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Home health aides, protesting wages, go on strike in New York

NEW YORK -- Thousands of home health care aides who make it possible for sick or frail patients to remain at home began a three-day strike yesterday, demanding a ''living wage" of at least $10 an hour.

At least one affected agency quickly reached a tentative agreement as the strike got under way.

The workers say they can barely exist on their $7 an hour wage and are seeking $10 an hour plus health benefits.

At a rally near Times Square, strikers waved signs and chanted, ''What do we want? Justice!"

The agencies -- who say they lack the funds to meet all the workers' demands -- said they were sending replacement workers for the neediest clients.

But some patients were left in the lurch yesterday.

''We're fending for ourselves," said Barbara Unterman, 62, a lung cancer patient who lives with her 90-year-old mother, an amputee, in Queens. Their aide was among the striking workers.

Local union president Dennis Rivera told the crowd that a tentative pact had been reached yesterday morning with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York that would pay $10 an hour.

Jennifer Cunningham, the union's executive director, said she expected agencies covering about 12,000 workers to settle by the end of the day. The agreements call for most workers to get $10 an hour by 2007, she said.

Aides for any agencies that reached agreements by day's end will return to work today, while others will stay out two more days, he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the tentative agreement a ''significant and encouraging breakthrough" and urged all the strikers to return to work.

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