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WA Home-Care Workers Push for Retirement Benefits

PHOTO: Home-care workers want the ability to put 23 cents an hour of their pay into a trust fund for future retirement benefits, but the idea is getting pushback from some state senators. Photo credit: Sarah Lloyd.
PHOTO: Home-care workers want the ability to put 23 cents an hour of their pay into a trust fund for future retirement benefits, but the idea is getting pushback from some state senators. Photo credit: Sarah Lloyd.
May 13, 2015

CENTRALIA, Wash. - A bus tour isn't part of most home-care workers' days, but on Tuesday, dozens participated in a "Day of Action" to advocate for retirement savings for people in their industry.

The bus made strategic stops in the communities of some Republican state legislators who oppose the idea of setting aside 23 cents an hour of home-care workers' pay for a trust fund for retirement benefits.

Linda Lee, a Vancouver caregiver for more than 25 years, says it's difficult to save on a $10-an-hour wage, and the plan would be helpful. She said she thinks senators who've said they don't see the need for it also don't understand the struggles of paid caregivers.

"We are low-wage workers, working paycheck to paycheck; that's not enough to save for a significant retirement benefit," she said. "Even though I was very responsibly trying to save a little bit, the hours cuts have made it impossible."

Members of the caregivers' union SEIU 775 Northwest boarded the bus for a pancake breakfast in Centralia and a "Retirement Bingo Party" in Puyallup. They finished with an afternoon rally in Bellevue.

The retirement trust fund is part of state contracts already negotiated but now being debated by a joint legislative committee hammering out a final state budget.

Lee, who has been on past negotiating teams for home-care contracts between the union and the state, said home-care aides had their work hours trimmed in recent lean budget years. Now that the state is doing better, she said, she thinks it's time to help them catch up.

"We gave up other benefits in order to have this because it's important to us," she said. "We've been begging for some sort of retirement benefit for years. Every year, we ask for it and every year, former negotiators did not think it was important enough."

She said the home-care workers' trust fund is completely separate from state employee-related retirement plans.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA