Nursing Home Workers Need Support
Recently some legislators, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk more prominently, who support the idea of raising the minimum wage, have expressed concern that a $9.50 minimum wage would hurt Minnesota nursing homes. They have expressed fears that if homes were forced to pay all workers $9.50 an hour, many would close.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota strongly supports H.F. 92 which would raise the wage to $9.50 and index it to inflation. Since, however, our union includes over 4,000 nursing home workers, we share Senator Bakk’s concern. We wanted to be sure we did not do anything that would cause workers to lose their jobs.
As a first step, we checked our own membership database. Of the 4,208 members we represent who work in Minnesota nursing homes, just 236 or 5.6% made less than $9.50 as of about January 2013. Next I checked with the Minnesota DEED and got similar results. According to DEED, in 2012 out of 44,300 people who work in Minnesota nursing homes 3,372 or 7.6% were paid less than $9.50. Surely, Minnesota nursing homes could afford this small group a little bit more without shutting down or compromising care.
Yet even these numbers overstate the impact of a minimum wage of $9.50. For starters, the $9.50 wage would not go into effect until August 1, 2015, so natural wage increases will have already lifted many nursing home works above the minimum. In fact, Senator Bakk and other DFL legislators have passed for this year a 5% average increase in nursing home funding so that homes can increase wages. A smaller 3.2% increase has been scheduled for 2015. That state has already provided funds for homes to meet most if not all of their costs under a higher minimum wage. In fact, a higher minimum wage would help make sure that those increases in nursing home funding went to workers who care for our vulnerable seniors.
In addition, many nursing home workers would not be covered by the $9.50 minimum wage. The law allows a lower training wage for workers under 20 in the first 90 days of employment. The current training wage is $4.90 and H.F. 92 would raise it to $8.00 by 2015. Industry experts know that nursing homes have a very high turnover, so at any given period a significant percentage on their workers are likely to be only eligible for the lower training wage.
If despite all of this, nursing homes cannot pay a $9.50 minimum wage, then Minnesota legislators need to provide an additional funding increase. If you have ever had a loved one in a nursing home, you know that the overworked and understaffed caregivers put in more than $9.50 of effort in an hour. Does anyone want to say that McDonald’s should pay a cook $9.50 to flip a burger, but Minnesota should get away with paying less to the professionals who takes care of our loved ones?
The nursing home industry is a tough business with lean margins, but there is enough money in the system to pay workers a decent minimum wage. Minnesota legislators, like all employers, can and should pay workers at least $9.50.
Lisa Weed Executive Vice President Director LTC Sector SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.