State Workers

SEIU, nursing home operators agree to pact

Service Employees International Union Local 775 has a confidential agreement with several for-profit nursing home operators, promising to help push for $60 million increase in state money for nursing homes.

In exchange, the companies have agreed to accept the union's organizing efforts, The Seattle Times reports.

According to a draft agreement obtained recently by the newspaper, SEIU Local 775 has promised no strikes and will let operators, not the union or workers, decide which homes can be offered up for organizing. The union also agreed not to try to organize more than half of a particular company's nonunion homes.

The union and the operators have also agreed not to speak ill of each other.

A strict confidentiality clause has prevented both sides from disclosing details of the agreement to the media, even though the existence of the pact was publicly known. David Rolf, president of Local 775, would not talk about the pact or say how closely the draft obtained by The Times looks like the final agreement.

SEIU is the largest union in North America, with about 1.9 million members. It's also the largest union in Washington, where SEIU and its affiliates represent more than 100,000 workers.

SEIU Local 775 represents 28,000 home-care workers and about 1,500 nursing-home workers in 17 facilities statewide.

Union leaders and some nursing-home executives have said their partnership - which is modeled after similar agreements in other states - has given them stronger political clout in the state Capitol.

"Wouldn't it be something if people thought unions weren't about creating problems but they were actually about working with management to solve problems?" Rolf said. "Where is it written that the thing we need to do most is have fights?"

But there are critics of the pact, who say it goes much further than it should.

"This a terrible abrogation of a union's duty," said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, a California-based consumer-advocacy group that has criticized similar alliances the SEIU has formed elsewhere.

"These types of agreements are unions becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of the health-care corporation that they are supposed to have an adversary relationship with."

But SEIU leaders say years of conflicts have done little to improve things for nursing homes or their workers in the state.

Adam Glickman, spokesman for SEIU Local 775, said union leaders in Washington recognized that nursing homes have been underfunded for many years, so they started discussing teaming up with operators.

"It doesn't do workers a lot of good to form a union in a nursing home if there's no money to negotiate over," Glickman said.

The union is pushing lawmakers this year to approve a $60 million Medicaid increase in the next two-year budget, which would be matched by federal money. Much of the money would go toward worker wages and benefits and patient care.

As of last week, it was unclear how much money the nursing homes would get. Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed an additional $15 million, and legislative leaders indicated they probably would not go much higher.