Why Are Nursing Assistants So Poorly Paid?

By Yang, Certified Nursing Assistant

his week there has been a lot of talk in the media about the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  While most of the attention was focused on fast food workers, advocates for direct care workers took the opportunity to highlight the negative impact that poor wages have upon caregivers and their residents. In an article in McKnight’s, Matt Yarnell, the Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, pointed out that nearly one in six of the state’s nursing home workers are paid so poorly that they are forced to seek public assistance through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Medicaid or both.

Yarnell wrote “If we are serious about providing the highest quality care for our residents, then we have to back our rhetoric with action. It means we have to provide living wages to caregivers to cut down on turnover, to not force caregivers to work excessive overtime and double shifts. It is about not forcing workers to have to look to the state for public assistance to provide for their families.”

Why are direct care workers so poorly paid? A common argument points to the low educational requirements necessary to work as a caregiver. Often this point of view comes from within the Long Term Care community itself.

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Taxi Drivers Like Me Start Every Week Hundreds of Dollars in Debt

By Gurminder Kahlon, Taxi Driver, Seattle
My name is Gurminder Kahlon; I am from India. In India I was a lawyer. Here I am a taxi driver.
Because of taxi drivers like me, people traveling for business, medical reasons, and to visit family and friends get to Sea-Tac (Seattle) Airport conveniently and on time for their flights.

The Port of Seattle and the big corporate airlines like Alaska depend on ground transportation services like taxi and shuttle drivers. And yet, we struggle to make a living. Just to have the privilege of picking up customers at our airport, we pay fees to Yellow Cab and to the Port of Seattle. Before I start work on Monday morning, I am already hundreds of dollars in debt. I have to work 12 hours a day and 6 days a week just to make ends meet.

It’s not right. That’s why I’m standing together with all workers for fair pay and respect.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

In Syracuse, NY, Examining the Poor Health of Low-Wage Workers

By Jeanette Zoeckler

Because people spend so much of their time at work, it is important to become aware of the ways that work impacts health. Low-wage jobs have become essential to our economy. Low paying, unstable work arrangements have created large numbers of workers with high risks of poor health due to hazardous health and safety conditions, the lack of a living wage, the potential for wage theft, the lack of union representation and discrimination.

There have always been dangerous and stressful work conditions, but historically, workers in difficult settings were frequently paid higher wages and benefits to compensate for the danger. Under these conditions workers in low wage jobs find it increasingly difficult to make a “decent living” under healthy conditions. Because these striking national trends are also likely locally here in Syracuse, NY, the Low-Wage Workers’ Health Project sought to characterize local low-wage workplace conditions and some of their potential impacts on worker health with an aim toward developing ideas and strategies for improving working conditions. The Project is a collaboration based at the Occupational Health Clinical Center in Syracuse.

More than 569 low-wage workers in Syracuse have described their working lives through surveys and focus groups conducted in the past three years.

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I Really Like My Job, But…

By Lonnie Glander

I’ve worked as a full time server in Portland, Maine, since 2002.  Before that I was waiting tables during the summer while attending school. I really like my job and I take it very seriously. I worked as a server at one local restaurant for eight and half years, and while the tips were good, I never got a raise.

After working on my feet for so many years I had hernia surgery (from lifting and carrying heavy trays up and down stairs) and blew out my knees. Every time I get sick or injured, I am out a paycheck. We have no paid sick days, so even if I’m injured, I feel compelled to go to work or worry about how I’m going to make rent.

I’ve been at my current job for three years and got a promotion to supervisor about a year ago. Sometimes I am at work up to 18 hours, and have to be back at the restaurant after a 6 hour break. You work like crazy during the busy season, but then during the slow season you can go weeks without a paycheck at all.

Serving has been my career. But it has wreaked havoc on my back and knees, and I feel I have nothing to show for it. I have no retirement, no security. I have enjoyed my jobs, and I often made enough to get by, but now am wondering if it was all worth it.

The minimum base pay must increase. It would give tipped workers stability, it would allow us the opportunity to save and prepare for slow seasons, which can come at unexpected times.

Reprinted with permission from Mainers For Fair Wages.

Home Care Workers Deserve a Living Wage

By Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, Home Health Aide

My whole working life I have been helping people. When I lived In Burundi I worked for customs and advocated for people with HIV to be strong and to fight against the disease, and helped them learn how to protect themselves and others. When my husband died in the military, I realized that widows and orphans lost everything; we had no shelter, no electricity, and no health insurance. So I organized other widows and orphans in the army to fight for our rights. I was considered a dangerous woman by the government, so my life was in danger and I had to come to U.S. in 2007.

I have been working as a home care worker in Maine for the last 7 years. I started at $8.50 an hour, and now make $10 an hour during the day, but the agency I work for reduces my pay to $7.50 an hour for 8 hours each night because I should be sleeping. My job is to help people, and they need strong, good people who are alert and ready to help them. I don’t feel comfortable sleeping.

I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills. I have MaineCare (Medicaid) for my health insurance, AVESTA for affordable housing, and have used TANF to get through hard times because the money I make through my job is not enough to cover all of our basic expenses. All four of my daughters are now in college. Sometimes I have to borrow money or get help from friends to help my daughters. Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would mean I could earn more to support my daughters in college and make sure their education positions them to be qualified to get paid more in this country.

Reprinted with permission from Mainers For Fair Wages.

How About a Fair Wage for Retail Workers

By Brandy Staples
I’ve worked retail jobs at big box stores on and off for many years. At these kinds of jobs, you need to be trained in several areas so that you can be pulled from what you are doing and told to do something else at any point. Retail work does not pay you for your expertise and knowledge; you must know how to do everything in your store at one low wage.
Every morning, at any retail establishment that I’ve worked, you will have a morning meeting to go over any store issues, the day’s finances and any promotions coming up. In this meeting be prepared to have everything be your fault. It’s your fault that the numbers weren’t met the day or the week before. It’s your fault that the customer refused add-on purchases. It’s your fault when the store is short-staffed and a customer steals $10,000 worth of merchandise (because there was no staff coverage for that area of the store). More than once, I’ve seen “offenses” like these be used to cut workers’ hours or strip down their job titles.

My biggest pet peeve about working in any retail establishment is the fact that minimum wage workers are the ones that are keeping their company afloat, while the big CEOs sit around and collect profits. The minimum wage workers, who are keeping the company alive, are not valued for their hard work. They are treated as a dime a dozen, usually get little-to-no recognition, and rarely get any benefits. This needs to stop.

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It’s Important, Exhausting Work. And It’s $10.35 an Hour

By Nicole Hodgkiss, Certified Nursing Assistant

I’ve been working as a CNA at a nursing home in Waterville, Maine for 6 years.  I live in Winthrop with my sister, who works as a hair stylist. At my job, I take care of elderly people and residents that live on a psych unit. It’s important, exhausting work – emotionally and physically taxing.  Yet, over 6 years I’ve received a total raise of a dollar. I now make $10.35 per hour.   The wage I make as a CNA doesn’t recognize the skill or commitment that I bring to my work, and it’s obvious that there’s really no opportunity for me to move up the wage scale.  It would be impossible for me to support myself on my own or even dream of raising a family on 10.35/hour.  I’d like to go on in my medical training but I’m not sure how on a low-wage that I would be able to afford it.  I know there are a lot of women in the same situation as me. For me and for my family, a minimum wage increase to $12 (or more) would be a shot at making ends meet.  It would mean that my work, and my mom’s work (she too is a CNA) was recognized and valued.

Reprinted with permission from Mainers For Fair Wages.