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Home health workers reach deal with Missouri board on minimum wage

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Home health care rally

Michael Richards of Moberly, Mo., speaks at a rally to urge Gov. Jay Nixon to back a proposed minimum wage hike for home health care workers. 

The union representing thousands of home health workers in Missouri announced Monday that it reached a tentative agreement with state negotiators that could raise the minimum wage for many attendants.

The Missouri Home Care Union said a proposed deal was reached late Friday night with representatives of the Missouri Quality Home Care Council, a state board comprising care recipients, provider representatives and members of other state panels focused on disabilities and aging.

The union represents workers who participate in a consumer-driven Medicaid-funded program in which the patient is essentially the attendant’s employer.

Under the proposed collective bargaining agreement, the patients will take on an additional responsibility. They will be able to set their attendant’s wage within a range of $8.50 to $10.15 an hour. An attendant’s pay was previously set by the vendor administrating the program and was about $8.60 an hour on average, according to the union.

Although the wage range is below the $11 hourly minimum rate sought by the union, it was still lauded.

“This is a victory for home care workers and for consumers of the program,” said Jeff Mazur, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 72, which spearheaded the negotiations.

The agreement also includes a $3 per hour wage bump for attendants who work on holidays and will not lower the pay of those workers who currently make above the $10.15 hourly maximum.

The Missouri Alliance for Home Care, which represents home health care vendors, said the agreement was a good step in advancing the goals of the consumer-directed program.

“There’s room here for a true employee-employer relationship,” said Mary Schantz, the alliance’s executive director. “That is real plus.”

Under current law, the state’s Medicaid program pays about $15.50 per hour for an attendant to work in a consumer’s home. That money is split between the attendant’s wage and the administrative costs of the program.

Vendors perform payroll functions, conduct background checks and audits, and install an employee-tracking device in patients’ homes, among other things.

Although negotiators from the union and the council were able to reach an agreement, the wage proposal is far from a done deal.

The collective bargaining agreement needs to be ratified by the state council and members of the union. The wage portion also needs approval from the Missouri Legislature.

A 2008 ballot measure that created the Missouri Quality Home Care Council says it has the authority to “recommend the wage rate or rates to be paid personal care attendants and any economic benefits to be received by personal care attendants” to the Legislature.

The federation’s Mazur said lawmakers can give their approval to the wage proposal by simply agreeing to fund the program at its current level through the budget process.

But the Republican-dominated Legislature may be hesitant to approve a minimum wage increase. Recent Democratic proposals to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour, from the current $7.50, have stalled.

Support from the governor could also be a factor. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has not publicly stated his thoughts on the minimum wage proposal despite an effort by the union to get him to back the higher rate. A spokesman for Nixon did not respond to an email or voice message seeking comment on the agreement.

This report was prepared in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

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