EDITOR IN CHIEF
Originally featured in Sustainable City.
The Trump administration recently proposed a policy limiting the ability for unionized homecare workers paid directly by Medicaid or Medicare to deduct dues automatically from their checks. Typically, these homecare workers are employed by the state and not the private sector; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has an estimated 700,000 members in the state of California, many of whom are at risk of losing their deductions and access to affordable healthcare as a byproduct of this decision. In the first installment of her weekly column discussing local politics, Editor in Chief Madison White spoke with SEIU Local 2015 Communications Director Lizette Escobedo to discuss the gravity of the situation.
MW: Can you give me your title and an overview of your position?
LE: I’m the Communications Director for SEIU Local 2015, and my job is to do a little bit of everything. I handle the internal and external communications. Internally, I handle messaging to our more than 370,000 members. Externally, I help ensure that the voice of homecare workers is being heard.
MW: Does Whittier have a lot of homecare workers?
LE: I don’t have the exact number with me, but we have about 400 members in Whittier. It’s not the largest population, but we are seeing that there’s a growing demand for homecare workers in Whittier and other cities throughout the state due to California’s rapidly aging populations. Members might not live in Whittier, but may provide homecare services to those who do live in the city. Our union has grown really quickly.
MW: Tell me a little bit about the attacks on homecare workers from the Trump administration?
LE: So, the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation Of State, County, And Municipal Employees, Council) decision [June 27, 2018] basically said that all public workers must be represented by unions, even when they’re not paying dues. This greatly overextends unions and diminishes the collective bargaining power we have, while limiting the resources we can offer. The important thing to note is that, SEIU specifically has actually been operating under this kind of system for quite some time, because of Harris v. Quinn [June 30, 2014] which had the same outcome for homecare workers. We found that our members really believed in the union and what it does for them, and most of them continued to pay dues.
Recently, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] want to remove the ability for members to have their dues and health insurance automatically removed from their checks. The deductions often cover their own health care, and through that mechanism a lot of homecare workers are able to have really affordable health insurance that automatically comes out of their check, about a few dollars a month. The people who will be most affected by this are predominantly women, predominantly women of color, and predominantly low income.
MW: Is there a fear that this will cause members to leave the union?
LE: With the Harris v. Quinn decision, all homecare workers are already represented by SEIU. So, members are not really able to leave the union--what might happen is they may not continue to pay dues since the option to have that come out of their checks is no longer available. What we’re most concerned about is the potentially limited options for health care, if they no longer have access [to] their current plans. Most of the homecare workers make just above minimum wage and already have a tight budget every month.
MW: What can non-union members do to help?
LE: The most important thing I can think of is to vote. We’re facing a really important election, and there’s a lot of really important Congressional races but it’s also important to vote down the ballot for your Attorney General, your State Assembly, and State Senate. The other thing is to support unions; support union made, union sold. Our members are resilient just by nature of everything they’ve had to do to get where they are, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect them.
MW: Is there anything else you want people to know?
LE: I just want to remind people of everything that organized labor has given working people: an eight hour work day, Labor day, weekends. It’s easy to say, “oh, that doesn’t affect me,” but this is a direct attack on working people everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s unsurprising that the attack most affects women of color.