Support Services Recipients Fuming Over SEIU-Backed
By Mike Ervin
A ballot measure called the In-Home
Supportive Services, Wages and Mandatory Training Initiative is moving forward
in California. The initiative has many people with disabilities who receive
in-home assistance through Californias In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS)
program feeling furious and betrayed. They feel as if theyve been stabbed
in the back by the Service Employees International Union.
SEIU is the driving force behind the initiative, which, if
approved by voters, would require workers providing home care services to
the elderly, blind, and disabled pursuant to the state In-Home Supportive
Services program to receive 75 hours of training in subjects such as personal
care, disease management, diet, nutrition, physical activities, workplace
safety, and consumer and provider roles and rights.
Nancy Becker Kennedy is a quad wheelchair
user who lives in Los Angeles. She gets 269 service hours each month through
IHSS, which she uses to employ a crew of people to assist her with a wide
variety of tasks.
We have known the freedom of the
social model of in-home supportive services where we pick the people we want to
care for us in the way we want our bodies to be treated, and we make the
choices of how we will live, she said. But the training will add an
unnecessary layer of needless medicalization that will make it much harder for
people like her to hire the person of their choosing, she said.
Seventy-five hours is a
prohibitively long general training for very minimal benefit that will
virtually exclude any worker who doesnt want to work for an agency or
nursing home, Kennedy said. Working for her, she said, is not a medical
job that requires certified nursing assistant training, and she doesnt
think its fair to limit her hiring options. That contradicts the spirit
of independent living, she added.
who describes herself as super lefty girl, said her political idol
is Eugene Debs, the famed labor union leader. But she feels that SEIU, which
represents home care workers across the country, has turned into the greedy
force unions are supposed to oppose. She feels that union leadership is trying
to tap into state money that funds programs such as IHSS by conducting training
that workers dont need and that will not necessarily benefit the people
they work for. She fears it will greatly hinder her ability to hire friends,
neighbors, family members or local college students who arent interested
in home care as a profession and have neither the time nor desire to invest so
much time in training.
With the mandatory 75 hours of
general training, none of these workers who require multiple jobs, or have
full-time jobs taking care of their loved ones, will be able to participate in
such a lengthy training with such minimal value to the person for whom the care
is being provided, Kennedy said.
A similar initiative, pushed by SEIU, was
approved by voters in the state of Washington in 2011. Now all home care
workers must complete 75 hours of training within six months of their date of
hire if they want to keep their jobs.
Kate Sheffield of Sequim, Wash., is a
full-time wheelchair user due to multiple disabilities. She says she receives
406 hours per month of in-home assistance through a program called the
Community Options Program Entry System (COPES). Sheffield is retired from her
most recent job as a member of the Sequim City Council, but she says she is
still a vocal spokesperson in her state capital of Olympia for
people with disabilities.
Does Sheffield think Kennedys fears
about the effect the training will have on her freedom to hire whomever she
wants are well-founded? You better believe it, she said.
The training, Sheffield said, is often
not germane. Its set up by people who have no idea whats
needed by me. The training presents us as being unable to make decisions. The
system looks upon us as mendicants, beggars. Were just being given another
layer of warehousing, only its in the home. Sheffield says
shes finding that some people she would like to hire are no longer
interested in the job when they learn of the training requirement.
The Seattle Times expressed loud
opposition to the Washington initiative in an editorial. It is a grab for
public money at a time when there is no money, the editorial said.
Not one voter in a thousand really understood it.
But in states such as Illinois and
Massachusetts, disabled activists and SEIU locals have worked together for
years to build strong in-home supports and services programs in which workers
are unionized and consumers have great latitude in hiring, firing and directing
Bill Henning is executive director of the
Boston Center for Independent Living. Presently, the 32,000 attendants in
the state are represented by SEIU, and we have been able to maintain a strong,
positive working relationship with the union, he said. Justice is
not selective. Workers -- and notably many are single mothers and people of
color, including many immigrants -- have a right to collective bargaining.
Attendants were not paid well absent organized efforts.
Henning says the relationship has been
mutually beneficial. We were able to negotiate with the union on key
points, including language that moved consumer control -- the right to hire,
fire, train and direct attendants -- from just regulation into statute, as well
as (include) a no-strike clause.
Calls from Independence Today to
SEIUs national headquarters seeking comment on the issue were not
Henning says any attempt to impose 75
hours of mandatory training would pose a serious threat to the harmonious
relationship between SEIU and Massachusetts.
This would be strongly opposed by
many, Henning said. Some (people who employ attendants) prefer to
hire people without experience because it is so important to train attendants
around the unique assistance needs of the individual and those with, say,
training as a home health aide will do things their way, which is not what may
best benefit a consumer.
The community, he added, needs to
organize, organize and organize. We have to recognize that, broadly speaking,
home care is about the third-fastest growing place for jobs in the country, so
theres going to be more and more pressure for professionalizing the
workforce, whether from unions, agencies or legislators freaked every time
something happens to someone.
Kennedy and others who receive support
through IHSS are doing just that. They formed the IHSS Consumers Union, which
has a lively Facebook page.
In the end, theres simply
never a substitute for us to be agitating, educating, organizing and getting a
seat at the table, Henning said.
Sheffield agreed. We need to
organize ourselves and make our voice loud.
MikeErvin is a writer who lives in Chicago. His blog,
Smart Ass Cripple, appears at smartasscripple.blogspot.com.