Yesterday, a Wall Street Journal editorial about SEIU Healthcare Michigan – made up of workers who serve seniors and people with disabilities – repeated unfair, misleading, anti-worker attacks against ordinary working men and women. (“Michigan Union Collapse,” 5/14/14)
As someone who has worked in the home care field for 12 years, I know firsthand the challenges of caring for someone’s parent, grandparent and loved one. We attend to every need, from washing and cleaning a person with little mobility to giving them their medications to ensuring they’re safe and comfortable at all times.
This isn’t a regular 9-to-5 job. It’s a commitment. And for many of us, it’s a career – a physically and emotionally demanding career that’s also one of the lowest paid. That’s why my fellow home care workers and I voted by an overwhelming 7-to-1 margin to join SEIU Healthcare Michigan in 2005.
We chose to join a union because SEIU HCMI helps home care workers get the training and skills to better care for seniors and people with disabilities. The trainings included first aid and safe lifting techniques, trainings that can make a life-and-death difference.
By joining SEIU, we also received modest pay raises and benefits – often for the first time in many, many years. While they were small, these raises helped us better care for our families. Often, we no longer had to choose between buying food and putting gas in our cars so we could get to our jobs.
In 2012, home care workers’ choice to join SEIU HCMI was reversed when Gov. Rick Snyder and Lansing politicians used heavy-handed political maneuvers to ram through controversial legislation that specifically took away home care workers’ right to join a union.
Overnight, tens of thousands of Michigan home care workers lost the right to join together to bargain with the state to improve quality care for our consumers, elderly individuals and people with disabilities in our state. Our choice was reversed. The voice we once had to advocate for the people we care for was suddenly silenced.
Let’s be clear, Michigan home care workers did not choose to leave our union. We were stripped of our rights by a Michigan legislature and a governor who put anti-worker special interests ahead of ordinary workers caring for seniors and people with disabilities.
By removing home care workers’ ability to speak up, those who will suffer the most are Michigan families’ loved ones and people with disabilities who benefit from well-trained home care workers.
Belinda Williams is a home health care worker in Ypsilant, Michigan.