January 2014

Low-Wage Workers Elated After Governor Quinn Calls for Raising the Minimum Wage During State of the State Address

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:  

Statewide / Springfield: Scott Vogel,  scott.vogel@seiuhcil.org

Chicago: Catherine Murrell, catherine@standupchicago.org

Raise Illinois Coalition Issues Statement After Governor Calls for Swift Action to Solve Income Inequality Crisis

(January 29, 2014, Springfield) – Governor Quinn called on state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage in Illinois and spoke forcefully about the urgent need to fight income inequality during his State of the State address today.

Regina Williams, 44, who makes $8.25 an hour at a McDonald’s in Decatur, went to the Capitol today for the State of the State address. She urgently needs the minimum wage to go up.  Regina works part time so she can care for her three grandsons, ages one, two, and three so her 20-year-old daughter can study and get her GED.  Four years ago, Regina couldn’t find work and was forced to live in transitional housing.  In September 2013 she started doing fast-food work but she struggles just to survive.  Regina is stuck between two horrible choices: wanting to work more hours to increase her income, and being unable to care for her grandsons and to help her daughter.

“I’m drowning right now. I’m just barely hanging on financially,” said Regina. “Everyone I know is desperately struggling. Look around and all you see are people trying to just get by.”

Right now, Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.  Legislation is pending in both the state House and Senate that would raise the minimum in Illinois to over $10.65.  The bills are HB 3718, sponsored by State Representative Art Turner (9th District) and co-sponsored by Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (25th District), and SB 68 by State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th District).

Britney Swanson, 26, a nursing home worker in Galesburg, works full time making $8.35 an hour and is seven weeks pregnant with her and her boyfriend’s first child.  During his speech Governor Quinn spoke about the estimated 400,000 minimum wage workers in Illinois  who are doing everything they possibly can to work hard and better their lives, but simply can’t get ahead making poverty level wages.  Britney is one of those workers who needs Illinois to raise the minimum wage. She lives with her brother and mom, who isn’t working due to a disability, to pull together enough money to make ends meet.

“Now that I’m pregnant, and thinking about my family’s future, I just don’t know how we’re going to make it,” said Britney.  “How am I going to be able to afford child care? I want to work and be self-sufficient, but to do that I have to make a living wage.”

The Raise Illinois coalition said that raising the minimum wage would strengthen Illinois’ economy, fight job loss, and help small businesses by putting more money in the pockets of consumers. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour would inject a net of $2.5 billion into the state’s anemic economy.  In addition, over 71% of Illinois voters support raising the minimum wage according to a statewide survey by the National Employment Law Project.

There are an estimated 400,000 minimum wage workers in Illinois.   Minimum wage workers earn only $17,000 a year, working full-time. Behind these workers are hundreds of thousands of other people—children, spouses, aging parents—who rely on that worker for support.  In fact, 110,000 full-time Illinois workers are still living in poverty.  (The federal poverty threshold for a family of three is $18,284.)

Raising the minimum wage not only impacts workers and their families, but creates an economic ripple effect in their communities. Consumer spending drives our economy and consumers can’t spend what they don’t have. Minimum wage workers, like all workers, are consumers. In addition, businesses and organizations see cost savings from lower employee turnover and reduced expenses associated with hiring and training new employees. Higher wages increase productivity and improve product quality, customer satisfaction and company reputation.

“Our home care aides make it possible for deserving older persons to live at home, where they want to live, for as long as they want to live there. Not one of our aides is paid commensurate with the savings they provide to the taxpayers of this state.  But we believe that paying higher wages is good business. Through increases in wages we have reduced turnover of our aide’s which has led to more consistent care for the older adults we serve,” said Darby Anderson, Senior Vice President, Addus HomeCare.

Minimum wage workers aren’t the only ones who desperately need Illinois’ minimum wage to go up. Hundreds of thousands of other low-income workers make slightly above the minimum wage but still struggle to survive.

For example, Kenya Baker, a single mom  with kids ages 3, 11, and 12, and a nursing home worker for four years on the north side of Chicago, makes just $9.65 an hour. Although she would like to go back to school to better her life, she simply can’t afford it. Kenya says she doesn’t have the luxury to get angry when politicians or anyone else insults her self-worth or how hard she works at her job. Her focus is on raising her kids.

“If these politicians saw their own parents in a nursing home and witnessed how much we do to give our patients quality care and comfort, and understood just how little we get paid and what it takes to survive, I honestly believe they would vote to raise the minimum wage,” said Kenya Baker.  “Doing so would inevitably lift up all low-wage workers.”

