UPDATE: HB 2426 referenced below is now HB 2963.
For more than a decade, home caregivers serving Medicaid recipients in Washington had no choice but to allow the state to withhold a portion of their paycheck for union dues.
But in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision freed Washington’s individual provider home care aides (IPs) from the obligation to financially support SEIU 775 against their will.
Now that Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature again, SEIU 775 and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) are working to pass legislation that would turn back the clock on workers’ rights and force caregivers to acquiesce to the seizure of 3.2 percent of their wages by the state on SEIU 775’s behalf.
Senate Bill 6199, introduced by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), and its companion, House Bill 2426, introduced by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) — a former SEIU employee — would dramatically overhaul the administration of the IP program in Washington. The bills direct DSHS to contract with a privately operated “consumer-directed employer” to take over many administrative aspects of the IP program including, among other things, handling payroll, conducting background checks, verifying IPs’ training status, managing IP hours, setting IPs’ wages and benefits (within certain parameters) and running the referral registry that helps match clients and caregivers.
Although DSHS claims the bill will help streamline the administration of the program, it would simply add, after a multi-year transition period, another layer to the already complex network of separate organizations IPs must navigate, including at least DSHS, the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), SEIU 775, the SEIU Training Partnership, SEIU Health Benefits Trust, SEIU Secure Retirement Trust and Prometric.
Speaking against HB 2426 before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, one IP explained,
We provide 24/7 care in our household. And the prospect of having yet another manager, yet another master, to complicate our lives is turning our lives into 25/7 or 26/7. It is just unbelievable the complexity that’s being unloaded upon us. This bill is 49 pages. I count eight subjects. Eight subjects in this bill. And it is just so complicated that I’m just overwhelmed.
One need look no further than the recent implementation of a new payroll processor for IPs to see that such a significant overhaul of the IP system will likely result in extensive administrative challenges and headaches for caregivers. Beginning in March 2016, IPs’ payroll processing was transferred from DSHS to a contractor, Individual ProviderOne (IPOne). The change was plagued by glitches and beset with difficulties. Many IPs had trouble submitting their hours and receiving timely payment.
Now that IPOne has worked out many of the bugs and IPs are beginning to settle into the new system, DSHS is proposing to upend it all over again, at considerable cost to taxpayers.
In a letter to the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee responding to questions raised during the committee’s hearing on SB 6199, DSHS Assistant Secretary Bill Moss admitted the state had spent nearly $20 million to bring the IPOne system online for IPs and that, “It is possible that the Consumer Directed Employer would replace the IPOne program.”
Far from saving money, the new program is projected to cost tens of millions of dollars over the next several years. Such a waste of taxpayer dollars is difficult to justify.
Despite the implications for caregivers, SEIU 775 is supporting both SB 6199 and HB 2426 because it stands to benefit from the change financially.
Because the new, privately operated “consumer-directed employer” would become IPs’ new “employer” instead of the state/client, caregivers would no longer be protected by Harris v. Quinn. As a result, SEIU 775 could again force IPs to pay union dues against their will.
When Sen. Ann Rivers asked in a committee hearing how SB 6199 would affect IPs’ union membership options, a committee staffer explained:
What would happen is, the collective bargaining agreement that stands today (between SEIU 775 and the state) would transfer to the new entity. The collective bargaining agreement today states that the IP may opt in or out of the union. However, that does not preclude the new entity and the union from negotiating to have a closed shop.
Similarly, in his letter to the committee, Moss noted,
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement and all of its provisions would transfer to the Consumer Directed Employer. This includes the opt out provision. However, this would not preclude the Consumer Directed Employer and SEIU 775 from negotiating over removing the opt out provision in favor of a closed shop when bargaining future contracts.
Though SEIU 775 lobbyists didn’t speak in favor of the bills publicly, they signed in to the hearings on both bills electronically and indicated they supported them (see the sign-in sheet for SB 6199 here and the sign-in sheet for HB 2426 here).
Because of SEIU 775 and Gov. Jay Inslee’s coordinated efforts to keep IPs paying union dues against their will, thousands of IPs still have union dues seized from their pay by the state without authorization. Others who were tricked or pressured into signing membership forms are having difficulty cancelling the unwanted deductions from their pay. Nevertheless, with Freedom Foundation assistance, thousands of IPs have successfully resigned from the union and cancelled the state’s deduction of union dues from their pay.
Were SEIU 775 able to recapture IPs who have previously opted out of the union, it would result in a windfall for the union of about a quarter of a million dollars per month, nearly half of which the union plows back into political advocacy and electioneering.
If, aided by legislators who were its former employees, a business attempted to engage in the same kind of self-dealing SEIU 775 is trying to pull off with SB 6199 and HB 2426, it would be roundly — and rightly — condemned. Hopefully wiser and more compassionate heads in the Legislature prevail and put a stop to this attempt to snatch away IPs’ constitutional rights at the behest of one of the most powerful special interest groups in the state.
Tell Washington legislators to oppose SB 6229/HB 2624