Way to go SEIU...? "Unionizing" predatory business owners at the expense of others
In 2008, the SEIU began approaching adult care home owners in Multnomah County, offering to unionize the proprietors of these businesses. As a worker in one of these homes, I couldn't believe they were serious. Turns out, they were. But... why? Do they completely fail to understand the workings of the ACH industry? Since WHEN does a union organize the business OWNERS, and not the workers? Since... now.
Local 503 came into being without incident. There was none of the customary drama between workers who want to organize and their bosses who try to stop them that one usually runs up against when a union organizes. Well, that was hardly surprising in this case, because the union organizers were not talking to, or attempting to organize, the people who actually WORK in adult care homes. They certainly never talked to me. Instead, they talked to the people who run the homes, the people who own the businesses, the people who make their living off the backs of workers like me, and off the backs of elderly people and people with disabilities who live in their ACHs.
What the fuck is wrong with you, SEIU? I've always supported you in the past. Worn purple in support of janitors for justice, followed your efforts to organize other workers. But what, may I ask, what in the fucking hell are you DOING here???
Let me explain, for the benefit of those who do not know about adult care homes (and this apparently includes the SEIU dumb asses who organized the management - can't thank you enough for that one). Adult care homes are the relatively cheap answer to nursing homes. They used to be called adult foster homes, and the idea was laudable enough in the beginning. They were supposed to be places where people could take in elderly people, and people with disabilities, into their own homes and families - kind of like foster grandparents or something. And in the early days, I guess it must have been like that. I know some of the older homes I've worked in are just little one-family homes with a few older people living in them, being cared for by the people who live there. But it turns out, there was a LOT of money in adult care homes (ACHs). And with a lot of money comes a lot of greed. And that's just what happened.
The state and county governments encouraged the formation of ACHs, because it was a lot cheaper to put someone in there than to put them into a nursing home. Instead of paying upwards of $10,000 a month for skilled nursing home care, they could pay between $1500 and $7000 to put that same person into the hands of an unskilled, barely trained "caregiver" in an ACH. Sounds scary, and in many ways, it often is. But there are also benefits to this arrangement. While nursing homes are really expensive, the people giving most of the care are poorly paid and poorly trained CNAs who are over-worked, and the institutionalized setting is nothing short of depressing. ACHs at least feel like home. Or at least, that was the idea.
But it wasn't long before entrepreneurs learned they could really exploit this system. They can have up to 5 paying residents in an ACH, tended by poorly paid workers. That's 5 residents times $5000 per month, for those who like math. Soon, they were setting up little empires of mini nursing homes - I worked for an owner who owned 4 ACHs and hardly even stopped by to visit any of them. She lives in a manor home in another county. I have also worked for a person who lives in a huge and beautiful mansion, with five patients stuffed into a rat hole in the basement. They are never allowed up in the main part of the house, but their money pays for it all. It's disgusting.
These people are completely in this for the money. They cut every corner they can. They eat fancy and expensive food, but they feed their patients watered down canned soup and bread. I have seen this for myself. Maybe not all of the homes are like this, but a good number of them are. And one of the corners they cut, in collusion with the state, is on labor. Both the owners and the state want cheap labor to staff these homes - the owners want it so they can maximize their profits, the state wants it so they can keep costs down.
So, ACH workers are one of the ONLY groups of workers in the state of Oregon to be exempt from BOLI laws guaranteeing certain wage and hour protections that other workers take for granted. For instance, ACH owners are NOT required to pay caregivers minimum wage, they are NOT required to give workers time off, they are NOT required to pay overtime. Caregivers are not subject to 8 hour days or 40 hour weeks. They can be worked for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, month after month with no break, and are not even paid minimum wage. No caregiver in all of this state gets health care coverage, either. No paid vacations, no benefits at all. This is the hell that ACH workers live in, while the owners of these little empires make $25,000 or more a month. Does that seem fair? Hell no!
Caregivers, not even getting paid minimum wage, provide the labor that generates a huge amount of wealth for unscrupulous and uncaring owners. So who does the SEIU come in and organize? The workers?? NO! They come in and organize the LEECHES living off our backs. What the FUCK, SEIU? What the FUCK?
I will let you in on another dirty little secret. Here's how they get away with such abusive practices on such a large scale: A lot of the workers in these homes are undocumented workers. They are either not here in this country legally, or else they are here on a work Visa. Either way, the owners exploit them for all they are worth. I have known people trying desperately to support their families, being mercilessly and ruthlessly exploited by owners of these places, but they could not leave. They witnessed or experiences awful abuses, but could not report that abuse. They were told flat out that if they tried to leave, or asked for any pay, they would be deported. Yes, I have known owners to keep people in servitude like that, without having to pay them anything at all.
So who does SEIU come in and organize again? The exploited and vulnerable workers who are not even getting minimum wage? Or the people who own and run the businesses, making $25,000 and more per month off the labor and suffering of others? Well the SEIU organized the owners. The proprietors. The bosses.
Who ever even HEARD of such a thing??? Think I'm making this up? Here is the SEIU's page of shame: http://www.seiu503.org/care/afc/default.aspx.
See, the SEIU had recently won some important victories - they had organized nursing home workers, and importantly, home care workers who previously had almost no rights. Like caregivers in ACHs, home care workers provide care to older people and people with disabilities, and before being unionized, they were grossly exploited. They were treated as "contract" workers, so they were exempt from BOLI laws too. The SEIU came in and organized them, and I supported that. They won the right to bargain collectively with the state for their wages and benefits and other rights. This was a good thing, because they were only "contract" workers in name only. They were actually wage slaves, just like the rest of us.
SEIU was glowing from that victory when they decided there were probably more workers out there like that, who could be organized. And then, in some monumentally flawed grasp of the issue, they decided that owners of ACHs were like the home care workers. (They are not. Home care workers provided care in other peoples' homes, making less than minimum wage for grueling work, and they are the laborers not the exploiters. THEY do the work, they do not have employees. ACH proprietors, on the other hand, own the means of production, the adult care homes, they make a fuck ton of money off the labor of others, and they exploit their workers.) For some bizarre and twisted reason, the SEIU organizers started coming around to all the ACHs in the state, talking to the OWNERS, not to those of us who PROVIDE ALL THE LABOR in these homes. So they are unionized now, and won the right to bargain for more Medicaid dollars per patient. Meanwhile, we are STILL doing all the work, STILL exempt from minimum wage laws, STILL working our asses off 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without overtime, STILL without health benefits, and NONE of those SEIU benefits have trickled down to the workers.
So again, I have to ask you, WHAT THE FUCK WAS SEIU THINKING OF???
Anyone from SEIU care to freaking explain themselves?
What the fuck.
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