Thursday, May 24, 2007

SEIU Unionization of Caregivers at Assisted Living Communities - Is this the Answer?

Sometimes changing the way business is done takes extreme measures.

While many senior care communities are beautiful environments filled with compassionate, loving caregivers, many, especially those for the lowest economic segment of seniors, desperately need that culture change we keep talking about.

Many of us have been working hard to improve the quality of senior care in all segments of senior care for many years.

And still the care can be appalling in some communities - I've experienced it first hand with my mother's recent stay in skilled care.

But is unionization of staff the answer? It certainly is an extreme measure; it certainly will get the attention of the companies that own and operate senior care.

But here's my concern: adding a layer, even one with a strong employee rights and advocacy emphasis, means increasing the distance between owner and caregiver. It also means adding a layer of cost.

Who will pay for this additional layer? Not the caregivers, many of whom make just a little over minimum wage. If union dues come out of their wages, will it truly help them? Will those individuals who are genuinely committed to care be able to continue caring if they can't even pay the rent?

And if dues come from another source, what would that be? There is only 1 source of revenue for most senior care communities: the fees they receive from residents, families or the government to pay for care and services provided.

So who's going to pony up more money? The family? The state?

Last week ALFA sent out an ALFA Alert to members titled "10 Steps to Address SIEU's Assisted Living Campaign," noting that the union is stepping up efforts to unionize assisted living workers, maintaining that their focus is to "make sure assisted living communities provide quality, safe housing, and services at a good value" (

ALFA recommends that assisted living managers educate themselves about these unionization efforts, and work diligently to resolve any problems before outside entities, like unions, become involved.

One does have to wonder why the SIEU is targeting assisted living rather than nursing home, where the abuse and neglect headlines still appear on a regular basis.

Here's my guess: it's all about the money. That's the bottom line here anyway. But with extra costs comes extra fees - and that's where the average senior is likely to feel the pain.

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