Labor Day got off to an early start in Rhode Island as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and direct service providers, who care for elderly residents and individuals with developmental disabilities, marched from the Charlesgate Nursing Center to the State House to demand a $15 minimum wage. They were joined in the march by community and labor allies and elected officials like Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and State Representative Aaron Regunburg (Democrat, District 4, Providence).
The median wage for a nursing home CNA in Rhode Island is $13.14 an hour. Direct care providers who care for adults with developmental disabilities earn an average of $10.82 and hour, according to SEIU 1199, representing the CNAs and Direct Care Providers. Decent pay is vital to reduce staff turnover, which has been shown to increase the rates of pain and illnesses among residents.
Karen Baldwin works at Arc of Blackstone Valley and has been a Direct Care provider for 17 years. She has dedicated her life to caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. “We make poverty wages while our executive offices pull six figures a year… While we’re qualifying for food stamps after working forty hours a week. I live on $11.35 an hour. We still qualify for food stamps and RIte Share. So when [politicians] cut budgets for folks like us, they’re just transferring the responsibility from one state department to another.”
Edith Paye is a CNA at Charlesgate Nursing Home. “We deserve to get more money,” said Edith, “We deserve good wages. We deserve good living.”
“I come to you as a proud, former member of SEIU 1199,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “I know we are stronger together… We are fighting for our families, but we are [also] fighting for all the folks who don’t have their own voice… Right now in this country, [there’s] something called the working poor- this idea that you can work two jobs, you can work 80 [hours] a week, and you’re not going to move up and you’re not going to move forward- you still remain poor.
“This is a shame!” continued the Mayor, “That in such a rich country like the United States of America, in such a great country like the United States of America, that this can continue to happen.”
After the march to the State House, Vicky Mitchell, a CNA at Hopkins Manor in North Providence, said that she loves her job, but, “needs to make a living wage. Most workers start at $10 an hour. Why? Why? Why?”
Karen Baldwin addresses the crowd at the State House.
“I am proud to be here today to march with you, to join you in the right, the just, the proper call for a living wage for Rhode Island’s caregivers,” said Representative Aaron Regunberg. Noting that the job of a CNA and Direct Care Provider is physically and emotionally taxing, and one that can only be performed from a place of love, Regunberg said, “Every caregiver here today is a real life hero.”
Manuela works at Greenville Nursing Home. “Our pay is so low that it is hard to recruit the next generation of caregivers,” said Manuela. “Meanwhile the CEOs of nursing homes are making millions. We deserve a starting rate of $15 an hour.”
SEIU 1199’s Patrick Quinn.