Raise Illinois is led by a coalition made up of community, business, faith, and labor organizations along with minimum wage workers and supporters that are committed to fighting for a raise in the minimum wage in Illinois.  Raise Illinois is a major legislative and grassroots campaign to increase Illinois’ minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 an hour. www.raiseillinois.com

 

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VIDEO: Home care workers and consumers on the steps of the Supreme Court

On January 21st, a delegation of home care workers, consumers, and allies stood together in Washington D.C. to tell the country what’s really at stake in Harris V. Quinn, a case before the Supreme Court that threatens the lives and livelihoods of the tens of thousands of Illinoisans that depend on home care. See their stories below.

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Harris vs Quinn Case Before U.S. Supreme Court: Statement of Flora Johnson, Illinois Home Care Provider and Chairperson of SEIU Healthcare Illinois

Flora Johnson interviewed in the snow outside the Supreme Court after oral arguments in Harris vs Quinn; Jan. 21, 2014

Flora Johnson interviewed in the snow outside the Supreme Court over Harris vs Quinn; Jan. 21, 2014

(January 21, 2014, Chicago)

My name is Flora Johnson, and I’m a home care provider and chairperson of the Executive Board of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

I’m proud to be here today on behalf of 27,000 low-wage home care providers across Illinois who are threatened by this Supreme Court case.

As home care providers, our job is to help seniors and people with disabilities preserve something priceless: their independence. And that was our job again here today, in front of the Supreme Court.

We told the court that this case will hurt the people who rely on home care to live independently.

This case could dismantle a home care program that serves 30,000 people with disabilities. One of those people is my son. His name is Kenneth, and he was born with cerebral palsy.

Many years ago, I was told that Kenneth would need to be sent to an institution for his long-term care. But home care allowed Kenneth to remain at home with our family. He went on to earn an associates degree, and he even competed internationally in Bocce.

So many mothers in my position have faced an awful choice: Stay at home to care for a child with a disability, or see them forced into institutions. Many of those mothers simply couldn’t afford to stay home if home care didn’t pay a decent wage.

As any home care worker can tell you, we’re in this profession because we enjoy helping the people we serve – not because it pays well. But we’ve been able to remain in this profession because it pays much better than it used to. The union has made that possible.

Thirty years ago, home care workers in Illinois made as little as one dollar per hour. You simply can’t make ends meet on so little. That’s why we decided to organize and form our union.

After we became a union, wages gradually rose to $13 an hour, and we obtained access to health care and professional training. As working conditions improved dramatically, so did the quality of home care for seniors and people with disabilities.

We can’t afford to go back to the bad old days — the days when home care workers were living in terrible poverty, and when seniors and people disabilities were forced into institutions because they couldn’t find consistent care. But that’s what this lawsuit threatens to do.

We hope the Supreme Court will protect a system that has helped combat poverty and preserve independence.

It’s not just right constitutionally. It’s the difference between right and wrong.

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Know your rights!

Are you concerned about getting more involved in your union because you’re worried about consequences from management? Download this card explaining your Weingarten rights, cut it out and put it in your wallet, and know that your union involvement is protected.

Your Weingarten Rights

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VIDEO: Harris v. Quinn and the future of home care in Illinois

On January 21st, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case that could decide whether Illinois continues to provide quality, professional home care services for 30,000 people with disabilities who would otherwise be forced into institutions. See this video and learn more about the people affected and their quest to live independently.  Disability rights groups, in concert with SEIU, have urged the court to reject the case and leave Illinois’ successful home care program intact.

 

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Supreme Court case could affect home care workers like me

Areesa Johnson

Areesa Johnson

On January 21, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear Harris v. Quinn, a case brought by the National Right to Work Committee, an extreme right-wing think tank. This case threatens home care workers’ right to collective bargaining with states to improve working conditions.

More than that, Harris v. Quinn jeopardizes the ability of senior citizens and people with disabilities to live independently at home. Weakening our home care workforce means more folks will be forced to live in an institution.

I have been a Personal Assistant for four years now, caring for people with disabilities in my Springfield, Illinois community. 17 years ago my husband fell ill and that was my first experience as a caregiver. I fell in love with the work then, and with each new consumer I work with, that love grows.

This line of work involves more than an exchange of services. You build a relationship with people and share in the joy of their independence through the work you do. My consumers get to stay in our community living safely and independently where they want to be, and that makes me very proud to be a home care provider.

Providing home care can be difficult, though. I constantly worry about how I’ll cover my bills each month because I don’t get many hours. Sometimes I work without pay because  John, my current consumer, needs the extra help.

Over the years, home care workers just like me in Illinois and a lot of other states came together and formed unions. Together, with other home care workers, we were able to improve our working conditions and the quality of care for our clients. Advancements like higher wages, benefits, paid time off, and job safety training have allowed us to make home care jobs good jobs.

As more people see this work as a way to provide for their own families while making a difference in the lives of other families, turnover goes down and the quality of care for our clients goes up.

