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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