The contract victory comes as caregivers are advocating for employers to go above the $16 minimum wage which was just implemented for Nevada’s 13,000 home care workers
A group of almost 300 home care workers employed by Consumer Direct throughout Nevada just won a union contract with wages of $17 an hour, which will help recruit and retain the workforce to provide quality care for the state’s rapidly aging population and people with disabilities. Average wages for Nevada’s 13,000 home care workers had been stuck at around $11 an hour for over a decade, creating a crisis-level workforce shortage. On January 1, the state’s $16 minimum wage was implemented for home care workers and caregivers have been advocating for employers to go above the bare minimum in union contract negotiations. This is the first time in history that Nevada home care workers have achieved a contract with a $17 wage.
“There’s only one way to describe the $17 wage in our new union contract: life changing,” said Nicole Brown, who has been a home care worker in Las Vegas for over 10 years. “We do this work with genuine love and put our whole hearts into our jobs. I care for a woman with disabilities and I’m essential for her well-being. But I was only getting paid $11.25 an hour which forced me to work a second job as a gas station clerk just to survive. I can’t afford a car, so I wake up at 3 am to ride the bus over an hour to work. The stress, strain and lack of sleep has been painful. With the $17 wage, I’ll be able to buy a car which will give me more time to get rested and allow me to be fully present for my client. I want to thank Consumer Direct for leading the way on making these improvements for workers and those we care for.”
In March of 2022, Consumer Direct workers voted by 94% to join the union, SEIU Local 1107. Then they sat down with their employer and negotiated the union contract, which also includes the establishment of a labor-management committee to address issues including health and safety; employer-paid training; a fair disciplinary process; and a commitment to work with management to continue advocating for quality home care in government. Workers voted unanimously to ratify the union contract and ballots were counted on January 25.
This is the first contract settlement resulting from a massive statewide organizing drive, which has included over 1,000 Nevada home care workers voting in landslide union elections at multiple employers. Hundreds more workers are currently heading toward union elections.
In the last state legislative session, caregivers and their union won an increase in the minimum wage for home care workers to $16 and a 42% funding increase. The budget increased the “Medicaid Reimbursement rate” – the funding that home care employers receive for providing services – from $17.56 to $25 an hour, the first meaningful change in over 20 years. Most home care services in the state are delivered by private agencies funded through Medicaid.
Newly unionized workers at other agencies who are still in contract negotiations say that their employers must follow Consumer Direct’s lead and use the millions of dollars in increased funding to raise pay above the state minimum.
“This union contract is an absolute blessing for all home care workers, including those of us who care for family members,” said Sharon Daniels, who lives in Reno. “I’ve cared for my mother-in-law, who’s 88 years old and has Alzheimer’s, for 15 years. I made the decision to provide her care because I love her deeply and didn’t want to put her in a nursing home. Caring for a family member is extremely tough work physically, mentally and emotionally, and is terribly underpaid. Even though my mother-in-law requires 24/7 care, I was previously only paid $10.25 an hour for 25 hours a week. As Americans age, more and more families are going to start realizing that we have to transform the home care industry to make sure we can care for our seniors. This historic union contract is a giant step toward creating the urgent change we need.”
Home care workers help with all the daily activities that enable seniors and people with disabilities to live at home with health and dignity. Duties include bathing, feeding, taking clients to doctors appointments, grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions and medication reminders. In-home caregivers – who are 85% women and majority people of color – support their clients in every area of the state, both rural and urban.
A “Silver Tsunami” has been crashing over Nevada as the state’s older population grows much faster than the rest of the country. There are currently almost half a million Nevadans over the age of 65, and because the vast majority would strongly prefer to live at home, demand for services has been skyrocketing.
But families increasingly cannot find caregivers for their loved ones due to severe difficulties with recruitment and retention of workers. The workforce shortage has been caused by poverty pay, a lack of basic benefits, the lingering impact of the pandemic and rising compensation in other industries. A research report by the nonpartisan Guinn Center found that one out of two home care workers leave their jobs in the first year, and Nevada will need 5,300 additional personal care aides by 2026.
Caregivers say that this contract is a solid foundation to start addressing the crisis, but much more has to be done. They vow to continue pressing forward in their remaining contract negotiations, organizing non-union workers, and holding elected officials accountable for improving jobs and care.