StoryDave & Don
Dave Smith of Phoenixville, age 59, copes with muscular dystrophy which has confined him to a wheelchair since the age of 11. Don has been indispensable to him. “Don’s really been my arms and legs for 25 years,” Dave says.
Don, age 62, cares for Dave around-the-clock and lives rent-free in Dave’s home. “Anything that’s important, I’m there for him,” says Don. “It isn’t like a 9-to-5 job where you can just go home and punch out for the shift.”
Dave and Don are proud of the close bond of friendship they’ve developed despite the long hours and intense care Dave needs. “Being friends helps,” says Don. According to Dave, “Don is really like part of my family as much as anything.”
Both say they don’t need a union stepping between them and disrupting an arrangement that’s working. Don says, “Unions don’t fit into this kind of work . . . it’s not practical.” Dave agrees: “Let me put it this way; we make a team that works well. To have someone else come in and say we need to do it this way for this many hours—that just doesn’t work.”
Before Dave hired Don 25 years ago, Dave had to fire a homecare worker who tried to take financial advantage of him. Now with Don, Dave directs his own care and sets terms and conditions of employment, including pay, with Don. Don is committed to caring for Dave, and the two are in all respects, friends. Don would gain nothing from joining a union to negotiate against Dave’s best interests.
In fact, Dave and Don have a relationship much like that of other homecare workers and recipients. Many homecare workers are close friends or family members of the recipient whom they serve. They are not motivated by money: the annual salary for a typical homecare worker is just over $20,000.
Currently, homecare recipients like Dave can hire, fire, manage, and pay their own homecare providers. Dave took advantage of these rights 25 years ago to fire a previous attendant who was taking advantage of him financially and to hire Don as a replacement. Dave, who cannot get out of bed or answer the phone unaided, says that despite his disability, “I’ve been blessed to do much. Without [Don] here, I don’t know—I’m not sure where I’d be. I wouldn’t be able to be on my own.”