After the abrupt closing of Deaconess Home Health in April many workers, unable to pay their rent and bills, were forced out of their homes. The agency refused to pay its workers after closing, upending the lives of more than 3,000 homecare workers in Milwaukee.
Displaced homecare workers began to look for options to get their due pay. After unsuccessful attempts at winning benefits from the state, workers organized themselves and other homecare workers to begin changing the industry.
Hearing the same stories of wage theft, disrespect, lack of sick leave, and lack of health benefits, workers began to realize that the issue was much larger than Deaconess. Workers all over the city weren’t getting the pay, respect, or legal protections they deserved.
Homecare workers came together this week at the Washington Park Senior Center to take their fight for better pay and benefits to some of the state’s top lawmakers. Emotions ran high as each worker described the toll working for low wages has taken on them.
“I don’t think fairness is too much to ask. I just want to be paid what I am owed and to make a fair salary.” said Yolanda Olemda, a former Deaconess worker who fought back tears as she told her story to the crowd. “I was fortunate enough to a new homecare agency, but I know that I will still make the same low wages that had all of us living paycheck to paycheck.”
Homecare workers are the fastest growing field of workers in Milwaukee, yet it still remains one of the lowest paid jobs in the city.
“This is bigger than Deaconess, because there are all kinds of agencies in Milwaukee doing the exact same things.” said Greg Marks a former Deaconess worker who has worked in the healthcare field since 1993. “They’re doing anything they can to take money out of the pockets of homecare workers.”
Rep. Evan Goyke, a former public defender, poignantly addressed the issue of wage theft. Noting that Deaconess’ actions were no different than stealing a loaf of bread from a grocery store – and the company should be punished.
Other lawmakers heard the plea of the workers and promised action in response to hearing workers’ stories. “You’re singing to the choir, but this choir is going to sing.” said Rep. Sandy Pasch.