Editorial: Human service workers deserve fair pay

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Government work pays pretty well in Massachusetts. Overtime and details push some police salaries into six figures. Strong unions deliver regular raises and generous benefits to teachers, toll-takers and prison guards. State legislators make a decent wage, juicy perks and get to take August, December and much of the rest of the year off.

The exception is the people doing some of the hardest, and most important work: The direct service workers who care for sick, elderly and disabled residents under state contracts to human service providers.

Service workers' pay has fallen victim to state budget crises for years, resulting in high turnover, recruitment difficulties and, we must assume, compromised care. Payment rates for the service providers the state contracts with to manage the programs haven't gone up in 20 years. A recent audit found most of these nonprofits are on shaky financial ground.

The Legislature is now considering a bill, sponsored by Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, that would establish a rate-setting mechanism that would establish a reasonable wage for service workers and provide some predictability for workers and the agencies that employ them. At a recent hearing of the Joint Committee on Families, Children and People with Disabilities, two MetroWest lawmakers -- Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, co-chair, and Rep Stephen LeDuc, D-Marlborough, vice-chair -- offered their enthusiastic support.

The bill also drew supportive comments from officials in the Patrick Administration, which Spilka termed "music to my ears." But like most significant legislation, the bill must also be approved by the Ways & Means committees, which are controlled by the House Speaker and Senate President. Even the best bills often don't clear that hurdle.

This bill deserves the blessing of Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray. The most vulnerable members of our extended families depend on the caring hands of human services workers. Those workers ought to be able to depend on a decent paycheck.