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SEIU Local 880 Homecare Workers Win First Union Contract

SEIU Local 880 homecare worker writes:

Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed the first union contract with over 20,000 SEIU Local 880 Personal Assistants working through the Illinois Department of Human Services/Office of Rehabilitation Services (DHS/ORS) Tuesday afternoon. The historic event wrapped up what has been a summer of tremendous strides for the State’s Homecare workers. “We fought hard to win a 34% pay raise over four years for homecare workers and the right to have a voice on the job. This contract shows that the State acknowledges the significance of our contribution to giving quality care in Illinois. We’ve come a long way since 1985 when we made only $3.35 or $1.00 an hour,” said Helen Miller, who started Homecare work in 1983, and is now President of SEIU Local 880.

In addition to making PA’s eligible for unemployment compensation and the implementation of a solid grievance procedure for the first time, the contract brings 20,000 DHS/ORS Personal Assistants closer to a living wage. PA’s currently make $7 an hour with no benefits. They will be earning $9.35 at the end of the four-year term of the agreement. Although the contract does not include a provision for health care, PA’s vow to fight for health benefits in the 2003-2004 Legislative Session.

“This contract is about our respect. Maybe I’ll be able to tell you that I can support the full financial needs of my family after this raise by doing something I love -- working with the disabled so they can keep living in their homes. But we still did not win health coverage, which we plan to fight for this year in Springfield” said Vivian Watkins, Personal Assistant in Rockford, IL.

The raise gives the state a much-needed boost of $300 million into local economies over the four year term, as PA’s will be spending their increases on food, housing, clothes, and utility bills. As a result, it is hoped that improvements will be made in declining turnover rates, which have posed previous problems to continuous, quality care for consumers.

The first union contract for Illinois’ homecare workers marks a growing trend of unionized health professionals in the Long-Term Care Industry. In a series of Senior Summits earlier this summer sponsored by House Speaker Madigan, homecare workers played a major role in shifting the debate on long-term care – many state officials will now advocate that quality of care and quality jobs for caregivers are inextricably linked.

Earlier this year, over 20,000 homecare workers in Washington won a new contract with raises due to a lobbying effort that included more than 22,000 phone calls, e-mails, faxes, and visits to legislators by union members, clients, and other advocates. Illinois is the most recent victory of this national home care worker’s movement.

"We can all appreciate the value of the work personal assistants perform -- helping the disabled live independently and with dignity. I'm pleased to sign this contract today and provide a much-deserved wage increase so that committed, qualified personal assistants can afford to continue providing important services to people with disabilities," said Blagojevich.