May 03, 2022

Progress made on fairer wages for DSPs

Over the past five budget cycles, Illinois has increased funding for community disability services by 52%. Because of AFSCME’s efforts, direct support professionals (DSPs) and other frontline employees at these state-funded agencies have seen their wages go up an average of more than $5 per hour.

But starting wages remain barely above minimum wage in many agencies, turnover is often 50% or more and vacancies are staggeringly high.

“We are so understaffed because of our low pay,” said AFSCME Local 1555 member Jen Zinke, who made calls to her legislators with her baby on her lap. “Some of us need to work two jobs or work a lot of overtime to make ends meet. [With higher wages,] staff wouldn’t be so burned out after all the long hours. And with more staff, the clients would be able to have more one-on-one attention.”

This disparity is exacerbated by the fact that even when the state provides funding for DSP wage increases, it has not always required community agencies to pass the wage increases through to workers.

In this session, AFSCME advocated for a $3.50 increase for frontline personnel to meet the Guidehouse study recommendations commissioned by the state in 2018 to bring Illinois into compliance with the Ligas consent decree and keep pace with new minimum- and living-wage levels.

In the end, the budget includes a $1.00/hour wage increase for these frontline workers, the amount proposed in Gov. Pritzker’s budget. While the wage amount isn’t as high as it should be, AFSCME’s lobbying efforts did secure legislative language that requires that all these funds do in fact go toward base wages for frontline workers. In addition, AFSCME also succeeded in passing legislation that will require employers to certify their compliance.

A vigorous grassroots lobbying effort by AFSCME members at community disability agencies helped to put this issue front and center before lawmakers. A contingent traveled to Springfield on March 9 to urge support for higher wages in person, holding a news conference with legislative allies (pictured).

“We're here to lobby for the raises that we rightfully deserve,” said AFSCME Local 3492 member Emma Lane. “We're here to ask for them to pass the raise for us that we so, so much deserve and need. I'm proud to be here.”

Working together with lawmakers and the union’s lobbying team, AFSCME members helped push these measures over the line.

“The measures that we're putting in place are about ensuring that you get the pay that you deserve for the work that you're doing,” said Rep. Lakesia Collins. “Your work is not going unheard. We hear you. We see you. We value you. And we thank you for all that you do.”

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