Duluth, MN (NNC NOW) - For the last year and a half, Ben Hallamek has worked as a residential Care Assistant helping developmentally disabled individuals.
He says his job requires going above and beyond every day.
"I try to make them get past their disability. It's... a daily thing. Sometimes that's going through meds, going through physical therapy, bringing them to a doctor's appointment," says Hallamek.
21–year–old Hallamek says he represents the demographic for home care workers, many of whom are college–aged and making around $10 an hour: "I'm the poster child for the demographic."
Hallamek also says he sympathizes with Michiganders against the right to work legislation, which critics and pro–union individuals claim cripple employee wages.
But Hallamek says unionizing home care could even help protect employees from sometimes violent residents.
"I work in one of the hardest jobs mentally—and sometimes physically—and the more help we get, the better. Keeping us happy keeps the clients happy, and that's the goal," says Hallamek.
"Do I think people doing this work get paid enough? Absolutely not. It's very significant work, very difficult work, and certainly deserving of a higher wage," says Jon Nelson, Executive Director of Residential Services Incorporated. Nelson says home care employees are the backbone of his organization.
While 81 percent of RSI's total expenses go toward employee wages and benefits, funding is still set by the state legislature.
"We haven't seen any kind of cost–of–living increase for four years. The [Personal Care Assistance] specific funding has also not seen any kind of increase," says Nelson.
And as long as the state of Minnesota faces a billion–dollar deficit, Nelson says priorities like education could continue to take away from home care funding.
"Education is a big issue, health care is a big issue, and human services for people with disabilities is another big issue, and we're hoping that will get attention," says Nelson.
Dozens of personal care assistants and other direct support workers also gathered in Saint Paul on Wednesday to share their stories of serving Minnesota's elderly and people with disabilities.