Is Gov. Quinn Playing Politics With Care for The Disabled?
Updated: Monday, 12 Oct 2009, 10:18 PM CDTPublished : Monday, 12 Oct 2009, 10:18 PM CDT
Chicago - For the last two weeks, there's been an election underway in Illinois you probably haven't heard about. It started with a decision by governor Quinn, a decision which has some families accusing the governor of playing politics with care for the disabled. Our Larry Yellen has the Fox Chicago News investigation. ************ When Pam Harris's developmentally disabled son Josh wants to communicate a message, he uses a special device... But Harris says it's governor Pat Quinn who needs help communicating his message to parents like her.
“I can't imagine he even thought of this being about people and families..”
Harris is one of about three thousand "personal support workers" in Illinois. They receive state funding to care for developmentally disabled individuals in their homes. In her case, it's her son Josh.
In June, Governor Quinn signed an executive order, which for the first time authorized collective bargaining by these workers. Now, she and other parents working as caregivers could be forced to join a union. Harris had heard nothing about Quinn's decision.....
“I don't rock the boat, I just do the very best to make sure my son has a busy and meaningful life.”
But now she and others were the target of a heated organizing campaign.
“When my doorbell rings at eleven thirty Sunday morning and there’s two people in purple shirts, one from California, one from Virginia-- nice enough young people-- nice enough, but that's an invasion of my privacy. “
The more she learned, the more she feared that in addition to paying dues of six hundred dollars a year or more, she would have outsiders telling her how to care for Josh.
“Union contracts talk about suspension, probation, training, days off? It's ridiculous, to draw a line from a Union to my own efforts to provide a meaningful life for my child. So she started her own campaign against the organizing effort. And she contacted her state representative, who wants Governor Quinn to reconsider the executive order. Rep. Jim Durkin says he is “afraid this order is going to disrupt the unity that these parents have and the family members have with the family member who is profoundly disabled.”
Two unions, the SEIU and AFSCME, are competing to represent the workers. They both say caregivers will benefit greatly from Union representation, including better wages and benefits.
AFSCME Organizing Director, Tracey Abman says “This executive order specifically does not get in the way of what goes on in their home. This is really about bringing them together so they have a powerful voice in Springfield where the decisions get made.’
But some AFSCME officials admit the governor's order is being implemented too quickly.
“We, AFSCME, had argued both with the state and the SEIU that there should be a period of six months where people could be educated about this executive order, what it meant, and the great opportunity it provides.. “Added Abman.
Governor Quinn’s office told Fox Chicago News “These workers are generally not making high wages and many are not covered by health insurance. However, workers should not be pressured into any decision and whether they decide to organize is totally up to them."
But Pam Harris noticed the governor's recent endorsement by the SEIU and wondered it this was more about politics, than wages and health insurance. “There was our governor, standing aside the SEIU leadership, in front of the SEIU banner, saying "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize."
The SEIU says it endorsed the governor because he cares about working families, and is a leader in ethics reform. Meanwhile, the voting ends next Monday, and Pamela Harris continues her campaign.
“This is so far from anything that I have ever done before. But I'm worried, I'm a mother, and I need to protect my son, and my family, and I am concerned.”
(Pam Harris is my RTS sister, Josh is Alex's RTS brother. )