By KAY WRIGHT | SPECIAL TO HARTFORD COURANT | JUN 07, 2019 | 6:00 AM
The Trump administration recently issued a new rule that could prevent home care workers like me from using payroll deduction to contribute to our union. It’s unfair, and we’re fighting. The attorneys general of Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state have also filed a legal challenge to stop the rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In our lawsuit, home care workers are arguing that this is essentially an attempt by the government to try to tell us what we can and cannot do with our paycheck and is an infringement upon our freedom of speech. Why is it OK for police officers, firefighters and teachers to pay union dues through paycheck deductions, but not us? This rule is the last thing that home care workers and people who count on quality home care services need. I wanted to become a caregiver since I was a child. Growing up, I watched as my mother cared for our next-door neighbor, and I got my first care-giving job as a teenager working at a convalescent home. I believe it is my life’s work to help vulnerable people to live independently at home. Now I care for an elderly gentleman who is partially paralyzed from a stroke. I help him wash himself and take his blood sugar, prepare his food and do his grocery shopping. These tasks are vital for him to live with dignity at home. But home care work is not valued as it should be. Our wages don’t keep pace with inflation, and most of us are still fighting for basic benefits like healthcare and retirement. Our country is facing a shortage of home care workers, and turnover rates can be as high as 60 percent. My fear is this rule will only make things worse by adding barriers to our ability to advocate for ourselves and our colleagues, and to attract more people to this essential work. When I first became a home care worker in Connecticut, we never had raises, we did not have basic benefits and received almost no training. Through our union, District 1199NE SEIU, we worked to fix that — we’ve won higher wages, basic benefits like holiday pay, orientations and better training. We were part of the effort to raise the minimum wage rate to over $15 per hour. The results have been life-changing for thousands of workers and the people we care for across Connecticut. Together, we make sure our basic rights are protected, and advocate for the resources we need to do our job and provide the best quality of care for so many families and loved ones. But this rule tries to silence home care workers like me and makes our jobs harder. About 90 percent of home care workers are women, 50 percent are women of color, and 25 percent are immigrants. Payroll deduction is exactly how most workers pay for their benefits and how most union members, including nurses and other healthcare workers, contribute to their unions. For some reason, home care workers like me are being singled out to block our payroll deductions. It’s unconstitutional. That’s why I am uniting with other home care workers to stop this rule. We’ll continue our commitment to provide quality care, doing the work we love. But this rule serves no purpose. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars at a time when we should be focused on providing and expanding affordable long-term care and encouraging more workers to join us in this in-demand profession. We won’t be stopped. Home care workers will continue to take action against this and any attack that undermines quality, affordable healthcare and the right for home care workers, and all workers, to choose to join a union. Kay Wright is a home care worker from New Haven.