My coworkers and other healthcare providers, senior citizens and people with disabilities, and the entire community are deeply concerned about the outcome of this case, and hope the Supreme Court will do the right thing.

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Sun-Times: Bruce Rauner in newly surfaced video: ‘adamantly, adamantly’ against raising the minimum wage

 

All four of the Republican gubernatorial candidates are on record stating that they oppose raising the minimum wage for low-income workers and families. But as our coalition partners at Action Now have stated, one of the GOP hopefuls, billionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, actually stated that Illinois’ minimum wage should actually be lowered from a paltry $8.25 an hour to the federal rate of $7.25 an hour.

Capital Fax posted the audio of Rauner’s quote, courtesy of John Gregory at the Illinois Radio Network, where Rauner explicitly said: “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage. I think we’ve got to be competitive here in Illinois. It’s critical we’re competitive. We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national.”

We agree with the statement from Action Now that “making enough income to barely survive and to support one’s family is not a partisan issue, nor should it be.  …It is time for state lawmakers, political candidates, civic leaders, and the business community to work on a bipartisan basis to alleviate poverty and to offer constructive ideas on how to strengthen economic opportunity for all working families in our state.”

Rauner has now turned himself into a pretzel and has been flip-flopping on the issue.  In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Rauner was pilloried from both sides of the political spectrum.

“Mr. Rauner’s positioning on minimum wage as a multimillionaire who owns nine homes was playing right into the Pat Quinn playbook on class warfare, and it’s a warning to Republicans that Mr. Rauner is a terrible nominee for us and would lose the election in the fall,” Dillard told the Sun-Times.

“He’s an extremely vulnerable candidate on many fronts, including showing his inexperience by mistepping badly on a ’47-percent Romney’ moment on the minimum,” Dillard said. “It’s endemic why the Republicans have to be very leery: This is just a sample of how Pat Quinn will use a playbook very effectively against a zillionaire like Bruce Rauner.” ….

“They say a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. In the case of Bruce Rauner, he showed his true colors when he said that Illinois’ minimum wage needs to be cut. Only a right-wing billionaire would think it’s right to take thousands of dollars a year from working people who live on the brink of poverty,” said the group’s spokesman, Danny Kanner.

“Forget his insincere apology today. The real Bruce Rauner would force thousands of Illinoisans into poverty if he had the chance, and voters won’t soon forget,” Kanner said.

Then forced into damage control, Rauner wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune today trying to explain that he does in fact support raising the minimum wage. But the release of the video to the Sun-Times today has undermined Rauner’s argument.

Our position at HCII is clear: giving low-wage workers better wages is simply the right thing to do, which will support working families, strengthen our communities, and rebuild our local economy to create even more jobs. In short, raising the minimum wage should not be treated as a political issue, but a moral issue.

 

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Disability-Rights Advocates Express Concern Over Home Care Case

A case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris v. Quinn, could cause unrest for as many as 30,000 people with disabilities and the people who care for them. Disabilities-rights advocates say that these 30,000 people rely on Illinois’ home care system to live independently and avoid isolation in long-term care facilities. In late December, the advocates filed amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs urging the justices to uphold two lower court decisions that denied a bid to change the way the state administers a home care program serving 30,000 people with disabilities who qualify for Medicaid funding.

Thousands of low-wage home care workers – members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois — who deliver care also could be impacted by the case brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which seeks to hamper the union’s collective bargaining rights. But advocates for consumers in the program told the court that collective bargaining has promoted the stability and quality of home care for seniors and people with disabilities by curbing chronic turnover in the profession.

Read the briefs below.

Summaries of Amicus Briefs in support of SEIU (1-2-14)

American Assoc. of People with Disabilities

Past Presidents of DC Bar

AFL-CIO

Homecare Historians

Labor Law Professors

National Education Association, California Teachers Association, Change to Win

Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

Public Safety Employees

State of New York, et al.-1

United States

Washington State et al

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Our Coalition Partner, Action Now, Issues Statement After GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Oppose Raising the Minimum Wage

The Minimum Wage Limbo game illustrated the limbo where low-wage workers end up when they have to choose which necessities they can afford.

The Minimum Wage Limbo game illustrated the limbo where low-wage workers end up when they have to choose which necessities they can afford.

Our coalition partners at Action Now issued the following press release about the minimum wage issue in Illinois.

Billionaire Venture Capitalist and Candidate, Bruce Rauner, Wants to Lower Illinois’ Minimum Wage for Workers Making Poverty Level Wages

(CHICAGO, Jan. 8, 2014) — Despite Illinois’ ongoing income inequality crisis, the four Republican gubernatorial candidates just recently stated their strong opposition to raising the state’s minimum wage according to the Alton Daily News.

