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Support Services Recipients Fuming Over SEIU-Backed Training Mandate

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 California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program feeling furious and betrayed. They feel as if they’ve been stabbed in the back by the Service Employees International Union.

rally against seiu mandateSEIU 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t think it’s fair to limit her hiring options. That contradicts the spirit of independent living, she added.

75 hours of manditory training cannot teach caregivers to love Loce UDW stop the proposal!!!Kennedy, 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 don’t 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 aren’t 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 Kennedy’s 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. It’s set up by people who have no idea what’s 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 it’s in the home.” Sheffield says she’s 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 their assistants.

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.”

Unions are taking the Home out of home careHenning 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 SEIU’s national headquarters seeking comment on the issue were not returned.

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 there’s 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, there’s 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

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