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Home care workers rally for better pay, benefits

The #CareIsEssential rally at Federal Plaza was part of a nationwide effort to demand Congress pass the Better Care Better Pay Act, which is part of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

Home care workers represented by the Service Employees International Union march through the Loop to call for Congress to invest $400 billion in expanding access to and creating union jobs, Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Home care workers march through the Loop Tuesday to call for Congress to invest $400 billion in expanding health care access.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Home care workers rallied downtown Tuesday for federal legislation that would help them unionize, guarantee them paid time off and make health care more affordable.

The #CareIsEssential rally at Federal Plaza was part of a nationwide effort to demand Congress pass the Better Care Better Pay Act. It is part of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan and would amount to a $400 billion investment in health care infrastructure and union jobs. The act would boost investment in Medicaid home and community-based services for seniors, people with disabilities and children.

“The goal is to shine a spotlight on the Better Care Better Pay Act, to bring out folks who work in home care and lift up their voices and tell the world that we need to pay home care workers better and they need to be lifted up as an important part of the recovery effort,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois. The union has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

The rally brought roughly 200 home care workers and their clients together to highlight the need for a $15 hourly minimum wage and better access to health care. U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky, both Illinois Democrats, spoke at a news conference before the rally.

The act would provide participating states with $100 million to expand Medicaid home care services and strengthen the home care workforce. Congress has not yet voted on the American Jobs Plan.

“It’s not just important that we get the $15 minimum wage for us to survive and make ends meet, but it’s also important to our clients,” said Patricia Evan, who has been a home care worker for eight years. “This industry has a high turnover rate because of low wages, and clients are left without the care they need.”

The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute reports turnover among home care worker is as high as 60% a year, and 18% of home care workers live in poverty with little or no health care benefits.

“The pandemic created a big shortage of home care workers,” said Susan Aarup, who uses a wheelchair. “I have hours where I need care but I can’t find workers to come to my house because of the low $12 average wage. You can become a prisoner in your own home because you can’t get good service.”