Monday, September 06, 2004

Labor Day

It's Labor Day and I'm at work, so consider this passive resistance. It seems like a good time to look at a recent and future proposal for reform to this system. The concept is loose, but Service Employees Internation Union (SEIU) put forward last year a proposal to create workforce service centers in this system. The proposal was pretty controversial, but a variation on it will come soon, so it seems like it deserves a place on this blog for the throngs who read weekly.

The next version of the proposal to come forward isn't known to me yet, so rather than write an endorsement or opposition, I'll just review where I stand on some of what were said to be the pros and cons of the previous concept.

Being long-winded, I'll start with an introduction: The original draft of AB 649 (Wiggins) (a hardly-related rewrite passed and currently awaits the governor's signature or not.) The basic idea was that by legislative fiat, thirteen centers would be created. All staff working directly with people who have developmental diagnoses through Regional Center funding would be employed by the centers and, basically rented out to the agencies responsible for the work. Different drafts of the proposal included different functions but in one or more draft the Centers would:
1. Recruit direct care staff;
2. Pay and provide benefits to the direct care staff (and, possibly, managers;)
3. Provide a fair-hearing process for disciplinary action;
4. Centralize many employment-related administrative functions;
5. Provide core training; and
6. Serve as a launching point for more efficient unionization of direct care staff. (Aye, thar's the rub.)

So, here are some of the arguments made about the concept and the conclusions I naively reached about them:

Hypothesis: "With a Union involved, we'll lose our ability to fire or discipline our staff."
Doug's Opinion: Maybe, but probably not. People with developmental disabilities are far too sympathetic and the system too expensive for an undisciplined workforce to sneak by.

H: Once the workers are unionized, people with disabilities will have a political lion to roar on their behalf.
D: I kind of don't trust this theory. I don't question that the membership and leadership of SEIU (and, maybe AFSCME) really want to do the right thing, and there's no doubt SEIU has more pull in Sacramento than pretty near anyone. Nonetheless, I've complained that the vendor-driven advocacy of the past is narrowed by its perspective and insufficiently challenged by our clients and their families. The same is true of Regional Center-driven advocacy. The same will likely be true if labor unions drive the advocacy.

H: Centralizing some of the system's administration will allow wages to rise without increasing the cost of the system or reducing quality of care:
D: Actually, as long as the operative word is allow (I do need a little wiggle-room,) I agree. 8000 agencies statewide hiring an average of 12 employees apiece can't possibly be efficient. As an example, ¡Arriba!, when we need staff, takes out ads at $80-150 per in obscure places for the purpose of hiring 1 person at a time. Combining that across the hundreds of similarly sized agencies in eastern LA County could provide for big ads in the LA Times, La Opinion and several others. The WSC concept also makes easier self-determination models of care which can be cheaper and more successful for some clients.

H: Having a monopoly on labor for this system is a terrible idea.
D: I'm pretty sympathetic to this argument, especially when you consider the proposals for governance in which someone appoints a board and there's no process for the community to dislodge the boards. When you look at the stubbornness of the failed regional centers, the idea that all labor provided to this system could be connected to similar administrative catastrophes, the concept is chilling. No new self-perpetuating or appointed boards in this system will get my support. Uh-uh.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

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