Top union unveils national town hall strategy to push Biden’s jobs plan
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is preparing to unveil a national town hall series with lawmakers to help secure support for the home care workers targeted in President Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan.
Union organizers are billing the forums, which will run for six weeks across nearly two dozen states, as mechanisms to persuade elected officials in Washington to pass the administration’s plan with significant spending toward the so-called care economy. