House Democrats advance SEIU bill in Oregon knowing it would strip caregivers of their rights

House Democrats advance SEIU bill in Oregon knowing it would strip caregivers of their rights

House Democrats advance SEIU bill in Oregon knowing it would strip caregivers of their rights

This Freedom Foundation [bleep] is really keeping us on our toes,” came the hushed comment from the SEIU representative outside of Hearing Room C at the Oregon State Capitol, as the union’s leaders gathered in preparation of asking lawmakers to support their 2024 priority legislation during its first public hearing in the House Committee on Early Childhood and Human Services.

She probably didn’t expect to be overheard, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Everybody in the room knew exactly why they were there — and what the Freedom Foundation had to do with it.

For those who don’t, SEIU 503 was there to salvage its arguments in favor of House Bill (HB) 4129, a deceptive piece of legislation designed to create a legal workaround to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn and once again force Medicaid-compensated, in-home caregivers to pay union fees against their will.

A similar bill was passed in Washington state in 2018, with the same intended effects.

Specifically, Oregon’s HB 4129 would require the state to contract with up to two private vendors to administer part of the state’s Medicaid-funded homecare program. By doing so, it would create a new employment model governed by private-sector labor law, under which caregivers would lose their protections under the Harris ruling.

SEIU 503 is the union purporting to represent Medicaid-compensated homecare workers in Oregon, and it’s has taken a big hit since Harris. According to previous data obtained from the state’s Department of Human Services — which has suspiciously begun asking the Freedom Foundation to pay thousands of dollars for information it used to turn over for free — between 30 and 40 percent of homecare and personal support workers have stopped paying union dues or fees to SEIU 503.

The union’s motivations for HB 4129 are, thus, shamelessly self-serving.

Actually, union leaders apparently had some shame — at least to begin with — or else they wouldn’t have written HB 4129 in a deceptive way that makes it difficult for policymakers to understand the bill’s true purpose.

In fact, it seems SEIU 503 planned on advancing the bill through the 2024 legislative session by pitching it as a non-controversial system improvement, until it was  called out by the Freedom Foundation and forced to send a last-minute email asking union members to submit stock, pre-written testimony for the bill’s initial hearing.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, SEIU leaders are apparently — in their own words — on their toes.

Without any logical rebuttal to the Freedom Foundation’s factual claims about HB 4129, union leaders decided their best strategy during the bill’s hearing was to simply malign those opposing it. To that end, SEIU 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger dedicated a portion of her opening comments to recognizing the Freedom Foundation’s attendance and preemptively encouraging committee members not to listen.

Still, they couldn’t do much to deny the truth.

The committee’s vice-chair, Rep. Anna Scharf (R-Amity), presented a letter received from Washington’s Senate minority leader confirming his state’s experience with its similar legislation, and a number of Oregon’s in-home caregivers submitted written comments or tuned into the hearing remotely to encourage lawmakers to oppose HB 4129.

As one caregiver put it:

“I oppose SEIU 503’s attempt to pass HB4129. I don’t believe the state needs another level of bureaucracy to administer for those under care for the disabled and home bound … SEIU does not speak for or support my moral or political views, and I do not want to have any association with them. I oppose any attempt to surreptitiously manipulate my right to opt out of union membership by potentially forcing (caregivers) to be employees of a third-party entity.”

Another stated:

“The potential for this measure to compel me to be a union member adds nothing to the care that I provide for my family member.  I provide care only for my daughter. I don’t need union representation to do my care-giving. The bill adds another layer of bureaucracy to a complex system of administrative provisions. And I would challenge you to show that it improves the lives of those Medicaid eligible clients or is even cost-effective. I urge the committee to vote no on HB 4129.”

In addition to these and other caregivers speaking out against the bill, Freedom Foundation staff was on hand to testify in person, and Rep. Scharf even took the testimony stand herself—a rare move for a state legislator—to criticize HB 4129 and warn her colleagues that, in light of Washington state’s example, “similar results can be expected in Oregon if this bill is allowed to move forward without being amended.”

Ultimately, the committee voted along party lines to reject Scharf’s amendment that would have maintained caregivers’ Harris protections under the new model created by HB 4129. While not surprising, the move by Democrats confirmed for the record that HB 4129 is indeed more about serving SEIU 503’s special interests than improving home care.

HB 4129 is now on its way to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, where the focus will undoubtedly shift to the bill’s significant burden on taxpayers.

A preliminary analysis estimates that HB 4129 will cost taxpayers $150 million in just the first four years after passage. Meanwhile, this number was projected to be $388 million for a similar version of the same bill introduced last year.

It’s unclear why the difference but, either way, passing SEIU 503’s bad-faith legislation would amount to an enormous taxpayer-funded handout to Oregon unions.

Ultimately, the Democrats who voted to pass HB 4129 out of its initial committee did so knowing full well that it’s designed to strip Medicaid-paid caregivers of their rights under Harris v. Quinn. Evidently, they just don’t care.

But — to use SEIU’s foul language —even if they don’t give a [bleep], they still need to be told it’s wrong.

Oregon residents and in-home caregivers should email their representatives and senators and tell them to oppose HB 4129.

Related letter in The Oregonian: Lawmakers should reject SEIU-backed bill

Research & Government Affairs Associate
Ben Straka serves as a Research and Government Affairs Associate for the Freedom Foundation, where his responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts aimed at supporting the organization’s mission through legislative advocacy and public policy expertise. His work has been published in various local news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest and the country, and he has appeared as a guest on radio programs such as The Lars Larson Show, among others. He has regularly testified before the Oregon State Legislature on matters of labor policy and government transparency, has advised local government leaders on labor relations, and has represented employees in administrative proceedings under the state’s collective bargaining laws. Ben first joined the Freedom Foundation in 2016, and holds additional professional experience in the fields of real estate development and construction. He is a native of Eugene, Ore. and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business. He lives in Oregon with his wife.