Letter to the Editor by SEIU 775 Caregiver Julie Sparkman

I was drawn to Spokane for of its hometown feel and because I thought it was a place where a positive life was possible. Although I’ve never had any negative interactions with our police, I am shocked to hear that Spokane has one of the deadliest police forces in the country, ranking third nationally in the rate of police killings by population. (https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/compare-police-departments)

Our Legislature is discussing bills right now that would stop police forces from buying and using dangerous and costly military equipment, like tanks and shoulder rockets (ESHB 1054). I strongly urge Sen. Jeff Holy and Rep. Mike Volz and Rep. Jenny Graham to support this and other common-sense police accountability bills including HB 1310, HB 1267 and SB 5051.

I am a caregiver for two local young people with autism and this year more than any, they could use these funds to get the additional care that’s out of reach. We have serious needs in Spokane for housing, and people are lined up for the food banks. Our taxes should go to give people hope, rather than oppress and endanger them.

I’ve never seen a militarized police force that didn’t use their weapons. Even if I was never personally harmed, I don’t want to support a community that doesn’t help and keep safe all its members. Spokane has the potential to be exactly what it presents itself to be; and that starts with a police force that is accountable to our community.

Read in the Spokesman-Review

Letter to the Editor by SEIU 775 Caregiver, Barb McQueen

I’ve been an in-home caregiver since I was 17 years old, and I am now past the age when most people retire. At the beginning of this pandemic, our lawmakers called caregivers like me essential, and across the state we worked to keep our clients out of hospitals overrun with COVID-19 patients. And while we do this essential work, we’re also the ones who are paying outrageous taxes; way more than our fair share compared to our wealthy neighbors.  

I’ve kept working, caring for my client who also lives in Sequim, all through this pandemic. I have to keep working just to make my bills every month, all while also paying 5 times more of my income in taxes than the mega-wealthy in our state. It’s these few individuals in our state who’ve profited extraordinarily during the pandemic and its long past time they paid their fair share as those of us who worry about buying groceries or paying for a medication.   

I thank Senator Kevin Van De Wege for supporting the working people of Sequim, like me, by voting to add a capital gains tax on extraordinary profits (SB 5096) and strongly urge Representatives Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger to pass it also. We deserve an economy and a tax system which works for everyone, not just the wealthy. 

Read in the Peninsula Daily News

Vicki Bickford, SEIU 775 Caregiver, Letter to the Editor in The Columbian

I’m a long-term caregiver, I’m happy to help everyone in our community by paying taxes and I’ve donated more than ever during this pandemic. At the same time, the ultra-wealthy have profited to an unimaginable level from the pandemic, while paying only a fraction of what we do toward our safety net.

We could have that strong community again if everyone in Washington paid their share in taxes. But right now, our taxes are very unfair, with working people like us paying 17 percent of our income in state and local taxes, while the super wealthy only pay 3 percent. Our state’s upside-down tax system is beyond broken. The poor and middle classes shoulder too much of the burden while the rich ignore all the suffering. 

Our broken tax system started long before the pandemic. We must stop sacrificing people, and the safety net we rely on, so that the wealthy can get wealthier. 

One first step is for our lawmakers, Sen. Annette Cleveland and Reps. Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier, to support the Senate’s capital gains tax (SB 5096). As a long-term caregiver, I urge everyone to make sure the wealthy pay their share of our recovery.

Read the letter in The Columbian

During the overnight shift at a Bellingham nursing home, residents have started dropping by the nurses station again.

Some are in pain from a recent procedure, or “sundowning,” a common symptom of dementia marked by confusion and restlessness as night falls. Others are night owls, or anxious from not seeing family members for so long. Still more stop by for no reason at all — everyone eventually has a sleepless night.

Shelly Hughes, a certified nursing assistant at North Cascades Health and Rehab, has vitals to take and supply closets to stock. But she is happy to see people start to come out from their rooms. She must guide them back — but this is progress. For nearly a year, the station has been quiet, as COVID-19 shuttered so much of life inside the facility and out.

Nursing homes have absorbed so many of the cruel blows of the pandemic. Long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult family homes, account for half the state’s now-almost 5,000 deaths, since the very first outbreaks in the U.S., in the Seattle area. Those rightly stoked fears about the virulent spread of the new disease and the vulnerability of so many seniors, often frail, living so close together.

“A year ago, being at work, it was scary and you never knew what you were coming into,” Hughes said. “You came in, and thought ‘OK, is this the day I find out we have an outbreak? Am I going to show up and be the only person here?’”

Read more at The Seattle Times

OpEd by Gerry Knight, Veteran, covid-19 survivor, and retired caregiver. He lives in Black Eagle with his wife.  

Great Falls, MT — Senator (Jon) Tester and I go way back – I know he understands that wages for working people is the same as weather for a farmer. Lousy income is like lousy weather, and without a sustainable $15-hour minimum wage, Montanans are in a lousy situation.  

My wife and I moved with the Air Force to Montana in 1988. In 1992 we relocated to Black Eagle because it’s a peaceable, comfortable community where we are treated more as a friend than a stranger. It’s a place where we care about each other– because just like in the military when one member is having a hard time, we are here to support each other. 

