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WA At-Home Caregivers Stand Firm in Contract Negotiations

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Dora Poqui, a caregiver and member of SEIU Local 775, said she and other at-home providers are essential workers. (Dora Poqui)
Dora Poqui, a caregiver and member of SEIU Local 775, said she and other at-home providers are essential workers. (Dora Poqui)
February 1, 2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- At-home caregivers for people with disabilities and older Washingtonians are holding the line in budget talks with the state.

Individual provider members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 are negotiating their contract for the next two years. They don't want to be swept up in potential budget cuts during the pandemic.

Dora Poqui, caregiver and union member, said the state contracts workers for certain hours, but they often provide care around the clock, especially if they're helping out a family member.

"You're limited with the hours they do contract you for and sometimes, the second job, you're not able to work out of the house because these clients that we take care of, they require that hands-on," Poqui explained.

Lawmakers have pushed back because of the unusual budget year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is looking at a $3.3 billion shortfall through 2023, according to a forecast from last year.

SEIU 775 members' top priorities in contract negotiations include affordable health-care premiums, no-cost personal protective equipment and ensuring there's language barring harassment, abuse and discrimination at work.

Poqui believes agreeing to their contract proposal would be more affordable than moving their patients to nursing homes.

"The state is saying they can't afford to give us raises, right? But yet if they are put into a facility, the facility requires that 24-hour care," Poqui argued. "They're going to be spending more money at the facilities than what we're asking for."

Poqui also noted wages need to keep up with the cost of living.

"We're already at a point where the cost of living has gone up," Poqui maintained. "I mean, everything's so high right now and then for us to get any hours taken or cut would really affect us."

The workers' contract expires at the end of June.

Reporting by Washington News Service funded in part by SEIU Local 775.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA