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Commentaryby Lisa Brown5:44 pmSep 2, 20170

On your Labor Day vacation, remember the worker who can’t afford one

Baltimore nursing home workers, like all low-wage workers, deserve better from our city leaders [OP-ED]

Above: A jolly summer road trip with the family – for many working people in Baltimore, an unattainable Mad Men-era fantasy.

Carol gets very few holidays off. This Labor Day, as many in Baltimore and across the country enjoy a day’s respite from their labors, Carol will be at work on her nursing home job of six years.

She and her husband work hard to provide for their two sons, but on her salary, she is unable to do something every parent wants to do:

Spend holidays like this one with her family.

For Carol this weekend, there are no days off, no trip to the beach or a National Park, no backyard barbecue.

Carol’s story is like that of many Americans who work long hours, but still find it difficult to make ends meet.

Nearly half of Americans say they won’t be taking a vacation this summer, mostly because they can’t afford it, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Surveyed in May, about 43% said summer travel in 2017 was out of the question. That response was even more frequent from people with households making less than $50,000 a year.

Without paid time off–  nearly half surveyed don’t receive that benefit – workers would have to absorb the cost of travel on incomes that are shockingly low.

Believe it or not, after six years on her job, Carol only makes $13 an hour. That just is not enough to care for her family without pinching pennies, doing without and juggling bills each month.

Low Pay for Critical Care

The cruel irony is that Carol provides essential services to the residents of the nursing home where she works, but her pay does not reflect the important work she does.

Because of her membership in 1199 SEIU, though, Carol can advocate for fair wages for herself and her fellow union brothers and sisters. That is why she has been a vocal activist in the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the wage floor in Baltimore. Ask Carol if unions matter, and she will say, “Yes, they do!”

As a leader of 1199 SEIU, I can tell you there are many members like Carol. We represent 10,000 healthcare professionals who work on the front lines delivering essential services — such as bathing, feeding, cooking meals, and toileting — in nursing homes and in patients’ homes. They oftentimes juggle two or three jobs because of low wages.

Healthcare is a leading industry in Baltimore. In fact, it is the fastest growing sector in the city, but one of the lowest paid. Home care, for example, is the most in-demand profession in the country due to our growing aging population—yet workers are paid an average salary of just $13,300.

The working people across America – and Baltimore – deserve better.

A Living Wage Would Help

Violence runs rampant in Baltimore’s streets, and everyone is clear where violence comes from: extreme poverty, lack of quality education, and homes where parents have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Raising the wage floor to $15 will not erase these problems, but it will give working families a fighting chance. We don’t want a hand-out, we want living wages for the work we do, wages that give us dignity. And working for $10 an hour is not dignity.

Our union has not been quiet. In 2014, we won a wage increase for service workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital that set the standard for a living wage in Baltimore.

And recently we led the way for the Baltimore City Council to vote for raising the city wage floor to $15 an hour. Our mayor even promised to approve the measure, but then backpedaled once the legislation hit her desk. Again, this is not acceptable.

It is time for our elected officials to put people before businesses. They should care whether Baltimoreans have to choose between paying for food or medicine. They should care that so many of their constituents can never take time off work to be with their families or to care for themselves because they do not have the benefit of vacation days or sick days.

How can a community be well, if its healthcare givers are not?

That is why we don’t only advocate for living wages, but also for worker protections and basic benefits like paid sick leave and paid vacation time. When workers are healthy and are paid enough to shop where they live, the whole community thrives.

Supporting the Right Candidates

If Carol could take off this Labor Day, she would join us at one our Labor Sunday events. Our members will take to the city’s pulpits to call for union rights and a $15 an hour minimum wage. We’ll protest the politicians and corporations who have rigged the system against working people.

By supporting elected officials who champion workers’ rights we can begin to level the economic playing field and make a system that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

We can fight for better with our voices and with our votes.

We will definitely remember the elected officials who were committed to the interests of Baltimore’s working families — in 2017, 2018 and beyond. And those who were not.

– Lisa Brown is Executive Vice President of 1199 SEIU.

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