End union skim of Medicaid

— Imagine devoting every day to caring for your elderly parent, or your disabled child, in your home. You do this because you don’t want your loved one to go to a nursing home or a state institution. You want to provide loving in-home care. The state provides you with a modest Medicaid payment each month to help pay for the home care you provide.

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Erin Shannon

Then, imagine how you feel when you find out a powerful interest group gets part of your monthly payment. Every month, Washington state automatically sends a portion of each home-care Medicaid payment and gives it to the Service Employees International Union.

Forced to pay a union so that you can stay home and care for your disabled child or elderly parent? The idea is so outrageous that it hardly sounds plausible. But this is exactly what is happening to thousands of families in our state.

Every year SEIU skims a staggering $27 million from the Medicaid care payments sent to our state’s in-home care providers.

SEIU executives say the money they take is owed to the union, arguing that family caregivers are really “state employees.” What these union executives do not mention is these caregivers are classified as state employees “solely for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

This means these so-called “state employees” are not really state employees. They are not hired, fired, or even supervised, by the state. They do not enjoy the generous benefits that come with being a state employee. But they must pay union dues or fees to SEIU if they want to work as a caregiver, even if the person they are caring for is part of their own family.

SEIU does not even have to do the collecting; the state government automatically takes the money from caregivers’ Medicaid payment and gives it to the union. Home caregivers never even see their earnings before it is diverted to SEIU.

Medicaid dollars are supposed to enable elderly, ill and disabled individuals to receive in-home care. Instead much of it is being siphoned away to enrich a private union.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court threw a monkey wrench in SEIU’s Medicaid dues-skimming scheme. The Court ruled that home care workers cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees.

Not surprisingly, with $27 million annually in forcibly extracted dues at stake, SEIU executives were not happy with the Court’s ruling ending their forced unionization gravy train. The union has aggressively worked to prevent workers from exercising their right not to pay union dues or fees.

SEIU has sent confusing information to caregivers, filed hostile lawsuits and even sponsored a misleading (and widely criticized) ballot initiative in 2016 to keep home care providers from being informed.

In addition to those tactics, SEIU skirted the U.S. Supreme Court ruling by imposing an “opt-out” system that puts the burden of stopping dues collection on the caregivers. Worse, the union has made the “opt-out” system confusing and difficult, limiting the option to just 15 days each year.

It is clear SEIU executives will not willingly give up a corrupt scheme that generates tens of millions of dollars for them each year, with almost no effort on their part.

The federally funded Medicaid program is designed to provide government assistance to elderly, ill and disabled individuals in our state. It is not designed to provide an endless source of revenue to fund the political activities of a powerful union. The SEIU dues-skimming arrangement is an ongoing misuse of tens of millions of dollars annually in public funding that is meant to protect the neediest and most vulnerable in our society.

Given the union’s determination to go around the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, the time has come for Washington, D.C. to step in and end SEIU’s inappropriate diversion of federal funding. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can quickly and easily modify administrative rules to ensure Medicaid dollars benefit the people for whom they are intended.

No parent should be forced to pay a union to care for their disabled child. No child should be forced to pay a union to care for an elderly parent. Federal funds should never be diverted from a public assistance program to benefit a private labor organization.

HHS administrators can, and must, act now to safeguard the integrity of the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program, maximize the care that Medicaid recipients receive, and protect the earnings of hard working home-based caregivers.

— Erin Shannon is the director of the Center for Worker Rights the Washington Policy Center. Email her at eshannon@washingtonpolicy.org.



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