For many years, I worked as an in-home caregiver, as have both my wife and daughter.  Late this past year I came down with COVID.  Caregivers like me across the state put ourselves at risk to keep vulnerable Montanans safe in their own homes.   Yet too many of us still make under $15 – it’s not right.  

My wife still works, and like most people in our community, she only makes approximately $10 an hour. I worry about people in my community who are merely existing at these wages, juggling bills with nothing to fall back on, rather than thriving.  Having a more sustainable wage of $15 an hour would help tremendously. It is about getting by, not getting ahead. 

I am thankful that Senator Tester has always had a big heart for veterans and that he was able to establish the Veteran Support Center in Great Falls. A lot of veterans live in our community and I’ve been going there for assistance periodically.  

 A $15 an hour minimum wage would help Veterans and everyday Montanans. In 2017, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that 1 in 5 veterans nationally would also benefit from a higher minimum wage.  

Senator Tester has an opportunity to help not just caregivers and Veterans, but so many families in Montana by supporting a $15 an hour minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage could mean an average of $233 more a month for affected workers in Montana, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute. This wouldn’t put money in the bank, but it would lower our stress if we had a little bit to fall back on. If we need repairs to our home or truck, we could meet the challenge.  

As a former small business owner, I believe this would be good for business. With a higher wage, employees are more apt to stay on the job, with more devotion to the company as a higher quality employee. The Economic Policy Institute report also shows that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would help 25% of 25–54-year-old workers and 23% of workers over 55 in Montana. This would be a boon to all Montana workers, not just recent high school graduates working entry-level jobs. With these wages folks are more apt to go out to do things, like enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. That in turn helps those local, small businesses. Families could purchase higher quality groceries at the local store rather than fast food that is cheap and bad for your heart. Flourishment is what I call it.  

A sustainable $15-hour minimum wage is the right thing to do for caregivers and other essential workers keeping us safe in the pandemic.  It’s the right thing to do for Veterans that sacrificed for our country.  It’s the right thing to do for Montana’s economy.  It is the soil from which a community grows, allowing us to weather storms when they happen and grow during the good times.  

 Nursing-home workers are urging lawmakers in Olympia not to make funding cuts to their facilities.

Funding for Washington state nursing homes has fallen short by more than $100 million, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services. Inside nursing homes, the lack of funds is apparent to workers.

Sherylon Hughes, a certified nurse’s aide at a facility in Bellingham and an executive board member of Service Employees International Union Local 775, said they need more cash, not less.

“My employers and the other operators of these homes are in dire straits right now,” Hughes asserted. “I fear that my building may close. I worry about other buildings closing, and I feel that’s what’s on the horizon if we don’t get some better funding in Washington state.”

Read more at Public News Service.

At-home caregivers for people with disabilities and older Washingtonians are holding the line in budget talks with the state.

Individual provider members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 are negotiating their contract for the next two years. They don’t want to be swept up in potential budget cuts during the pandemic.

Dora Poqui, caregiver and union member, said the state contracts workers for certain hours, but they often provide care around the clock, especially if they’re helping out a family member.

“You’re limited with the hours they do contract you for and sometimes, the second job, you’re not able to work out of the house because these clients that we take care of, they require that hands-on,” Poqui explained.

Read more at Public News Service

Home-care providers for older Washingtonians and people with disabilities are pushing back on potential cuts to the state’s long-term care services.

The Department of Health and Human Services has been asked to consider cuts, since the pandemic has shot a hole in the state budget. It could mean a $1.1 billion reduction in long-term care services for the 2021 through 2023 budget.

Miranda Bridges, an individual provider and member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 who cares for her mother, said lawmakers should consider how many people access these services.

“It may come a time for them, or maybe for somebody else that they care about, that they’re going to need somebody to be there for their loved ones,” Bridges explained. “But if they keep cutting and keep taking away the hours from the home-care workers, it’s going to be really tough.”

State lawmakers are looking at a $3.3 billion budget shortfall through 2023, according to a forecast from last year.

Read more at Public News Service

Seattle’s first-ever pop-up coronavirus vaccine clinic went off without a hitch as home healthcare workers received their first dose of the vaccine.

It was an invitation-only clinic to vaccinate those caring for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

So eager were the caregivers to get vaccinated, they came early. The clinic wrapped up at about 5 p.m., with a lot of caregivers getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan eagerly kicked off the clinic’s opening.

“The city of Seattle is working together in partnership with so many people to make this happen,” said Durkan, “because we know vaccinations are our hope.”

That partnership included SEIU Local 775. That’s how Mary Guski learned about the clinic and why she was able to get her vaccine.

Watch and read more at KIRO 7

Home health care worker Brittany Williams made sure she was going to be at the Rainier Beach Community Center on a bright, crisp Saturday morning.

“We work face-to-face with our clients, unable to social distance,” Williams said. “That’s why today, I, like so many others have come to receive my vaccine.

 “I want to reassure you guys, that we have an opportunity to change the tide of COVID,” Williams added. “Caregivers have been fighting and continue to fight to be seen as the essential workers that we are. After winning PPE and hazardous pay and being prioritized today as essential workers by the City of Seattle, it’s a big deal to us.”

Read more from the South Seattle Emerald