When the state Democratic leadership called the cops on organized labor last year in a ham-fisted effort to get out of voting on the Workers Privacy Act, they sent a couple of strong messages to employers statewide.
First, by killing legislation that would have prevented employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings (or religious meetings, for that matter), and by doing so in such a high profile fashion, the Democratic leadership tacitly endorsed exactly the kind of coercive practices the bill sought to ban. Second, if the Democratic leadership, of all people, were willing to so casually throw organized labor under the bus — one of their most loyal constituencies — well, it was only time before employers started following their lead.
And that’s apparently what is happening with the Korean Women’s Association in their contract negotiations with home health care workers represented by SEIU 775NW.
The video above shows KWA Executive Director Peter Ansara bashing the union at a mandatory meeting held Feb. 1, 2010. “They’re not going to bat for you,” Ansara tells the assembled SEIU members “… but your dues just went up a buck.” Ansara goes on to accuse the union of “not standing up for you,” while KWA Board Chair Sul Ja Warnick reminisces fondly about the pre-union days. All this at a meeting billed as workers’ compensation training, and paid for with Medicaid funds.
So what’s KWA’s beef with SEIU? After years of enjoying a model labor-management relationship with SEIU, KWA has suddenly decided to play hardball. While none of the other eight home healthcare agencies SEIU bargains with in Washington state are seeking cuts in wages or benefits, KWA is demanding substantial concessions from workers whose starting salary is only $10/hour.
Since 2006, all of the state’s home healthcare agencies have covered the full cost of their workers’ compensation premiums, but KWA is demanding that its workers now pay 30 cents an hour, amounting to a 3 percent reduction in take-home pay. KWA is also alone in seeking to eliminate the 45 cents per mile reimbursement for workers driving between clients, during the workday, using their own vehicles… a tremendous potential hardship for such low wage workers, especially those working in more rural communities. And finally, while all agencies receive 10 cents a worker hour from the state to pay for training programs, KWA wants to only spend 5 cents an hour, and keep the other nickel for itself.
And if SEIU won’t budge, then apparently it has to be busted, or at least so seems the philosophy of Ansara, who took over the reins at KWA just before the agency assumed its new, anti-union posture.
“The caregiving business… is really from a business perspective, a numbers game,” Ansara told the assembled workers, though of course, it really is not. The caregiving business should be about providing compassionate, quality care. Indeed, Ansara’s statement reveals exactly the kind of attitude that inevitably leads to the sort of abuses recently documented by the Seattle Times.
But as long as we’re talking about numbers, it’s important to point out that while KWA pays workers $10/hour, it receives a $17.46/hour in Medicaid reimbursement from the state. The other home healthcare agencies are managing to get by on the same gross margins without demanding concessions from their already low-wage workers. Why can’t KWA?
I dunno. Perhapas Ansara is just a prick. Or perhaps KWA is particularly poorly managed. Or perhaps, KWA got the message loud and clear from Democrats in Olympia that it’s open season on labor.
What I do know is that I wouldn’t want my loved ones taken care of by a home healthcare agency that shows so little respect and empathy for its own workers.