My first experience with home care was when my mother was sick and we had a home care worker for her so my siblings and I could keep working. That woman who helped my mother was a godsend to us. And, for the last seven years, it’s a been a godsend to be a home care worker myself.
I’ve had the privilege to care for two women. My first consumer had slurred speech due to her multiple sclerosis. We had been family friends, and because we worked so closely together, I always knew what she needed and was trying to communicate. Because I knew her gestures and her non-verbal cues, I was able to help doctors and others understand her when they couldn’t.
It took some time to build a similar relationship with the woman I currently care for. I first had to build up her confidence that she could safely remain living in her own home. In addition to cleaning her house and preparing her meals or keeping up with her doctor’s appointments, I also help her get through her seizures when they come on. She now knows that her day-to-day needs are met and we set goals together so we keep working towards something new. We also have peace of mind knowing that our union is fighting for a state budget that protects the program that she relies on to live independently--if something is going to hurt her then it’s going to hurt me too, or vice versa.
Home care work gives me the opportunity to fulfill one of my life’s central missions. After my son committed suicide several years ago, I pledged that if I ever encountered someone struggling in life again that I would be the one to tell them that I care so they wouldn’t feel alone. Being a home care worker has allowed me to tell and show someone that I care each and every day when I go to work.
And for me, my union makes me feel like there’s someone out there who cares for me too. It’s hard to not have co-workers that you see everyday, but my union offers me protection and makes me feel like I’m not alone because I have my union brothers and sisters standing with me. We win raises together. We win better benefits together. We win funding for our home care program together. Knowing that my union has my back helps me not worry so much and allows me to focus on caring for my consumer. I’m not in this alone, we are in it together.
That’s why it’s so upsetting that Illinois Governor Rauner and the Trump Administration are working hand-in-hand with right-wing groups such as the Freedom Foundation and other SPN affiliates to attack us as home care workers. They are using dishonest claims that would stop home care workers from contributing our own wages to support our union in the same way teachers, police officers and firefighters do. I can’t help but feel it’s because our work has never been respected or recognized like it should be, and because most of us doing the work are women, Black, and immigrant Americans. I, like hundreds of thousands of other home care workers across the country, are taking a stand. We have made a choice to join together and continue supporting our union. It’s not the business of government officials to say how we spend our hard-earned paychecks.