SEATAC, Wash. - One of Washington state's fastest-growing labor unions kicks off its annual convention today in SeaTac. SEIU Healthcare 775 represents 43,000 caregivers who work in people's homes and in nursing care facilities. It's the union's tenth year in the Northwest, and convention attendees will celebrate gaining better wages, paid time off and health insurance in the last decade.
But union vice president Sterling Harders says two-thirds of caregivers still live near or below the federal poverty line, so there's still a lot to be done.
"They do really difficult and really important work, and they have said that the focus for the next several years of our union is ensuring that caregivers are paid fairly, that they're paid a living wage, so ultimately caregivers aren't forced to live in poverty."
In the last decade, the union has spearheaded two successful ballot measures to mandate more training and additional safety and background checks for caregivers. Harders says they're working to lower the turnover rate in these demanding jobs, and to plan for what looks to be a busy future.
"By 2030, one in five people that lives in Washington state will be older than 65. And so, we know that a really important step is making sure that we have a trained and professionalized work force."
Harders says a turnout of about 500 is expected, because it's hard to get a day off when your job is taking care of someone who can't manage daily life without assistance. But she says some caregivers are coming from as far away as eastern Montana.
The SEIU 775 Convention & Leadership Conference is Sept. 7-8 at the Doubletree Hotel, 18740 International Blvd., SeaTac.