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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee Signs SEIU-Backed Homecare Privatization Bill Over Objections

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Despite numerous requests for a veto, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed a controversial bill to privatize the state’s homecare provider system. The Democrat’s signing of the measure followed a contentious fight in the Legislature and accusations that it amounted to a power grab by the Service Employees International Union.

Currently, Washington homecare workers contract with the Department of Social and Health Services and are members of SEIU Local 775. But under a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Harris v. Quinn case, these workers can opt out of union membership.

Under the new law, the state of Washington will contract with a private entity, called a consumer directed employer, to take over management of the state’s roughly 35,000 homecare workers who care for elderly or disabled people in their homes. Often they are family members caring for family members.

Supporters, including many Democrats and the DSHS, say the change will streamline administration of this growing workforce. But opponents, including many Republicans and the conservative Freedom Foundation, argue it’s a backdoor way to get around Harris v. Quinn and require homecare workers to belong to SEIU.

In a statement Tuesday, state Sen. John Braun, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said the new law will take away worker rights, result in less public disclosure and cost taxpayers.

“Home care providers perform incredibly difficult work most often as a labor of love,” Braun said. “Their rights should not take a back seat to a giveaway to powerful special interests.”

SEIU 775 is a major political donor to Washington Democrats.

The Freedom Foundation said in a statement that over 1,000 homecare workers had contacted Inslee’s office requesting he veto the bill. Now that it’s signed, the Freedom Foundation indicated the new law will be the subject of legal challenges. “This fight is far from over,” said the organization’s Maxford Nelsen .

The Freedom Foundation has worked in recent years to disenroll homecare workers from SEIU. This effort has prompted litigation over the release of homecare worker information through the state’s public records law.

After signing the bill Tuesday, Inslee was heard calling it a “good idea.” Supporters have also said it will help improve the payroll system for the state’s homecare workforce.

The contract is expected to cost approximately $22 million during the 2021-23 biennium.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."