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Chicago Home Care Workers Continue Fight for Higher Wages

March 5, 2015

Home care workers and consumers gathered in Chicago for a town hall meeting on Feb. 28 to ramp up their efforts in the nationwide Fight for 15 campaign.

The town hall meeting is one of 20 that are scheduled to take place in February and March. Meetings have already been held in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Carson City, Nevada.

Approximately 200 Illinois home care workers attended the town hall meeting. The workers represented the range of employment scenarios for home care workers: Some were employed by private agencies, others worked for public employers; some were members of a union (including Service Employees International Union, which hosted the event), others were nonunion.

Additionally, home care consumers, eldercare experts, and policymakers — including Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia — were in attendance to voice their support for higher wages for home care workers.

Home care workers formally aligned with the Fight for 15 campaign in September, when they joined fast-food workers in nationwide rallies for higher wages.

Support from Policymakers

The Feb. 28 town hall meeting marked the first time that policymakers in Illinois have publicly committed to backing the Fight for 15.

“I was really happy to hear politicians standing up and supporting us,” said home care worker Patricia Evans, who attended the rally.

In an interview with PHI, Evans, a home care worker in Chicago for the last four years, said that she sensed a great deal of optimism at the town hall meeting, and came away with the belief that the Fight for $15 message was spreading.

“People are going to talk to their neighbors, talk to their church members, and tell them all about” the Fight for 15 campaign, she said.

Panel Discussion

The town hall meeting featured a panel comprising:

They were joined later by Garcia as well as four members of the Illinois legislature, many of whom told personal stories about their experiences with home care.

Evans recalled that one local politician spoke about having a grandfather with dementia — a veteran of the Korean War — who was able to age with independence and dignity in his own home thanks to home care workers.

“A lot of people think that [home care work] is just babysitting,” Evans said, but home care workers do much more than that. For elders and people with disabilities — some of whom live in isolation — home care workers are invaluable to their physical and mental health. “You need someone caring for you, you need someone helping you,” Evans said.

Life on $15/Hour

Evans said her life would certainly improve if her wages were raised to $15/hour.

“I’d be able to eat a healthier diet — I wouldn’t have to rely on my mother for the rest of my food,” she said. (Evans provides home care for her mother and another elder.)

She added that she could put “entertainment back in my budget — I could go to the movies. I want to see Selma.”

She said she would also be able to afford clothing essentials. Currently, she wears her shoes until they completely wear out, and she is badly in need of a new winter coat.

Evans said that she sometimes worries that low-wage workers such as herself are too busy to “lift our heads up and advocate for ourselves.”

But, she adds, she is encouraged at the optimism of the latest Fight for 15 town hall meeting. “The word is getting out,” she said.

— by Matthew Ozga

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