Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers have been bargaining with the State for protection, pay, and support. We’ve sent petitions, shared our stories, and sat (virtually) across from the State at the bargaining table.

Bargaining with the State this year has been very different than our contract negotiations over the last decade. The State is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit over the next several years because of the pandemic and the economic impact. And they have already imposed furloughs – unpaid days off – on all state employees – and in negotiations with other public employees, the State is proposing wage freezes and even reductions in pay.

While others saw these wage freezes and reductions, caregivers didn’t settle, and we now have two major updates for all in-home caregivers:

  •  IP Contract. The arbitrator heard us and we won a wage increase of five times as much as what the State initially offered – we won an increase in wages of 3% across the two years of the contract. We also won continued affordable healthcare, credit for prior home care work experience, and paid holidays for the first time ever!
  • Hazard Pay. Caregiver Hazard Pay was set to run out at the end of September – but it’s been extended! For the rest of 2020, IPs will receive an additional $2.56 per hour, and $2.54 per hour from January through March of 2021. just like with the previous Hazard Pay awards, we’re negotiating for extended Hazard Pay with all agencies next.

With the IP contract win, we still have a fight ahead of us. We need to demand that our Legislators fund our contract when they go into legislative session in January and make sure that all our clients continue to receive essential home care services. We’ll be telling lawmakers to fund our new contract, which will:

  • Increase wages: We’re getting five times as much what the State initially offered equaling to an increase in wages of 3% across the two years of the contract, which works out to about 25-30 cents per year depending on what step you are at.
  • Not increase healthcare premiums: Funding will cover expected healthcare inflation and our premium cost – $25 per year – will not increase, which it has not for the past decade.
  • Continue providing PPE: The State has agreed to continue providing PPE – at no cost to caregivers – based on public health guidance.
  • Protect caregivers with strong HADit language: Strong language in our contract will help protect caregivers from harassment, abuse, and discrimination.
  • Increase PTO: An increase in the PTO accrual cap from 120 hours to 130 hours.
  • Give caregivers credit for agency work: Starting on July 1, 2022, IPs will be able to get credit on the wage scale for work at private home care agencies. We’ve been fighting for this victory for years!
  • Include paid holidays: Time and a half for caregivers who work on July 4 and New Year’s Day

We won a better contract because members took action – emails, calls, and social media. Now, we need to do the same to fund the contract in the legislative session and to fight for revenue.

“Nursing home workers are essential, frontline healthcare workers… That’s why we’re out here today – to demand that the State and Federal government do better to protect us and to provide the resources we need to keep ourselves and our residents safe.” – Julie Ortiz, Yakima Nursing Home

YAKIMA, WA – Nursing home workers in Yakima – a city with less than four percent of Washington state’s population but almost 15 percent of its COVID-19 cases – are protesting downtown today as part of a national movement to demand funding for long-term care facilities like the ones hit hardest by the pandemic.

Nursing home workers are the frontlines of healthcare in our country, and they are putting their health at risk to fulfill a critical need during this crisis. Their jobs are getting harder, not easier. But nursing homes and their workers are not getting the funding or equipment they need to stay safe or the pay they deserve as essential workers. And while nursing home workers desperately need more resources to take care of their residents safely, the State’s Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) is now proposing a $60 million cut to nursing home funding.

One in three COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, according to recent estimates, and yet the caregivers in these homes must continue working without hazard pay or personal protective equipment (PPE). This lack of both federal and state funding directly puts the lives of working people, our families, and our communities at greater risk.

“Nursing home workers are essential, frontline healthcare workers,” said Julie Ortiz, a nursing home worker in Yakima. “We’ve kept some of our state’s most vulnerable out of overwhelmed hospitals while putting our own health on the line. Nursing home workers deserve better. That’s why we’re out here today – to demand that the State and Federal government do better to protect us and to provide the resources we need to keep ourselves and our residents safe.”

As of May 13, 279 long-term care facilities in Washington state had known cases of COVID-19. These facilities had a total of 2,894 cases among residents and staff, resulting in 507 deaths. This means residents and workers in long-term care facilities made up one in five (17%) of all cases in the state and more than half of all COVID-19-related deaths.

SEIU 775 President Sterling Harders says, “Caregivers, who are primarily women – and often Black women, women of color, and immigrants – have always been critically undervalued as healthcare workers and are now disproportionately being affected by COVID-19. Nursing home staff are being called essential workers by the same elected officials who are withholding vital funding for the equipment and pay they need to do their jobs safely.”

Nursing home work is essential. Nursing home workers deserve hazard pay. Nursing homes need funding.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

 

WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL & HEALTH SERVICES ANNOUNCES PLAN TO BALANCE THE STATE BUDGET BY DECIMATING LONG-TERM CARE SERVICES 

SEIU 775 President Sterling Harders: To cut funding for the frontlines of healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic is tantamount to neglect. The people of Washington are asking: Why are we slashing care for the most vulnerable while the wealthiest in our state pay next to nothing. 

SEATTLE, WA – Today, the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) announced their plan to balance the state budget by decimating long-term care services in our state. They’re electing to eliminate nursing homehome care, and other services for tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities, cutting wages and benefits for already low-wage home care workers, and slashing funding for nursing homes that were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.   

This proposal is outrageous. Caregivers put our health on the line because the people we care for needed us. To cut funding for essential work now, in the middle of a global pandemic, is not acceptable.  

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been caring for my five clients 24-7, because if I wasn’t there I’m not sure who would help them out of bed and make sure they have enough to eat,” said caregiver Shazia Anwar. “DSHS’s proposed cuts will leave thousands of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities without essential healthcare while we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic.” 

We live in a state where those who make the least pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than wealthy residents – but DSHS proposes to cut wages and benefits for in-home caregivers who make $16-18 per hour  

“I’ve been taking care of one client for over 5 years. When we were both diagnosed with COVID-19, even though I couldn’t be in his home with him, I didn’t stop taking care of him because his anxiety meant he needed me at this time more than ever,” said caregiver Desirae Hernandez.”We spent over 2 hours a day on the phone as I walked him through remembering to eat, talking to his substitute caregiver, and trying to mitigate his depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I kept him out of the hospital, and I know I’m the reason he’s still alive.”  

When this pandemic started, Governor Inslee called caregivers essential workers. Our work helped flatten the curve and kept Washington safe. At the same time caregivers were risking their lives, Washington’s richest saw their wealth continually increase.  

“Caregivers – who are generally women, and often Black women, women of color and immigrants – care for clients who are often high risk for COVID-19. For an in-home caregiver, over the course of a week they go into multiple peoples’ homes, the grocery store and pharmacy to pick up necessary supplies for the people they care for. Nursing home workers cared for wards of COVID-19 residents without proper access to PPE and testing. Caregivers in our state showed up to work, while risking their lives,” said Sterling Harders, SEIU 775 President. “To cut funding for the frontlines of healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic is tantamount to neglect. The people of Washington are asking: why are we slashing services for the most vulnerable while the wealthiest in our state pay next to nothing.”   

Washington needs revenue. We need a tax system that makes the wealthiest in our state pay their fair share. We need a new normal that addresses the unacceptable inequities– that have plagued our society.  

Balancing the budget on the backs of essential workers in Washington is unacceptable. We are ready to fight back. 

 

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SEIU 775 

SEIU 775, the caregivers union, represents more than 45,000 long-term care workers providing quality home care, nursing home care, and residential services in Washington and Montana.