Missouri home care workers to see \'substantial\' raise

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COLUMBIA - After a year of negotiations and a six year push for improved rights, home care attendants reached a tentative agreement with the state Friday to increase wages. On average, home care attendants belonging to the Missouri Consumer-Directed Services Program currently make $8.58 an hour. The new contract will raise the minimum hourly rate to $10.15.

The contract outlines a wage increase for workers but also gives home care consumers discretion to determine the wages of their home care workers.  That means consumers in the Consumer-Directed Services Program can choose their workers and the wages they receive, which could be higher than $10.15 an hour.  

Previously, third-party vendors would determine the wage rate, but attendants said they believe consumers value the care they receive so will in part choose a higher wage for their worker. Home care workers are paid through Missouri's Medicaid program, but an increase in their wages would not require the state to spend more money on Medicaid. 

The agreement came after back and forth among members of the Missouri Home Care Union, the Missouri Quality Home Care Council and the state. More than 200 home care workers from across the country met in St. Louis to stand in support of fair wages for Missouri attendants. Union members and other organizations, such as Missouri Jobs with Justice, lobbied and held several events around the state to promote the wage change. This is the first contract of any type bargained by home care workers in Missouri.

The Missouri Home Care Union said consumers are members on the Quality Home Care Council and have also been active in the negotiating process.

Elizabeth Travis, a bargaining team member for the Missouri Home Care Union, said the care home attendants provide is often critical to everyday functioning for most of her clients.

"We form real relationships, and they depend on us." said Travis. "Whether it's for hygiene help or to clean their house. We become important parts of their lives, and they appreciate us for that."

Travis said the process has been more like nine years rather than six. She said the wage raise is an important step in protecting the attendants, clients, and also validating home care as a profession. 

"With what we make, it's barely enough to live on," said Travis. "We all will need help one day. We all will age and could possibly become sick." 

The agreement reached on October 17 must be voted on and finalized by the Missouri Home Care Union and the Missouri Quality Home Care Council within 45 days before changes will take effect. After the contract is ratified, other worker improvements will include better benefits, holiday pay, and a more secure system for personal and financial information.