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Peoria, IL:PARC's Workers Vie for a 'Living Wage'
The Journal Star
Stephanie Hardiman

August 30, 2010
View the Original Article

PEORIA — Joanne Holbrook, a single mom in Peoria, has to alternate which bills she skips paying for the month because she doesn't make enough money working with individuals with developmental disabilities at People Advocating for Respect and Consideration.

Some of government-funded PARC's high-functioning adults even make more money per hour working at fast food restaurants than Holbrook makes bathing, coaching and changing the adult diapers of some of her clients.

"I feel spit on," said Holbrook, who makes minimum wage of $8.25 per hour.

She and about 200 of her co-workers are negotiating with PARC to receive a "living wage" through the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3017.

In 2008, employees received only a two-cent wage increase, and this year they want a 25-cent increase and to maintain their current benefits. They are currently working without a contract.

PARC's offer includes no wage increase, plans to enroll employees on a lesser medical insurance plan that would cost more and language that states employees may be laid off regardless of time served with the company, said Jeff Dexter, an AFSCME staff member.

"If they cared for the clients like they say they do, they would pay us more," said Pamela Donaldson, of Peoria, who has worked at PARC for two years. If clients' families knew we were paid so little, they would be furious, she said.

Similar organizations pay their employees up to $14 to do similar work, but after taxes and insurance, many PARC employees bring home only about $6 per hour, Dexter said.

"These people are a lifeline for high- and low-functioning individuals," he said. "They're better off going on public assistance than working here."

PARC's employee turnover rate hovers near 60 percent because of the low pay, Dexter said.

The union also has filed a charge of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, stating PARC denied the union president and a union steward the ability to talk about the union with employees on two occasions. It plans to file another claim this week, alleging PARC does not allow employees to talk about their wages or working conditions, which is against the law.

Roy Ricketts, PARC's president and chief executive officer, refused to respond to questions about the negotiation, instead referring to a prepared statement that says PARC has made repeated offers that it hopes the union will submit to a vote.

"We're responsible for human life," said Charmaine Werner, of Peoria Heights, who has worked at PARC for 16 years. If she didn't love her job, she'd quit.

"I love the people. We get very attached," she said. "We are responsible for human life."