our loved ones and in some cases you don’t get the respect that you deserve,” Walsh told the group.

In addition to providing better wages and benefits for workers in the care economy, the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan calls for all workers to have a “fair shot” of being part of a union.

As a result, SEIU, which represents approximately 740,000 home care workers nationwide, has been lobbying aggressively for the president’s infrastructure plan with town hall meetings and a $3 million ad campaign. 

The SEIU’s campaign and the support the administration is throwing behind organized labor appear to be empowering some unionized care workers as they press their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Connecticut case

On Wednesday, SEIU local 1199NE resumed negotiations with the state of Connecticut on a new contract for 10,000 home care workers that seeks a $21.50 hourly wage, affordable healthcare, paid sick leave and vacation, along with a retirement plan. The union said $184 million that Connecticut received from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act should be used to fund a new contract.

“We feel that Governor (Ned) Lamont should really follow President Biden’s lead and really value the work of these mostly Black and Brown women who have been through hell and back through COVID for poverty wages,” Pedro Zayas, communications director for SEIU Local 1199NE, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily.

Massachusetts strike vote

On Tuesday, 39 healthcare workers represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike against VNA Care, which is part of the nonprofit Visiting Nurses Association. The union and the agency are at odds over wages, insurance benefits, sick time, retirement benefits and work conditions.

“We are dedicated to this process and getting a fair and equitable contract,” Rod Hemingway, MNA Co-Chair said.

University of Illinois at Chicago labor professor Robert Bruno told McKnight’s Home Care Daily home care workers are becoming a more significant part of the U.S. workforce and  economy. So it is imperative for both the president and Walsh to show support for those workers and their unions.

“It’s hard to build back better without lifting these workers up into the middle class,” Bruno said.