Personal Assistants providing home care services to people with physical disabilities in the Illinois Home Services Program marked their 30th year of organizing in September 2013. When they founded their Union 30 years ago, home care providers worked in the shadows, earning poverty wages of as little as $1 per hour without access to healthcare or any other benefits.
A lot has changed in those 30 years. Thanks to actions of the brave pioneers in the 1980s, Illinois Personal Assistants have made significant improvements in their jobs and in services for Consumers, including winning the right to collectively bargain with the State of Illinois in 2003.
In 2012, Personal Assistants ratified their third contract which made historic gains in the industry:
Creating a stable workforce: PA wages will increase to $13/ hour in December of 2014. When PAs first started organizing many made between $1 and $3/hour for the critical services they provided. Today the workforce has made significant strides towards a living wage that will help recruit and retain the highest quality caregivers.
Creating a healthier workforce: In 2008, Personal Assistants won access to healthcare for the first time ever with the establishment of the SEIU HCII Health Fund. In 2012, the Health Fund was protected and expanded to include more Personal Assistants. Today thousands of Personal Assistants have insurance through the fund and can get the services they need when they’re sick. A healthier workforce creates a steady, reliable workforce that home care consumers need.
Creating a trained workforce: The 2008 contract established a $2 million training program for Personal Assistants. Training classes on CPR, interpersonal skills, fraud prevention, etc. are available and free to all Illinois Personal Assistants. Thousands of providers have participated in trainings.
In addition, the 2012 contract established a mandatory, paid, new hire orientation administered through the Training Fund. The program is currently being piloted in four regions of the state, with plans for expansion statewide. The new orientation will ensure new providers are educated about the program, fraud, and resources and training opportunities that are available.
Health and Safety: Personal Assistants secured contract language that commits the State to providing latex gloves for caregivers when requested. This helps ensure the safety of both home care providers and consumers.
In addition to addressing issues of quality care, stabilizing the workforce and training, having an organized workforce of Personal Assistants has given seniors and people with disabilities a voice outside their home environments. PAs have raised their voices to express the concerns of the people they provide services for whenever legislators have threatened to cut services for seniors and people with disabilities. By doing so, thousands of seniors and people with disabilities have been able to stay in their homes and live independently, which they prefer, rather than being forced into institutional care that costs our State millions of dollars more for care.
Fighting to protect and improve the Home Services Program in Illinois is a constant goal for the providers who make up our union and the consumers we serve. We’re proud of the work we do and the partnerships we have forged, and will continue to press for improvements that will improve the home care industry to meet the growing needs of seniors and people with disabilities.
Learn more about the history of Illinois Personal Assistants and their quest for fairness over the last 30 years below: