(Public News Service) SEATTLE - It will likely take another several weeks to get their first check, but tens of thousands of home care workers are eagerly awaiting their share of $57 million in back pay owed to them by the state.
SEIU 775 executive board member T.J. Janssen is one of the 22,000 home care workers due back pay because of a State Supreme Court Ruling earlier this month.
The court found the Department of Social and Health Services improperly cut the pay of workers who were living with the clients they care for.
"There's a lot of caregivers that had to leave a job," he explains. "It's only fair that they get paid to do that, because that job they were working before was paying their bills."
The 5-to-4 decision found the state violated its good faith duty in dealing with the terms of its contract with providers.
The department did catch one break in the ruling, which threw out interest on the back pay. The average worker is expected to get about $3,500.
Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Janssen points out lawmakers are starting to understand that home care workers provide services that save the state money in the long run. He hopes they remember that at budget time.
"Start restoring the hours," he says. "We don't expect them to restore all of them at one time - at least I don't - but to get caregivers out of poverty, because all of the cuts during the recession has put a lot of caregivers in poverty."
As for the 2014 session that ended last month, Janssen says his union stood with brother and sister nursing home workers in winning a major funding victory.
"Twenty million dollars in new funding for nursing homes," he says. "Nine million of it is earmarked especially for improving wages, benefits and staffing for nursing homes."
Janssen says home care workers will also be safer on the job thanks to a measure passed this session that provides workers with safety gloves.
Prior to the legislation about 75 percent of home care workers had to pay for their own gloves, which he says many workers did without, because they could not afford them.