SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Thousands of state workers entrusted to care for the disabled worry about a future contract under Governor Bruce Rauner.
The union representing more than 60,000 personal assistants in the state’s home services program says contract talks have stalled. The program pays family members or other trained professionals to care disabled people in their homes. The program is designed to keep people out of more costly nursing home care.
Andre Sykes helps 30-year old Jeff Conant each day. Conant suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when he was 15 years old.
"I make sure he's getting up, make sure he's bathed, get his teeth done,” Sykes said.
He works with Conant and helps him around the house for up to six hours a day. But now Sykes is worried he could lose health and training benefits in his next contract.
“You can't take health benefits from me. I need my health benefits, my family needs the benefits. And the training that helps me to know what to do and how to act," Sykes said.
At $13 an hour, Sykes said the Governor should look somewhere else to cut.
"You can look it up. I'm the lowest paid state worker,” he said. “The lowest."
The Service Employees International Union Healthcare of Illinois represents homecare workers. Legislative Director Denise Gaines said the tone has been more aggressive compared to other governors in the past.
"A lot of our members don't have sick days. So if they don't have health insurance and don't have sick days,” Gaines said. “Truly what the Governor is offering them is unbelievable and unfathomable."
For Conant, having Sykes around has a caregiver goes beyond nickels and dimes. He said it's about staying independent and at home.
"I would be sad. I would be disappointed. I would be not right because there'd be no one here,” Conant said.
The negotiations with homecare workers are just one of several major contract talks going on. But until the state can agree on a 2016 budget, experts don’t expect much progress.
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