For the past year, Rebecca Sandoval has been Susie Adams' in-home caregiver and her best friend.
Adams, afflicted with fibromyalgia, arthritis and other disabilities that make it difficult for her to walk, depends on Sandoval to get her dressed, cook for her and make sure she gets her medications.
Sunday: How much power do unions wield in the Capitol?
Monday: Do public employees really get a better deal?
Today: What are the trickle-down effects of state cuts?
Web refer: For stories and links to other resources, visit www.mailtribune.com/laborintensive
If you go
What: A Mail Tribune / Daily Tidings / Jefferson Public Radio forum on public employees, politics and payrolls
When: 7 p.m. today, April 26
Where: Meese Auditorium, Center for the Visual Arts Building, Southern Oregon University, Ashland
Panel: Eric Fruits, Cascade Policy Institute; Paul McKenna, SEIU Local 503; Marcus Widenor, University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center
Sandoval, who earns $10.20 an hour, has her own medical problems and is fearful state budget cuts could bring an end to her health insurance coverage.
Both women are mystified by the chorus of complaints that union workers are overpaid.
"It's like they're after the little people," Adams said.
Sandoval, a 54-year-old member of Service Employees International Union Local 503, and Adams, a 55-year-old Medford woman, have joined forces to make the public aware of the repercussions of proposed state budget cuts.
Union benefits are a hot topic among legislators hoping to find a balance between providing state workers with decent compensation and providing services to the developmentally disabled, community colleges, law enforcement, addictions recovery and other programs.
For Sandoval and Adams, a lot is at stake. Sandoval, who works a little more than 100 hours a month and makes $1,050.60, could see her pay and benefits decrease, while Adams could see a reduction in care.
"There are days I've just cried because I hurt," said Adams, who has been on disability since 1991 and receives $600 a month. "I don't know what I would do without Rebecca."
If the state follows through on cuts, Sandoval may no longer have the minimum 80 hours a month needed to qualify for health care. Sandoval, who has been a home caregiver for four years, doesn't have a retirement plan under her union contract.
Sandoval said people think state workers have a Cadillac health care plan. In fact, she owes $4,000 after a recent thyroid surgery. "The insurance didn't cover it all," she said.
Adams said she is so devoted to Sandoval that she will do whatever she can to support her friend.
The two women plan to show up at town hall meetings where legislators discuss the proposed state budget that threatens human services programs.
Ironically, the state of Connecticut is considering a similar in-home health care system to cut the costs of institutionalized care.
"We are really pioneers in the nation," Sandoval said. "To cut this program now doesn't make any sense."
Both Adams and Sandoval traveled to Connecticut last week to testify about the benefits of in-home care. Adams said she had to rely on a wheelchair to get around during the trip.
It is just one of many programs that could be on the budget chopping block, throwing more people such as Sandoval off health insurance and potentially forcing her to rely on state programs for health care.
Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said it is the very power of unions that could result in Sandoval losing her health insurance.
He said the more powerful factions in unions are protecting their interests to the detriment of some of their less powerful members, such as in-home caregivers.
"Certain things are just off-limits," said Richardson, co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
He said if some unions would concede to members paying toward retirement plans, it could free up millions that could be devoted to groups such as in-home caregivers.
"When things like that are untouchable, it makes things very difficult," he said. "Then it ends up coming from the benefits of those who need our help the most."
Richardson said surrounding states pay their workers less than Oregon does.
A survey completed by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services in December found Oregon state employees earned almost 12 percent more than surrounding states. However, state workers earned almost 10 percent less compared with other local governments in Oregon. Compared to the private sector, state workers earned almost 3 percent less on average.
Richardson said most teachers throughout the state are now contributing to their retirement plan, and he suggests state workers follow their lead and free up millions of dollars for the disabled, caregivers and others who need help.
Richardson said the consequences of the state's budget situation are grave because if someone such as Sandoval doesn't have health insurance, they will have to rely on state aid for future hospital visits.
Sandoval said she plans to appeal directly to Richardson because she can sense that he does feel compassion for the disabled and elderly.
She worries that anti-union sentiment sweeping the nation could play into state legislators' decisions.
"We're always the first to go on the chopping block," she said.
Even if the state follows through on cutbacks, Sandoval said she feels a commitment to providing care for Adams.
"Our clients need the services of home-care workers, who love their clients and are going to end up working for free," Sandoval said. "If we keep up the pressure, maybe we can stave off the cuts."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.