Published: December 18, 2019

This is the fourth in a series of articles looking back on 2019, and shining a spotlight on the most significant events in our Union. Check out article #1, #2, #3

Over the past twenty years, Homecare and personal support workers have come together and fought to improve the care infrastructure for everybody. We transformed the Homecare system to a skilled platform for professional jobs, living wages, health insurance, and real benefits, while also proving our consumers with the services they need. In 2019 we pushed the state of Oregon to make even more improvements.

First, we raised taxes on large corporations in Oregon, which means our state services, including long-term care programs, got additional funding they desperately need. This allowed us to bargain a historic contract for Homecare and Personal Support Workers, including the $15 per hour base wage that we have been fighting for. $15 Now is finally a reality! 

SEIU members said in bargaining surveys that a secure retirement was a top priority. Many of us provide supports to retirees, yet we are unsure of how we are going to get by during that period of our lives. The bargaining team responded by winning the first ever retirement plan for Homecare and personal support workers. Now we have access to a program called OregonSaves and an optional 5% employer-paid contribution to a retirement fund that you control. The plan is a “portable” fund, which means you keep your plan even if you stop working as a care provider. The program is set to begin in the summer of 2020. 

Another issue that SEIU members want to see addressed is safety. Homecare and Personal Support workers work in people’s homes, so having rules in place that protect us is incredibly important. We need to be protected from harassment, discrimination, threats of violence and other safety issues. And we need to be able to call the police or take actions to protect ourselves without fear of losing our provider number. This year, we bargained a first-in-the-nation safety policy, which sets standards and rules to protect workers on the job. We also created a new workgroup that will explore ways to prevent putting workers into situations with known safety risks. This new policy will serve as an example for care providers in other states who are fighting for equitable working conditions.

SEIU members are vocal about the issues that affect our day to day lives, and because we in union, DHS has to listen. Beyond core issues like wages and benefits, late pay has been a consistent problem. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, having pay arrive late can become a critical issue for your entire family. That’s why SEIU members ran a petition, rallied in Salem, and marched on DHS to demand a solution. We won contract language saying that care providers will receive a penalty fee equal to $20 per calendar day that a paycheck is late, if the late payment is DHS’s fault. This will help compensate workers, while also creating an incentive to make sure we’re paid on time, every time! Our Union is now working with DHS to figure out the timelines for when this will go into effect. We will let you know as soon as there is more news.    

As we all know, finding clients (and clients finding supports) is an ongoing challenge. This year we bargained for state funding to improve the state’s registry in order to address that. Now, our Union will have a role in creating a better system, which means workers will have a voice in the process! We know from experience that when workers have a voice, it leads to better results for everyone. Creating a new registry will take a long time, but we are excited to tackle this challenge and work to produce something that will work for us, and work for clients. 

2019 was a landmark year for care providers and we are heading into 2020 as strong as we have ever been!