Issued May 16, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight home care workers who are united in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) took legal action today challenging aCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule that attacks home care workers’ ability to use common paycheck deductions for health insurance contributions, union dues and other expenses.
The case raises a number of challenges to the rule, including that the rule violates the First Amendment rights of individual provider home care workers—a workforce comprised of 90 percent women, more than half of whom are women of color, and one in four are immigrants—who provide essential in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities. The lawsuit also details how CMS has violated the Equal Protection Clause because it is singling out a particular group of workers without a legitimate purpose.
The CMS rule denies roughly 800,000 individual provider home care workers from using paycheck deductions to support their union as many union members, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, do every day. Most working people also use this common employment practice to pay for regular expenses like health insurance premiums.
“This rule violates our freedom of speech by telling us how we can spend our own wages and denying us our right to choose for ourselves how we support our union,” said Virginia Grant, a home care worker from Charleston, Ill., and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We’re not going to let this attack stop us from advocating for high-quality home care.”
SEIU members filed their lawsuit in the Northern District of California alongside a similar case filed Monday, May 13 by the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington. Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the states argue that the rushed rulemaking process was arbitrary and capricious and that the rule interferes with the states’ rights to operate their home care programs in the way that works for their state.
“It’s outrageous that home care workers like me are being singled out,” said Camille Christian, a plaintiff and home care worker from Alameda, Calif. “This rule tries to prevent us from using payroll deduction for any purpose, even to contribute to our healthcare or for transportation costs or to support our union. How would you feel if the government told you how to spend your wages?”
This racist rule is a transparent attempt, in the midst of a dramatic workforce shortage with turnover rates as high as 60%, to deprive home care workers of their right to independently choose to join together in strong unions and advocate for higher wages, basic benefits like affordable healthcare and paid sick time, and better training to ensure quality home care services.
SEIU is actively litigating a FOIA case against the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to produce records reflecting coordination on the rule between CMS officials and the billionaire-backed special interest groups like the State Policy Network (SPN) and the Freedom Foundation who have been trying to silence working people for decades.
These are the SEIU member plaintiffs speaking up on behalf of home care workers in this challenge:
Camille Christian, from Alameda, Calif., assists with the dialysis and basic needs for a man living with disabilities. Thanks to the training provided by her union, she was able to identify early signs of a stroke and help her consumer avoid more serious complications. Christian is paid $12.50 an hour and contributes to her union and healthcare premiums through paycheck deductions.
Virginia Grant, from Charleston, Ill., has been a caregiver her entire life. She says one of the best parts of her job is knowing she’s making a positive difference in another person’s life. Grant first got active in her union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, in 2010 when a fellow home care worker knocked on her door. Since then, she has fought for better wages, benefits and training to provide better care. Illinois home care workers were a force in winning the recent $15 statewide minimum wage and pay raises for home care and child care workers.
Ed Solseng, from Seattle, Wash., provides 24-hour care for his adult daughter, Rachel, who cannot talk, walk or feed herself, and requires daily medication to control seizures and other medical conditions. Recognizing at some point he will no longer be able to care for his daughter, he’s taking this legal action to ensure that the workers providing compassionate care for her, aging Americans and other people with disabilities have a good job, a living wage and affordable healthcare so they can remain dedicated to the consumers they love.
Rebecca Sandoval, from Salem, Ore., assists a 55 year old paraplegic consumer with bathing, grooming, medication management, cooking and housekeeping. In the 20 years since Oregonians voted to create a home care union, workers have raised wage standards, gained access to benefits like health insurance and paid time off, and added required training to significantly reduce turnover and improve quality care.
Debra Howze, from Minneapolis, Minn., began her career as a home care worker over 20 years ago, making $6.25 per hour with essentially no benefits. Now, because she and other home care workers united in their union and took a stand for basic rights, she now earns $12.80. Thanks to her union, she’s able to focus on providing top-quality care helping her 40 year old client with multiple sclerosis bathe, eat, and get him to his medical appointments.
Kay Wright, from New Haven, Conn., has worked in healthcare her entire career, and now helps a man who is paralyzed on one side of his body bathe, get dressed, and she helps prepare his meals. Wright is taking this legal action because she finds it unfair that any group of workers be singled out and dictated in how they choose to spend their wages and support their union.
Sherleen Bright, a Richmond, Va. home care worker and founding member of her union, SEIU Virginia 512, is paid through the Virginia Medicaid program for the hours she works assisting older adults with their personal care needs so they can live with dignity at home. In addition to regular wage increases, she and other union members advocated for the expansion of Medicaid and increasing access to in-home services for thousands of Virginians.
Eleni Syrpis, from Boston, Mass., provides home care services for her aging parents who require constant support for their self-care and safety needs. She is paid $15 per hour by the State of Massachusetts and contributes to her union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, through paycheck deductions. Through her union, she has access to CPR and skills training, including how to safely transfer her parents if they are not able to move themselves.
The home care workers’ lawsuit seeks relief for all home care workers across the country, not just union members, asking the court to block CMS from enforcing the rule when it is scheduled to go into effect in July.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) unites 2 million diverse members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU members working in the healthcare industry, in the public sector and in property services believe in the power of joining together on the job to win higher wages and benefits and to create better communities while fighting for a more just society and an economy that works for all of us, not just corporations and the wealthy.