This week’s Q&A: Julie Ferguson on the drawbacks of Initiative 1163

By | August 3, 2011 | Comments

fergusonLast week, I spoke with Nora Gibson about the pros of Initiative 1163, which would require more training for home care workers. This week, I spoke to Julie Ferguson, who is an opponent. Ferguson is a board member of the Washington Private Duty Association, which represents home care businesses. She’s also an administrator and part-owner of a private duty home care agency, Advanced Health Care.

Q: From your perspective, what does this initiative do?

Ferguson: Well, this initiative is troublesome. Initiative 1163 is special interest training program benefiting only the SEIU with absolutely no funding mechanism. My colleagues and I work with seniors every day, we care for thousands of seniors, we employ thousands of caregivers and this expensive union-sponsored initiative is not necessary. The costs will be passed on through higher taxes and small businesses like mine will be forced to raise their rates to compensate for non-funded training.

The Legislature didn’t fund the predecessor, Initiative 1029, for three years because there’s simply no money in the budget. Earlier this year, SEIU filed several initiatives that did similar things — all the others had a funding component except for 1163. For some reason, they chose that one to focus their signature gathering efforts on. I don’t know where they think the money will come from.

Q: Can you say more about this initiative being a mechanism for unions?

Ferguson: It’s funded, written and has been completely designed by one labor union, just the SEIU. It benefits them and the people that work for them but it’s hugely, hugely expensive. We’re looking at $55 million. The money just isn’t here. To us, when the state’s facing the biggest financial deficit since the Great Depression, how can we justify a union training program? Every social service program has taken a cut, some have even been eliminated. How can the SEIU training program be more important? The Legislature couldn’t fund 1029. It just makes no sense. We haven’t funded non-funded initiatives too well in the past if you look at teacher’s salaries, class size initiatives, and the last training initiative.

Q: When Initiative 1029 passed, critics said it was a union recruiting tool. You’ve mentioned something similar. Can you say more?

Ferguson: The union runs the show with this. It’s their program, they designed it. They have the training program, so it’s very hard for the private sector to participate – it really is a member grabbing initiative. That is the goal.

You have to think about who the private companies are. We’re small businesses. I read her statement about what large companies could do by creating t heir own training. We’re talking about maybe 140-150 small businesses that serve anywhere from maybe 50 to a couple of hundred clients each. They’re not going to put their own training program together, they’re providing private duty care, they’re helping folks. They’re doing things like meal preparation and light duty cleaning and going to the store, these are not agencies that are going to provide education.

People think the state’s going to pay for all of the training and that’s not true. The state will pay for the SEIU training, but people that work for the non-SEIU busineses, there’s no mechanism for having them paid for their training.

Q: Do you see any evidence that homecare workers need more training? Currently, they receive 32 hours, correct?

Ferguson: (The number of hours) varies a little bit. There’s no evidence to prove that additional training is necessary. We’re state licensed, we’re surveyed, we’re evaluated, the DOH has stated numerous times that there’s no evidence that additional training is needed. We’re definitely pro-training. Everyone does training, everyone does background checks — it’s required by law. SEIU is just trying to get more members.

I think we just can’t explain enough that there’s a cost associated with this that’s not feasible. There’s no funding, there’s absolutely zero available for this. That SEIU would go back and recreate an initiative that’s been delayed several times already… I firmly believe that if voters understood that this was going to cause their taxes to go up, I don’t think they’d vote for it.

Q: How would it cause taxes to go up?

Ferguson: If a worker works for Medicaid-provided client, which is an SEIU client, the state will pay. If the worker is at a private company, there is no mechanism for that employee to be trained. So the cost would be passed on, which would be passed on to the client. They’re already paying more taxes because the money (the training program would be) getting has to come from the people, right?

It just seems like a time when the state is running $5 billion short of what they need for basic services, we shouldn’t be spending money on this. It’s a special interest boondoggle. The state will have to slash other services to pay for it, even home healthcare itself. They’ve slashed the benefits, the number of hours Medicaid recipients get, and they want to train the caregivers more?

Q: Earlier, you mentioned background checks. When I did the Q&A with a proponent last week, she said the initiative would strengthen background check requirements. Is that not your opinion?

Ferguson: Background checks are required by law and they have been for a very long time. Everyone who works in this industry has to be background checks. The initiative requires some additional checking, but it implies that it’s not done now.

Q: Are there any other misconceptions you want to discuss?

Ferguson: You know, I think that we really need to focus on the bottom line and that’s the fact that there’s simply no money for it. I don’t know where the SEIU gets the idea that there’s money for it.Three years ago, every newspaper said we didn’t have the money for it. It’s still unaffordable.

Raising taxes and eliminating services to satisfy a labor union is not in our state’s or our citizens best interest.