September marked an important victory for care workers across Colorado. Legislators on the Join Budget Committee listened to care workers’ voices and voted for a $15 minimum wage that will take effect on January 1, 2022. For many of us, this is a much-needed pay raise that will have an immediate impact on our lives. It’s a victory worth celebrating – and it’s all because we came together and advocated for what we deserve.
While we may see an increase in our paychecks come January, there is still so much left to do to make the care industry work for all of us. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been hailed as heroes. Employers have shown their appreciation by throwing us pizza parties, hanging “thank you” banners, and other small gifts. But when I’m sitting at the kitchen table reviewing my monthly bills, trying to crunch numbers to make it all work, I can’t help but feel like pizza parties and thank you cards are not enough.
In fact, all we have to do is listen to care workers to know it’s not enough. Turnover in the care industry is high because our working conditions are not sustainable. We work long hours, often at the expense of our own mental and physical health. In an industry centered on care, workers also need paid sick time and paid time off to ensure that we can heal, rest, and spend time with our loved ones. We put our hearts into this work, but many of us end up leaving to work in industries with better pay and benefits.
The individuals and families we work with become part of our communities. Care workers want to continue to provide our clients with the best possible care, and that means we need access to more training to expand my skill set. Lack of access to education leaves many of us feeling stuck or unfulfilled. When our state fails to invest in benefits like these, it is not only holding us back from making this into a long-term career, but also doing a disservice to our clients.
That’s why we have to keep fighting. Colorado Care Workers Unite has formed a working group where we can share our struggles and build worker power. The $15 minimum wage increase has shown what happens when we come together. With the right to unionize, we could continue leveraging our power to make more long-term changes in our industry.
We need to uplift care workers’ voices and demand full accountability from employers. Our work has always been essential, and it will continue to sustain our communities far beyond these difficult times. It’s time for Colorado to build the care industry we deserve.