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Massachusetts Caregivers Sound Off On Low Pay, Lack Of Benefits In Statehouse Hearing

A Black woman with glasses addresses a camera
Massachusetts Legislature
Personal Care Assistant and union member Candejah Pink.

The Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency held its latest virtual hearing this week.

The committee, chaired by Western Massachusetts Democratic State Senator Adam Hinds, is exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted issues ranging from equity and education to healthcare and the digital divide.

Wednesday’s hearing focused on caregiving.

“We have to center our efforts on those who cared for us during this pandemic, the essential workers who were on the front lines, the heroes that risked their lives and the caregivers who continue to provide care throughout the Commonwealth to today," said Service Employees International Union Local 1199 Executive Vice President Tim Foley, who said more than 100,000 caregivers work in Massachusetts. “But yet their contributions are not always valued or acknowledged. And that's clearly something we need to work on. And the truth is, home care providers are an essential part of America's family infrastructure.”

Foley said providing care to folks in need like older and disabled people is a field that is rapidly expanding.

“We have 1 million homecare jobs that will be needed in the next decade," he said. "And those jobs need to be family sustaining union jobs with a livable wage, benefits like retirement, training opportunities.”

Union member Candejah Pink is a personal care assistant in Springfield.

“As PCAs, we need a consistent schedule and reliable well-earned income," said Pink. "We also need more training. Some consumers are hard to handle. We need more training to support people with complex behavior, especially people with dementia. Orientation is available, but we don't get paid for any training.”

She said some of her fellow PCAs can’t afford health insurance, and live in fear of financial instability.

“We do not get higher wages, no matter how long we work or how much training we have," said Pink. "We don't even have a retirement plan. Why should a person have to work as hard as we do without a future plan? We need retirement security. What is our option plan to live off when we are older and can no longer go to our client's house? DTA? SNAP? We can't live like that. How are we going to make our living? We have our clients’ back. The state should have our back.”

Charlene Dickerson, also from Springfield, is a homecare worker. She says the work she and her peers perform is vital to keeping older people in their homes – but it goes underpaid and unappreciated.

“When you go into nursing homes, they decline so fast," she said. "When they're home, they got the advantage to live the way they want to live in the area that they feel comfortable with. They can live longer. They love us coming in because they need us. They can't live in their homes without us. I love my job. But it gets so difficult when you have to work two jobs. And then you don't get any benefit of working, CNA work or PCA work, because there's no benefits. There's no moving up. There's no pay raises. You have to put up with stuff that you shouldn't even have to put up with because you don't have a union.”

Her work in area nursing homes has also underscored the racial realities of a job where hours are long and opportunity is scant.

“I'm walking to the cafeteria," said Dickerson. "I'm like, why is it just people of color? Why do we have to stay just right there? It made me think of slavery. And I'm not trying to be funny. It brought it back. I'm like, why do we have to be stuck here? Why we can’t advance up? Why we can't get the paid we deserve? What about the legislators that we fight for, and they supposed to fight for us too. And there's some don’t when they get in. Well, they're going to need some of us one day too. Just because they make $600,000 a year, don't mean they're not going to meet somebody like us. And they better hope they paying us good so we'll come in and do they family well. ‘Cause you can't do it tired. They’re going to need us just like everybody else does.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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