truthout: California’s homecare union struggles continue

NewsJune 18, 2009

by Seth Sandronsky

Across the US, the housing market crash is reducing tax revenues for local and state governments. As their budget deficits swell, lawmakers cut spending on public health, parks and schools. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seeks to close a $24 billion deficit in 2009-201? in part by reducing expenditures for In-Home Supportive Services.

IHSS employees represented by the Service Employees International Union provide homecare for elderly and infirm people. Homecare costs less than residing in a nursing home and allows individuals to be more independent.

Just ask Paul Kumar, an elected interim executive board member of the new National Union of Healthcare Workers. He along with others in the NUHW analyzed President Obama’s stimulus bill and found a way to offset proposed state and local government cuts to IHSS.

The stimulus is available to IHSS since it gets funding from Medicaid, Kumar said. Medicaid is a federal-state program that pays for basic and long-term health-care services for low-income Americans.

According to Kumar, “We gathered the raw numbers and produced specific estimates for elected county officials to prepare their 2009-2010 budget proposals. There were no backdoor meetings or string-pulling to find the federal stimulus funds in public documents for IHSS providers.”

Elected officials such as Mayor Gavin Newsom in cash-strapped San Francisco took note of NUHW’s efforts. As a result, the Newsom administration is proposing a 2009-2010 budget that uses the NUHW stimulus estimates.

Roger Dickinson is an elected supervisor in Sacramento County. “I thank the National Union of Healthcare Workers for their work to achieve this solution to save IHSS wages and benefits,” he said in a June 8 statement.

“NUHW could not have achieved these victories for caregivers and consumers without its rank-and-file leaders and staff having spent years building trusting relationships and establishing ourselves as credible sources of policy information with county officials,” Kumar said.

Asked about SEIU’s involvement in getting stimulus dollars to back-fill local and state spending cuts to IHSS in Sacramento County, Michelle Ringuette, SEIU spokeswoman, said “County officials have worked with the union.”

The NUHW was formed January 28, 2009, after the SEIU under President Andy Stern put its United Healthcare Workers-West local of 150,000 Northern California members into a trusteeship. Kumar and other elected SEIU-UHW officials lost their jobs in this action that merged three California affiliates of homecare workers into a single local of 350,000 members statewide. These workers care for more than 400,000 Californians currently, according to Ringuette.

Further, SEIU’s January trusteeship paved the way for Stern to appoint trustees such as Eliseo Medina to replace the UHW’s elected leaders such as Kumar and Sal Rosselli, now the interim president of NUHW. There have been about 80 locals run by Stern’s appointed leaders since he became SEIU president in 1996, according to author and journalist Steve Early, citing San Diego Local 221 and a public sector union as a case in point. There, Stern appointed Sharon Frances Moore, a former “corporate litigation manager” with no prior union experience to be president of Local 221, Early said.

In the meantime, NUHW is bidding to decertify SEIU as the collective bargaining agent for 10,000 IHSS providers in a Fresno County election. This voting is being run by county officials in charge of labor relations in the public authority that employs IHSS providers. The results of the Fresno homecare election are expected on June 19.

According to Ringuette, IHSS workers that SEIU represents “are by and large very relieved to be working on issues directly related to saving their jobs and helping the people they care for instead of a political fight with the international.”

Whatever the outcome of the Fresno election campaign, it is certain that NUHW and SEIU will remain awash in ill will. The NUHW also wants to be the collective bargaining agent for IHSS providers in Sacramento County, according to Kumar. SEIU represents these homecare providers now.

Source: truthout