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Oregon Home Care Workers Negotiate New Contract

The number of home care workers in Oregon has been rising in recent years. The number is now well over 10,000. Union officials representing those workers hammered out a new contract last night. As Andrew Theen reports, the contract is evidence of the industry's continued professionalization.

Scott Lay broke his neck almost thirty years ago. He said it was a typical teenage mistake — in this case, a diving accident. Lay is a quadriplegic. He's also the chair of the Oregon Home Care Commission.

Lay says home care workers help him dress, bathe, and prepare food. Lay says everything that they do helps him be independent.

Scott Lay: "Homecare workers are extremely important in my life because without them I would either be in a nursing home or some sort of adult foster home and my life would be very restricted. I wouldn't be able to be active in the community as I am."

Lay says increased wages and benefits came about in 2000 with the establishment of the Home Care Commission and when workers joined the Service Employees International Union.

He says the effect of more training and better benefits is obvious: a more professional work force. Lay says some people became home workers in the past because they needed a job, any job. He says that's no longer the case.

Some 1,300 home care workers provide 'round-the-clock care.

Joye Willman, with the SEIU, says the opportunity to stay in your own home is crucial for people with disabilities.

Joye Willman: "You know, you might have been in that same house for 40 years. That's where your memories are, that's where your love is. And so to be able to keep that, I personally believe that that helps in their health. As far as you know, if you take them out of their comfort zone you may traumatize them."

Willman says the new contract took about eight months to finalize. It includes a 60-cent an hour raise and some increased incentives.

Willman says the new contract increases the amount of money reimbursed for gas mileage, and it ensures two paychecks a month for workers, even if they work less than 20 hours per week.

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