Most shocking is that one of the gubernatorial candidates, Bruce Rauner, a billionaire venture capitalist, actually thinks that minimum wage should be lowered to the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. Rauner was quoted as stating: “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage.”

Illinois’ current minimum wage is a paltry $8.25 an hour, which equals about $17,000 per year for a full-time worker.

In response, Katelyn Johnson, Executive Director of Action Now, which leads a statewide coalition working to increase the state’s minimum wage, issued the following response:

Making enough income to barely survive and to support one’s family is not a partisan issue, nor should it be.

At a time of rampant economic hardship and income inequality, it is completely irresponsible for any candidate for office to take a callous stance against lifting the minimum wage for low-income families who are struggling–and often failing–to meet their families’ basic needs for food, housing, clothing and medical care.

It is especially shocking that a billionaire candidate, like Bruce Rauner, would actually suggest that those minimum wage workers, and their families whom they support, should earn less and be forced to live on $15,000 per year, instead of $17,000.

It is time for state lawmakers, political candidates, civic leaders, and the business community to work on a bipartisan basis to alleviate poverty and to offer constructive ideas on how to strengthen economic opportunity for all working families in our state.

No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty. That’s why giving minimum wage workers the raises that they’ve earned is absolutely essential.

Of those workers making the minimum wage, the majority are working full time, and 84% are 20-years or older. Almost 100,000 Illinoisans work full time and still live in poverty, earning less than $17,916 dollars per year for a family of three.

It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour would inject a net of $2.5 billion into our economy and would support our small businesses. That’s why the Raise Illinois coalition is advocating for state lawmakers and civic leaders to support legislation, SB 68 and HB 3718, to raise the minimum wage to $10.65 over the next three years. In addition, over 71% of Illinois voters support raising the minimum wage.

And as s proof of the fair wage movement’s recent success, and its potential, residents near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) voted to raise the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers from $9.19 an hour to $15 an hour.  In addition, Washington D.C. raised the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. Next door in Maryland, Prince George County and Montgomery County both dramatically increased the minimum hourly wage to $11.50 by 2017 from the current $7.25.

In 2012 voters in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico all approved wage hikes. Finally, in New Jersey’s state elections in 2013, that also saw Gov. Chris Christie reelected, voters overwhelmingly supported raising the state minimum wage to $8.25 and amended the state Constitution to tie future wage increases to inflation.

That’s why the Raise Illinois coalition is calling for a bipartisan effort across our state to lift wages for low-income workers, and to give struggling families greater opportunity and economic security.

The fight for raising the minimum wage in Illinois should not be considered a partisan issue, but instead a real opportunity to support low-wage workers and their families, to lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, and to boost Illinois’ economy by strengthening our small businesses.

Action Now is a multi-issue grassroots organization of working families in the Chicago metro area. Our issue campaigns come out of listening to community residents through regular monthly meetings, engaging the base by going door-to-door and mobilizing all residents to take part in their community. Our leadership development includes formal leadership training and active involvement of members in the planning, implementation and evaluation of issue campaigns.

SOURCE Action Now

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Workers at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island vote to unionize, marking a breakthrough into Chicago CHS-affiliated hospitals

In August, a strong majority of service and maintenance workers at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, IL voted to unionize with SEIU HCII. The newest SEIU-organized hospital in the Chicago region unites over 250 employees on nursing floors, as well as ancillary staff in housekeeping, dietary, and other departments for a stronger voice in patient care decisions and greater economic security for their families.

This victory adds the voice of more than 250 workers to the 4,200 Community Health Systems (CHS) workers already united in SEIU Healthcare.

This victory adds the voice of more than 250 workers to the 4,200 Community Health Systems (CHS) workers already united in SEIU Healthcare.

“I’ve been at MetroSouth for 14 years and finally we will have a voice over issues that are critical to the work we do, like staffing and workload,” said Ramona Gentry, a Patient Care Partner. “I support my family with this job, and now we can negotiate wage increases that my family and I can count on too.”

MetroSouth Medical Center is owned and operated by Community Health Systems (CHS), one of the largest for profit healthcare systems in the country. The company owns, operates, or leases 135 hospitals in 29 states, including eight in Illinois.

“I am very excited to work as a team with management moving forward to address top issues for staff and patients, find positive solutions at the bargaining table, and ultimately make our hospital even better than before,” said Vernon Brooks, an Environmental Service Tech Lead who’s been at MetroSouth for 3½ years.

This election marks the first SEIU Healthcare victory of CHS hospital workers in the state. They join the 4,200 other CHS-affiliated workers in California, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington who are already united in SEIU Healthcare. Members at Metro South have elected their representatives for the bargaining committee and are working together to win their first contract.

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