- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is throwing his support behind home care workers, of which a handful caroled outside his mansion Thursday and called on him to ensure they receive a pay increase. But a union official cautioned the state’s proposed action could hurt the cause.

Office of Administration spokeswoman Ryan Burns said the Department of Health and Senior Services is drafting an administrative rule to implement wage increases for home-care workers that were negotiated by the Missouri Home Care Union.

At issue are home-care attendants who are paid through the state’s Medicaid program to help dress, clothe and bathe the older people or those otherwise unable to care for themselves. Those workers often are employed by companies that contract with the state. The minimum for the workers is $7.50 an hour, and the average is $8.58 an hour, according to the union.

The union for home-care attendants is in the process of signing an agreement through the Quality Home Care Council, a state panel approved by Missouri voters in 2008 to ensure access to care, in part by stabilizing the home-care workforce. The agreement would raise their minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, with an option for those who receive help to require companies pay workers as much as $10.15 an hour.

Some home-care workers said they fear that the vendors who employ them won’t adhere to the new wage rates without pressure from Nixon. The companies currently take a cut from the $15.56 an hour that the Legislature has budgeted from state Medicaid funds to compensate each attendant.

Eight Missouri home care attendants and care recipients wore Santa hats and sang “We’re dreaming of our first contract” to the tune of “White Christmas” in front of the governor’s mansion to spur his help in implementing the higher wages.

A spokesman for Nixon deferred comment to the Office of Administration, which said he supports a pay increase for the attendants and that the administration would issue a rule change about the wages.

Some union officials expressed disappointment, because administrative rules sometimes takes months to enact and can be blocked by lawmakers.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Laura Swinford noted lawmakers have rarely blocked administrative rules in the past 20 years.

Still, the rule would be “both unnecessary and unwise,” said Jeff Mazur, executive director of the Missouri branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We’re not asking for much,” said Karen Brickey of Columbia, who was among those who sang “Don’t be shy/Ask them why/vendors don’t pay well” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” She’s paid $8.50 an hour - the new minimum - to care for a woman with cerebral palsy seven days a week.

Brickey and others are hopeful that the people they tend to daily would recommend they get the high of $10.15 an hour. She also said she’s still optimistic that vendors will pay the amount required.

“Everyone wants their attendants to make more,” she said.

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