Politics & Government

Union says new home-care worker contract raises average hourly pay over $14 by 2017

A union representing many of the state’s home-care workers announced Friday that it has a tentative agreement with Gov. Jay Inslee’s labor negotiators that will raise pay for its members on average to more than $14 an hour by early 2017.

The deal, as described by Service Employees International Union 775 Northwest, also includes a retirement benefit similar to a 401(k) payment and holds the line on health plan coverage.

The two-year agreement, which still must be ratified by the union’s members, covers more than 33,000 individual providers who assist elderly and disabled people who qualify for Medicaid. The workers are not considered state employees but they negotiate with the state because voters approved Initiative 775 in 2001 to give home-care workers that are paid with tax dollars the ability to collectively bargain.

“We’re on the pathway to $15 an hour, and our members are happy about that,’’ SEIU spokesman Jackson Holtz said Friday, noting Seattle’s decision this year to phase in an increase in its minimum wage to $15 an hour. “We’d like to see everybody at a minimum wage of $15.”

About half of the affected workers are considered family providers, which means they care for a member of their own family and often forgo income from outside jobs in order to perform the services.

The governor’s Office of Financial Management released a statement, saying: “We cannot discuss the terms of the agreement until after it has been ratified by the membership and officially submitted to OFM for determination of financial feasibility. OFM will not make that determination until after the November 19 state revenue forecast.”

The statement went on to say that OFM estimates that the agreement with SEIU 775 would cost approximately $90 million over two years. The cost would be higher — $120 million — if Inslee and lawmakers decide to provide money to private care agencies to give similar raises to their workers, union officials said.

The tentative contract sets pay for entry-level workers at $12 an hour in January 2017, according to a chart released by the union. That represents a 94-cent hourly raise or 8.5 percent over two years for those with less than 700 hours of experience. At the top end, pay would reach $15.40 in January 2017, representing an increase of 87 cents or 6 percent for those with more than seven years’ experience.

Also part of the agreement, according to SEIU, is a “modest” defined-contribution retirement benefit, additional paid time off, and health benefits that do not increase costs for workers, who are typically employed part-time. The pension contribution rate is 23 cents per hour, which translates to a taxpayer contribution of about $300 per year for the average worker logging 110 hours per month, Holtz said.

The agreement is the first of two dozen labor contracts that Inslee’s labor office is hoping to complete by Oct. 1.

Holtz said the agreement was the first home-care worker bargain since 2004 that did not need to be settled through arbitration. Two years ago, home-care workers won a arbitration fight that awarded yearly raises of almost 5 percent at a time most major state worker unions ultimately did not secure cost-of-living increases.