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A Big Labor Oops On Washington State Measure

The country's largest labor union, the Service Employees International Union, has been backing legislation and ballot initiatives around the country to establish standards for home health care workers. The bills and measures are part of a strategy to organize more of those workers. It's a fine strategy. But in Washington state, SEIU appears to have made a major error.

Instead of qualifying an initiative directly for the ballot, the union labeled its petitions as an initiative to the legislature. Washington, like some other blockbuster democracy states, permits citizens to gather signatures on a document and present it to the legislature first, instead of the voters. The union didn't really want that. And it's possible that state officials may allow them to get away with the mistake and put the measure on the ballot.

I have no particular problem with the state being lenient. (A Seattle newspaper isn't so forgiving). Mistakes are made in the initiative process, and we should look at the intent of those signing a measure (and widespread publicity about this as a direct-to-voters citizens initiative). But it's worth pointing out the hypocrisy of the union and the labor movement on this. In cases when mistakes have been made by backers of initiatives with whom labor disagrees, SEIU and other unions have screamed to the high heavens about fraud. If a chamber of commerce had made a mistake like SEIU's on, say, a "right to work" measure, the union would be accusing the chamber of all sorts of things. And the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center -- the labor-backed, self-styled police of the initiative process -- would be calling for indictments. The BISC has been not-so-curiously silent about this SEIU screw-up. 

Which is fine and understandable. But let's hope our unions brothers and sisters do not get on their high horses about the horrors of the initiative process the next time somebody else makes a mistake.  

solution to error

Initiative activist Tim Eyman has suggested what sounds like an easy and reasonable solution to the error: rather than throwing out the petitions for the error, accept the petitions, but only as an initiative to the legislature, which is what we can reasonable assume the signers thought they were signing for.

SEIU plan doesn't create trained home health workers

I'm a Democrat and a social worker who owns and operates a home care agency in Washington State. The Democratic WA State Senate crafted a home care aide training bill earlier in the year that provided for more training, but not as much as SEIU wanted. Governor Gregoire wouldn't sign off, under pressure from SEIU. It would serve SEIU right to have its rejected proposal go back to the Legislature. Why does SEIU want workers to have all this training. It (probably wrongly) believes it will create a more stable pool of unionized workers.

It is important to note that the workers in question are not "health care" workers. They are personal care aides or attendants, and they are expressly forbidden by law from providing any health care services. Many home care workers are retired folks looking to supplement their pension, homemakers taking on a part-time job, or college students looking for part-time or summer work. Most turnover is due to the fact that the job can involve dealing with difficult personalities and performing physical labor. The small but dedicated group of home care workers who make a career out of bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding, and keeping house for the disabled and elderly will continue to do so effectively without the additional recommended training - most of which is about being respectful, compassionate, knowing how to respond to emergencies while NOT providing health/medical assistance, and using good common sense when it comes to cooking, cleaning and lifting heavy objects.