Greg Kelley: The caregivers are the ones owed a higher wage

The following op-ed from our union president, Greg Kelley, appeared in the State Journal Register on July 29th.

In a recent online article from WCIA-TV titled “Rauner pays new staff lucrative salaries,” the governor said Illinois citizens “owe” his highly-paid staff “a debt of gratitude.” He’s dead wrong. Gov. Bruce Rauner owes our families a $15 minimum wage. We don’t owe Illinois Policy Institute staffers anything.

The statement proves once again how out of touch Governor Rauner is. The governor has never extended the respect he gives to these corporate-funded operatives to everyday working people.

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I am the president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union that represents more than 85,000 home care, child care, hospital, and nursing home workers in the state. Rauner wants many of our members — those whose work allows our kids to get an education, parents to work, seniors and people with disabilities to live independently, and our hospitals to run — to continue to make poverty wages. I want Gov. Rauner to hear some of the stories our members have shared with me about the urgent need to start raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Tanya Moses is a home care worker from Harvey who makes $10.50 an hour. Tanya suffered two months without electricity because she chose to pay the gas bill instead of the light bill.

Tanya cares about helping people. That’s why she cooks, cleans, and handles medical needs for her 84-year-old client, Lee. That’s why she took in a young pregnant woman who was living in a condemned home a few years ago. The young mom now works a minimum wage job. Tanya knows the $15 minimum wage isn’t just good for her, it’s good for them and her entire community as well.

Photo Credit: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune

Photo Credit: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune

 

Gail Hamilton, a home care worker from Springfield, faces the same impossible choices. She says every month she has to choose between the light bill, the gas bill, and buying groceries. Gail has never earned enough money to save for retirement. Even though she spends her days caring for seniors, she’s not sure who will care for her later in life.

Ashely Baugher, a home care worker from Southern Illinois, says she lives constantly in fear. She told the Southern Illinoisan: “We are always scared about being kicked out of our house, having our car taken away.”

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Despite 25 years’ experience in the industry and an early childhood education degree, child care center worker Tunja Daniels only makes $10.50 an hour. She struggles to pay her $600-a-month student loan bills.

Tunja

Our workers aren’t the only ones speaking out for a $15 minimum wage in Illinois — so are small business owners. Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Addison’s Earth Friendly Products, pays her workers at least $17 an hour. Since raising the pay rate, turnover in the 300-worker firm has been cut in half. David Borris, owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, supports a $15 minimum wage in part because it increases demand in the economy.

SB 81, the bill to steadily raise Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, is on the governor’s desk. He’s called the bill “extreme.”

What’s really extreme is the governor’s decision to deny hard-working caregivers a raise while simultaneously hiring right-wing ideologues at larger salaries than their predecessors.

— Greg Kelley is the president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

 

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