Truthout: New union and California homecare workers fight budget cuts
By Seth Sandronsky
Several dozen homecare workers, some with their patients, gathered February 10 on the west steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento to protest Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut state spending on the In-Home Supportive Services program for disabled and elderly people.
The homecare workers, predominantly female and nonwhite, are current members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) in Sacramento, 17,000 strong. They will be able to vote this spring for representation by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which organized the political rally.
Elected leaders of SEIU-UHW formed the NUHW on January 28, a day after SEIU placed UHW and its 150,000 members into a trusteeship, a legal move to seize financial and political control of the California affiliate. The trusteeship also shifts 65,000 long-term (homecare and nursing home) UHW workers into a single local statewide under senior members of SEIU appointed by President Andy Stern.
Dissident SEIU-UHW workers are opposing Stern’s maneuver. For example, homecare workers in Fresno are moving forward in a bid for representation by the NUHW now. In Sacramento, homecare workers and their patients showed support, visually and rhetorically, for their patients and the NUHW.
“IHSS [In-Home Supportive Services] patients are at-risk of being forced from living in their homes into entering more expensive nursing homes due to the proposed spending cuts,” said Lola Young, who labors as a homecare worker in Sacramento County. “The $10,000 a year state funding budgeted per-person for IHSS is a solution, not the problem.”
According to SEIU, it placed UHW into a trusteeship in part to fight proposals like that of Schwarzenegger to reduce state-funded health care payrolls and services to balance the budget deficit, as the California constitution requires.
“The governor is missing the boat in proposing cuts to the IHSS program,” said Karen Sandidge, a homecare worker, who noted the thousands of her fellow union members unable to attend the rally due to their caring for patients 24/7. “Homecare workers save the state money by helping people stay in their homes and to remain functional citizens with dignity.”
There are over 400,000 IHSS recipients in California, whose homecare providers in the SEIU-UHW prepare their meals, make medical appointments and perform varied hygienic activities. According to the NUHW, Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts would end such services for 80,000 recipients of IHSS, and require 7,000 others to pay up to $5,000 in out-of-pocket costs to keep the services they receive now.
“The governor’s proposal to cut IHSS spending is not acceptable,” said Sal Rosselli, the former president of SEIU-UHW and volunteer head of the NUHW, at the rally. He, along with dozens of other recently elected UHW officials, was ousted in the SEIU trusteeship. That action capping a protracted conflict of his and the SEIU-UHW rank-and-file with Stern over strategies and tactics for members’ involvement to expand the union, the second largest in the US.
The jobs crisis would worsen with IHSS spending cuts. Such a policy “would push more than 300,000 caregivers and their families closer to poverty and drive many out of the workforce entirely, leaving people without care,” Rosselli said.
The state is hard-hit by the current economic downturn, a result of the bursting of a multi-billion dollar bubble in real estate. There were 1.69 million Californians officially out of work last December, an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent versus a 5.9 percent rate in December 2007.
With the demise of sales, property and utility tax revenues to state and local governments comes a rise in demand for publicly funded health care. Can Uncle Sam ride to the rescue? The House and Senate versions of President Obama’s economic stimulus package provide funding to offset Schwarzenegger’s proposal to slash IHSS spending, according to Rosselli.
Asked what she and her fellow protesters planned to do after the rally to maintain current the state’s IHSS funding and to support the NUHW, Valerie Carter, a Sacramento homecare worker and SEIU-UHW member, said they were going to speak with state legislators inside the Capitol Building. They have been trying to seal a budget deal to close a $42 billion deficit with a mixture of tax increases and spending decreases.