Some 300 home-care workers with the Service Employees International Union 775 are at the Capitol today pushing for support of a contract giving the low-wage workers a pair of 50-cent hourly raises over the next two years. The labor group also is releasing results of a poll done for the union by Elway Research, saying 70 percent of Washingtonians favor full funding of the raises.
As reported here, an arbitrator ruled last year the workers, who are not actually state employees and earn as little as $10 an hour, should receive the raises. The cost for taxpayers is more than $125 million (that is just for those who are individual providers, in effect hired by disabled and elderly people who need help with chores at home).
The home-care workers, who help people remain in their homes and avoid costly nursing care, are considered a cheaper option for the state, which pays their salaries through Medicaid.
SEIU announced its poll here, including quotes from Republican Sen. Steve Litzow and Democratic Rep. Tami Green in support. Adding Litzow is significant, because of his role as a potential swing vote in the Majority Coalition Caucus that holds power in the Senate.
But Legislative leaders have been reluctant to say funding of state employee contracts are a priority in the 2013 session.
The pollsters interviewed 407 registered voters on Jan. 24-27, asking the question as follows:
Home care aides provide essential daily services to Washington’s most vulnerable citizens – seniors and people with disabilities. The care includes cooking, washing, taking medicine, going to the toilet and getting out of bed. Due to Washington’s struggling economy, home care aides’ pay has been frozen at just over $10 an hour since 2008. The state legislature is considering a contract that would give home caregivers a 50-cent raise each year for the next two years. Would you support or oppose the legislature funding this pay raise for home care aides? Would you say you [strongly support/support/oppose/strongly oppose ] this pay raise?
The poll found 50 percent were strongly in support, 20 percent in support, 11 percent opposed, 15 percent strongly opposed and 4 percent undecided or not answering.
SEIU has been on record in support of a bill closing the sales-tax exemption for out of state purchasers. But the polling did not address that question, which is the larger one facing lawmakers. And any tax increase would need a two-thirds legislative vote under terms of Initiative 1185 (unless the proposal was sent to the November ballot, which majority support).
The arbitration award issued last year is worth more than $125 million, by state Office of Financial Management estimates. But SEIU wants additional funding to cover other unionized employees who work for private firms, avoiding a two-tier pay scale in home care.
SEIU is backing House Bill 1273, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, to close two tax exemptions and dedicate the proceeds to home care services.
A fiscal note prepared by OFM indicates the measure could bring in $78.8 million in new revenues the first two years, which could be leveraged to get large federal matches if the funds are spent in the Medicaid program.