California Union Opposes Governor’s Deficit-Reduction Plan

Published July 30, 2009

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) promise not to raise taxes to address the state’s estimated $24 billion deficit is being met with a television campaign sponsored by the state’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union, which is taking to the airwaves to promote increasing taxes on the oil, tobacco, and liquor industries.

SEIU officials say they hope the 30-second ads being aired around the state will help convince lawmakers to deal with the deficit by increasing taxes instead of approving Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts in social service spending. The SEIU says the cuts are aimed at the state’s 300,000 home-health workers, many of whom are union members.

‘Balanced Approach’ Called For

“The state really needs a balanced approach to the state budget,” said Steve Trossman, director of United Health Care Workers West, an SEIU subsidiary representing health care workers in the Golden State. “The governor said we need shared sacrifice. Seniors are losing home-health care; he calls that shared sacrifice. When college students can’t afford to go to college, he calls that shared sacrifice.

“There needs to be a middle ground with tax increases and service cuts,” Trossman said, “and that is the position we have taken.”

‘Relatively Meager’ Cuts

Sally Pipes, CEO of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, said the union is upset about Schwarzenegger’s decision to trim “a relatively meager” $74 million from the home-health budget of Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for low-income individuals.

“These 300,000 home-health workers contribute millions of dollars to SEIU coffers,” Pipes said. “Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed wage cut is a direct hit on union revenues and a small setback to the SEIU’s plan to monopolize control of U.S. health care.

“The program in question,” Pipes explained, “is the In-Home Supportive Services program, which is derived from a 1950s predecessor that gave low-income, house-bound patients the opportunity to receive subsidies for home-health services from anyone they preferred. As time wore on, the program became more bureaucratized and was gradually taken over by Medi-Cal.”

Sacramento Theater

“Under former governor Gray Davis (D), California made the mistake of transferring the in-home health care providers from independent, non-unionized contractors into a union—SEIU—that is now trying to run the show,” said Lewis Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee in Roseville, California.

“As a result of this,” Uhler said, “there has been nothing but picketing in Sacramento in recent months. You walk through the capital these days and you wonder if there is anyone at work, what with everyone wearing their purple SEIU T-shirts. It is all part of a stage-play to make legislators think there is an overwhelming public demand for these services, when in fact it is a political stunt trying to influence the outcomes.”

Voters Disagree with Union

Trossman said Schwarzenegger and Republican legislators don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

“We are pretty much at a stark choice: A California that stops taking care of its people, which we have done well for many, many years,” Trossman said, “or the opposite. The governor’s proposal would eliminate 90 percent of funding for programs. It would cause 200,000 people to lose jobs and 400,000 to lose health care. … It is just wrong.”

The results of a May 19 special election, in which California voters soundly defeated a bevy of budget-related ballot measures that would have raised taxes to reduce the state’s deficit, suggest Californians are more aligned with Schwarzenegger and his allies in the legislature than with Trossman and the SEIU, Pipes says.

The union believes the “political time is right to monopolize the home-health workforce, and its campaign reflects this,” said Pipes.

“Making more people dependent on government for health care only hurts them when they can’t get the services they need,” Pipes continued. “It would be a shame if Gov. Schwarzenegger gave the SEIU complete power over supplying home-health workers to vulnerable Medi-Cal patients.”

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from California.