Dear SEIU UHW,
During the early 1990s I was a community organizer for the Service Employees International Union, Local 434B, the Homecare Workers Union. It was through my efforts and those of my brothers and sisters in 434B that the In-Home Supportive Services program providers were able to get a bargaining agreement with the County of los Angeles to have SEIU represent IHSS workers. In other counties, the workers were represented by SEIU locals and AFSME union locals. LA’s new local was the biggest new bargaining unit in the nation since the passage of the Taft Hartley Act – over 70,000 new union members. It was huge victory for the union, for SEIU and for Labor in general.
I can speak with authority and say that this NEVER would have come to pass without first winning the hearts and minds of many recipients of IHSS services, that is to say, of seniors and especially the support of people with significant, long-term disabilities, who believe adamantly in self-directed personal care. Among the promises made to this community to win their support, were that the organizing campaign and its subsequent benefits for workers would never be at the expense of the homecare recipients themselves. And without the support of the recipients of IHSS, I can say unequivocally that there would have been no contract.
Now, years later, SEIU UHW, an off-shoot of the initial homecare locals, is making some sort of bizarre move to require training for each IHSS homecare worker, through the California initiative process. They are threatening to put a proposition measure on the ballot in November that would require every IHSS homecare worker to get 75 hours of “training” within a few months, or be disqualified from doing homecare work . Despite the claims that this is necessary for the safety and welfare of consumers, this is a dangerous ploy to get “training” programs based at the unions, which will be paid for by the state – to the tune of almost a billion dollars in California.
The IHSS recipient/consumers neither need nor want their workers to have this “training.” They provide that very personal and usually intimate training themselves, and when they cannot, their care is almost always done by family members. In fact, most IHSS provider/recipient relationships are between family members. How does a union dare to interfere with this intimate family relationship? What can they tell a mother, or a son or daughter about caring for their loved ones. Why does this union allege that this is in the recipients’ interests when they are taking away the consumers’ providers of care for two full weeks of “training?” Who is supposed to care for the IHSS recipients in the absence of these providers? The union leadership? I think not. And since those lords of Labor won’t be doing the care, who will? It will likely be complete strangers to the family and to the recipients of care.
The homecare “training” program that was initiated in the state of Washington, through a similar proposition, has been a disaster. It has harmed consumers and cost the state a fortune in unnecessary training expenses. The recipients of homecare there are finding it impossible to hire new workers because potential employees are unwilling to be saddled with a 75 hour “training” schedule. Many do this work part-time, or as previously mentioned, are close family members who get paid to do homecare for loved ones because they cannot leave them to do other work.
I am all for homecare workers getting paid fairly; for them to get their own healthcare; for their working conditions to be safe and appropriate. That is why I helped to organize them two decades ago. This is why I support raising the 40 hour cap on workers under the Governor’s budget, so they can get appropriate overtime pay. But this initiative is a joke that harms the beneficiaries of this vital program, while really intended to fatten the pocketbooks of increasingly disingenuous and self-serving union leaders.
As a founding organizer of the homecare union movement, a lifetime supporter of unions, of workers’ rights and as a union member myself, I implore SEIU UHW to withdraw the proposition and to cease all qualifying petitioning efforts immediately.
Alan Toy, Executive Director
Westside Center for Independent Living
12901 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90066