Oregon home care workers protest wage and benefit cuts


SOS: Above, participants in a rally in Salem. Home care worker Mary Wood — her hair colored of SEIU purple — is chair of the union bargaining team. Bargaining broke down over a state proposal that could cut in half the number of home care workers eligible for employer-provided health coverage.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 organized rallies in seven Oregon cities Nov. 21 to protest service, wage, and benefit cuts in Oregon’s in-home care program for the elderly and disabled. The union reports that over 400 home care workers, clients and supporters turned out.

Local 503 represents about 12,000 workers who are paid by the state to care for seniors and the disabled, plus another 7,500 who care for adults with developmental and mental illnesses. Contract bargaining is stalled over economics, and the two sides are entering mediation.

Local 503 spokesperson Ed Hershey said the state is proposing to cut the number of home care workers who get employer-provided health insurance by increasing the number of hours they must work to qualify from 80 hours a month to 130. That would save the state an estimated $9.6 million a year.

When the first home care worker group unionized in 2000, none of them had employer-provided health insurance. Today about 4,500 of them do. So the state’s proposal could result in 2,000 workers losing health coverage. The workers make $10.20 an hour, and have had no raise since 2007.

Making matters worse, a Jan. 1 program cut will reduce the workers’ hours. Under the state budget approved by the Legislature in June 2011, clients will have their hours of service reduced 5 percent on average (meaning workers will lose 5 percent of their hours on average.) The cut saves the state general fund $4.1 million.

It is unlawful for home care workers  to strike. Contracts are decided by binding arbitration. The last bargaining session was Nov. 17, while the first mediation session has yet to be scheduled.

Local 503 reported that nearly 200 took part in the Portland rally, and 75 in Salem, with smaller groups rallying in Medford, Eugene, Bend, Pendleton and Coos Bay.


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