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Nursing Home Workers Take Fight for $15 to Halls of Harrisburg

PA nursing home workers testified this week at a public hearing in support of a new bill that would incentivize nursing homes to start caregivers at a minimum of $15 an hour.

PA nursing home workers testify at a public hearing in support of a new bill that would incentivize nursing homes to start caregivers at a minimum of $15 an hour.

PA nursing home workers testify at a public hearing in support of a new bill that would incentivize nursing homes to start caregivers at a minimum of $15 an hour.

On Monday, nursing home workers from Philadelphia, Easton, and Plymouth took the Fight for $15 from the streets to the halls of power in Harrisburg, testifying at a packed public hearing in support of House Bill 1449. The bill, introduced by Representative Ed Gainey, would incentivize nursing home employers to pay a minimum of $15 an hour to workers through creation of a statewide Living Wage Certification Program.

IMG_2643“After 10 years I only make $11.45 and I depend on public assistance to get by,” said Tisheia Frazier, a certified nurse aide from Philadelphia. “I get $200 per month in food stamps. I have heating assistance in the winter and our apartment is part of a low-income housing program. It’s heartbreaking to work full time and barely be above the poverty line.”

The low wages being paid at nursing homes across the country make it difficult for many who’ve dedicated their lives to caring for others to get by. Many are struggling to merely survive in today’s economy.

Not paying workers an adequate wage also leads to high turnover, resulting in staffing shortages which only serve to lower the quality of care for vulnerable nursing home residents.

Under Rep. Gainey’s bill’s Living Wage Certification Program, facilities would share their salary information with the public.

IMG_2905“Publicizing wage rates allows the public access to this critical information and, hopefully, encourages providers to increase wages,” said Matt Yarnell, Vice President of Long Term Care for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “At a minimum, the public can make a more informed choice about where to send their family members. And, quite frankly, employees can make choices about where to work.”

Monday’s testimony also focused on the massive profits these nursing home facilities rake in. Despite repeated claims that they cannot afford to raise wages, a recent study found the nursing home industry made over $400 million in profits last year in Pennsylvania, up from the year before. What’s more, the majority of their funding comes from tax dollars in the form of Medicaid and Medicare. So our tax dollars go to fund their profits.

“Ultimately, it comes down to priorities,” continued Yarnell. “Do we want our taxpayer dollars to go to good jobs and care, or to profits for institutional investors, stockholders, and CEOs?”

According to a recent study by the Keystone Research Center, currently 1 in 6 nursing home workers rely on public assistance.

“If we raised the start rate to $15 an hour, it would mean an extra $3,500 in my paycheck,” said Dharnell Bridges, who works in laundry and housekeeping in the Lehigh Valley area. “I want to stay working at the nursing home – it’s important work.  I want this to be the job that I can be proud of and tell my kids that if you do work hard you can raise a family too.”

You can read the full testimony from healthcare experts and economists who provided information on the impact of HB1449 here.

If you’d like to learn more or find out how you can get involved in the Fight for $15 in your community, write to PAFightfor15@gmail.com.

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