Sen. Dean Heller told attendees of a Latin Chamber of Commerce event last week that he doesn’t believe minimum wage should be set at the federal level, and instead should be decided by governors and legislators at the state level. Nevada Democrats immediately jumped on the comment, using it to paint Heller as an out-of-touch career politician who needs to be replaced by their challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen.
They continued to ride that wave Tuesday, as Rosen hosted a roundtable discussion at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1107 about minimum wage and the ‘Fight for $15.’ Taking center stage were several home care workers who discussed their financial instability and the tragic irony of being unable to provide for their own families when their job is helping other families.
“This is a personal issue for me,” said Rosen, explaining that both her and her husband’s parents required assisted living or home health care at different points in their lives. “Those folks (who helped take care of them) were my angels.”
One private home care worker said she loves helping people for a living but is in the process of losing her home because she cannot make enough money. She said she’s considering moving out of state.
Another said she financially needs to take on more clients to pay her bills but can’t because her own mother requires at-home assistance.
Addressing the latter woman, Rosen said, “You need to be able to make a living so you can take care of your mother.”
Rosen later added, “How we take care of our children, how we take care of our parents, how we take care of our families… It says a whole heck of a lot about us as a community.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for personal care aides in the United States was $21,920 in 2016. Home health aides made marginally more — $22,600. The two occupations combined are the fastest growing job sector in the nation, thanks to the aging baby boomer population.
Also highlighted during the roundtable were Clark County School District support staff, which includes food service, transportation and technical staff.
Virginia Mills of the Education Support Employees Association (ESEA) called these employees “the backbone” of the district and said some of them can’t support themselves or their families on their CCSD salary alone because they work fewer than 40 hours for only nine months of the year.
“Minimum wage is powerful because it impacts them,” said Mills. “It’s not just McDonalds. The minimum wage affects everyone in the Clark County School District.”
Lisa Guzman of the Nevada State Education Association echoed that thought, stressing the positive impact bus drivers and lunch ladies can have on students: “They’re the first people there and the last ones students see. They’re critical to the education of our kids.”
Guzman also noted that contract negotiations for support staff happen after negotiations with administrators and educators: “Having a minimum wage is critical because (support staff) seem to be the last considered during the contract negotiations.”
Brian Shepherd, deputy trustee of SEIU local 1107, said low minimum wage affects all unions: “Contracts are going to be threatened as long as there is a low-wage economy. They’ll constantly be under attack. We need to raise the minimum wage. And we need strong unions to continue that fight.”
Rosen is a cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would immediately bump the federal minimum wage to $9.25 and incrementally increase it to $15 by 2024.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour for most employees. The minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25 for workers who aren’t offered health coverage. That translates to an annual salary of $17,160, if those workers get 40 hours a week, but many low income workers don’t. For workers who are offered health coverage, the Nevada minimum wage is equal to the federal $7.25 per hour.
After the event, Rosen acknowledged the Raise the Wage Act is unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled Congress, but stressed her that it was the right thing to push for. She said part of the job of politicians in the minority party is to “educate and illuminate” issues like minimum and livable wages.
“It’s important that families get a chance to live with dignity,” she said. “If you work hard at your job and you’re doing a good job, then you should be able to support your family.”
Rosen also acknowledged that raising the minimum wage is not the only thing that needs to be addressed about the economic relationship between companies and employees. She called out the tax reform bill Republicans passed late last year and criticized how large corporations have responded.
“I believe there’s a trillion dollars in capital and stock buybacks that have happened,” she said. “Companies are holding onto that capital and not investing in people. … They’re not investing in people and not investing in their community and maybe they should be.”
Rosen also briefly addressed Immigration and Customs Enforcement and confirmed that she — like Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — does not believe ICE should be abolished, but that family separation practices and other policies at detention centers along the southern border need to be addressed.
She defended her decision to vote for a resolution that denounced those who called for abolishing ICE. She said the problem with ICE comes from “reckless, thoughtless and heartless” executive orders and actions issued by the presidential administration.
“ICE does a lot of other things,” said Rosen. “The problem isn’t with ICE itself, though it may need some reforms. The problem really is with executive action.”