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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.

What are you fighting for SEIU? 24.Jan.2010 17:19

laborer

They don't provide health care to their workers. They don't provide decent wages to their workers. They don't give paid sick time to their workers. Their workers never get vacations. And SEIU is helping the bosses, the owners, not the workers.

What's next? Organizing bank presidents? Maybe SEIU thinks their bonuses and bailouts should be higher or something? Or maybe you could organize the CEOs of big auto manufacturers? I hear things are tough for them, too. They could use more jets and fewer government regulations. Why don't you go organize them, too? Makes just as much sense as this.

The decay of the trade unions 24.Jan.2010 20:00

SEP

Here is an article from the World Socialist Web Site on the SEIU's "organizing". The web site contains numerous articles on the transformations of the unions into defenders of capitalism. And the alternative: the contruction of rank-and-file committees on a socialist program to lead a struggle.

How the labor bureaucracy scabbed on the Portland school janitors  http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jul2003/seiu-j18.shtml
By Hector Cordon
18 July 2003

Even an experienced observer of the American labor bureaucracy may be forgiven an astonished double-take at the Justice for Janitors rally organized by the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) in downtown Portland, Ore., last month. For alongside the 200 members of SEIU Local 49 campaigning for a new contract were 10 members of SEIU Local 140, with bullhorn in hand, denouncing Local 49 for taking their jobs.

One of the Portland School Board's responses to its budget crisis was to vote last July to fire its 300 custodians and contract out to the Portland Habilitation Center (PHC). The PHC is a non-profit corporation that trains and places disabled workers in its landscaping, clerical or janitorial divisions. State law requires that organizations like the PHC be given first consideration for any janitorial jobs contracted out by public agencies. In 2001, with over 300 employees, the PHC had 24 custodial contracts that earned it $17.7 million. All of these contracts but one were with public bodies such as the Portland International Airport and Oregon Health Sciences University. Its sole private contract represented less then 1 percent of its 2001 income.

Different SEIU locals represent both the school and the PHC custodians. PHC custodians (Local 49) earn a maximum of $9.50 an hour—$7.50 an hour less then the school custodians (Local 140)—and receive substandard medical benefits and only $300 a year in employer-contributed pension benefits. The school district saved $3.7 million this year with the PHC and hopes to save $7.0 million next year.

The school board made no attempt to bust the union or to replace it with a company union. Much like a shopper seeking a bargain at the local supermarket, the board simply replaced the 300 custodians of SEIU Local 140 with their lower-paid union brothers of SEIU Local 49.

In response, Local 140 made no strike threats, much less any preparation for a strike. It did not bother calling for a common front with the teachers, who were also facing severe cutbacks. There were no efforts to expose the anti-labor program of the Democratic Party. Instead, Local 140 responded to this attack with an ineffectual campaign of appeals to Democratic Party politicians. It also filed lawsuits and bought advertisements that sought to convince the school board of the advantages of retaining its members. In contract negotiations, the offer of larger and larger concessions—first $900,000 then $2.4 million—were rejected out of hand.

Emboldened by Local 140's futile pressure strategy, the board never wavered from its demand that the custodians absorb, in wage and/or benefit cuts, the estimated $4.5 million savings that contracting out would save.

Limiting its efforts to mobilizing community support behind impotent protests to politicians and legal challenges, Local 140 ultimately and predictably failed its members. The school board voted to fire its 300 custodians and to contract out their jobs to the PHC. The appeals court and the circuit court, as well as the Employment Relations Board, rejected the various lawsuits.

The bankruptcy of appeals to the politicians was highlighted at one hearing when a custodian charged board member Lorenzo Poe with betrayal for voting to fire the school custodians and award a contract to the PHC after having received money from Local 140 for his election campaign.

Having lost its campaign to save the school custodians' jobs and unable to present any progressive policies, the leadership of Local 140 instead publicly rails against its sister local.

Described as the fastest-growing union in the US, the SEIU has cynically welcomed the gutting of one local's hard-fought wages and benefits in order to improve its opportunities for organizing. According to Alice Dale, president of Local 49, "We don't want our union contractors [paying wages] so high that they lose business because the non-union market is lower." Said in the context of unionizing janitors in the downtown core, this statement openly expresses the unabashedly subservient outlook that dominates the official unions. It also demonstrates the SEIU's willingness to limit workers' wages to what businesses will accept in order to further the union bureaucracy's goals of collecting more dues.

One further fact underscores the parasitic character of the labor hierarchy: in 2002, SEIU president Andrew Stern pocketed $234,900 in salary, allowances and disbursements—around eight times more than a Portland school janitor earned.


you people are dunces 26.Jan.2010 11:04

not a dunce

"They don't provide health care to their workers. They don't provide decent wages to their workers. They don't give paid sick time to their workers. Their workers never get vacations."

All it takes is a simply google search to see this is not true:

 http://www.32bjfunds.org/
 http://www.1199nbf.org/
 http://www.seiu1199ne.org/Benefits/Default.aspx
 http://www.seiu1199nw.org/resources/SEIU_Benefits_for_you_and_your_family.aspx

I guess you're more of a dunce than you thought 26.Jan.2010 18:20

Guffaw

I always love it when someone writes something really rude about how "dunce"-like others are, when it turns out they're the ones who are wrong. And "not a dunce" just did that. Anyone else follow those links? Did you like, READ the article, dunce? Because those links are to benefits that have NOTHING to do with the people providing care in adult care homes. They don't even have anything to do with the union that organized the OWNERS of these homes (that's local 503 according to the article, Dunce, not local 32 or local 1199). Also, even if local 503 DID offer benefits, which it doesn't look like they do, that would not really address the charge, which is that SEIU organized the WRONG PEOPLE in this case. They organized the owner/operators of these businesses. The bosses. They failed to organize the workers. Therefore, even if the union did offer benefits to the members, AGAIN, Dunce, the WORKERS are not unionized! Thanks to the idiotic "organizing" of the SEIU.

God, you really are a Dunce, Dunce.

You gotta know how to work the info you get from google 26.Jan.2010 18:22

whatever

All it took was "simply" to actually read the article to see that "not a dunce" is really just a dunce.

"You people" indeed.