Darra’s job title is Homecare Personal Assistant, holding this position since 2012. Darra described her work as doing anything and everything for the person for whom she cares – personal care, hygiene, food preparation, cleaning, companionship, and sometimes being that person’s voice to the world outside their home. “Literally, I do everything which my clients can’t do for themselves.” Typically her hours are from 8 am to 8 pm, but if another client needs to be put to bed, she could go to that person’s home and her hours might stretch to midnight.
Was she part of the union? (In her case, it would be SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana.) Darra said she was. Why? Well, she’d been on both sides. She’d worked for a non-union company during the years that Rauner was governor and Illinois was not paying its bills. The workers didn’t get paid and the company ultimately dissolved. Darra then switched to a job which automatically let workers join the union, which was better.
Covid has affected her work by decreasing her clientele. Because of fear of the virus, she has limited whom she would work for. Deciding to discontinue work with a family was one of the hardest decisions she has ever had to make. When she finally spoke to the family in question, she was enormously gratified to find they were thinking the same thing but afraid to approach her. (It seems obvious that a bond had developed between them.)
Would she want to continue this work? Darra thought a moment and said that she would probably not want to continue doing the physical work forever, but that she’d like to move into advocacy, most likely through the union. Her goals would be to disabuse the public of the idea that homecare workers are “nothing more than glorified baby-sitters.” She would want to explain the real nature of their work and to help the public understand how many people one homecare personal assistant helps. It is not only the client but the client’s circle of family and friends. Those people are now free to go to work, attend a school, do errands, visit people — basically, carry on with their lives — with the assurance that their loved one is safe and cared for.
Even though, on the face of it, it seemed far-fetched, I asked whether the Black Lives Matter movement had affected her work. Darra said it had, within the union. It made it more possible for the workers to express their ideas and concerns “with a better understanding that it’s not coming from the root of aggression.” Our society’s general awakening to the existence of inequities made it more possible for workers to express “how we feel” and for the authorities to be more open to listening.
Is the upcoming election affecting her? It is because she doesn’t want to leave one term of 4 terrible years and stumble into another bad 4 years. She has doubts about the Democratic ticket – not about Biden but about Harris. It is Harris’ record as a prosecutor that worries her. If Darra had a son, she thought that Harris’ approach as a prosecutor would threaten him. Whom would she have liked to see nominated as Vice President on the Democratic ticket? Darra pauses, looks up, smiles and says, “Honestly, Hillary.” Why? Despite the Whitewater scandal and all, she feels she knows what Hillary stands for and that she would not be surprised. She’s seen the Trump administration and could never support him, but she’s not sure she could support a Biden-Harris ticket either. Harris is not well-enough known and some of what she knows about her makes her worry. So Darra has pledged herself to research the other candidates before she finally makes her choice.
Final question: Post-Covid, post-election, what would she want to see? Darra answered with one word: accountability.