- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Hundreds of home care workers delivered hand-signed letters to Gov. Charlie Baker’s office Wednesday pressing for what they called a $15 an hour “living wage.”

The workers rallied outside the Statehouse before handing the letters to Baker staff members in front of his third floor office.

“We matter, we the health care workers, the low wage workers, we matter. We want our fair share,” said Kinderlay Cummings, a home health care aid from Springfield and one of the speakers at the rally.

The workers were joined by Beacon Hill’s top Democratic lawmakers - House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg - who expressed support for the effort.

Rosenberg pointed to what he portrayed as the country’s growing wage inequality.

“The people at the top are making 400 times what the people at the bottom of the income ladder are making,” he told the rally. “As we’ve come out of the recession, 95 percent of all the growth in the economy, all the new wealth, has gone to the top 1 percent of the people.”

Outside Baker’s office, the protesters chanted “What do we want? 15. When do we want it? Now.”

Baker was in Washington, D.C., and members of his staff collected the letters.

Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said the administration “values the work of personal care attendants and their commitment to patients and wellness across the commonwealth.”

“While their upcoming contract remains in negotiations,” she added, “their request will be carefully considered moving forward.”

The Statehouse rally comes as the contract for more than 35,000 personal care attendants who work through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, is set to expire July 1. The workers currently earn $13.38 an hour.

Union organizers from 1199 SEIU say they represent 52,000 personal care attendants across the state, including those paid through MassHealth. They say home care is a fast growing industry in Massachusetts.

The call for a $15-an-hour wage has been echoed by workers in other industries, including among fast food restaurant employees, airport workers and Walmart workers.

The state’s minimum wage is $9 an hour, up from $8 last year.

The increase, the first since 2008, was approved by the Legislature and former Gov. Deval Patrick last year and begins a three-step process that eventually will bring Massachusetts’ minimum wage to a U.S.-leading $11 per hour by 2017.

The minimum wage before tips for restaurant servers and other tipped workers also goes up under the new law, from $2.63 per hour to $3.75 per hour by 2017.

Members of Massachusetts all-Democratic congressional delegation have begun lining up behind an effort to hike the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020.

Sens. Edward Markey said the higher wage would help more families make ends meet, expand economic opportunity, and build an economy that works for everyone.

The federal bill would also phase out the $2.13 tipped wage and index the minimum wage to median wages.

___

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

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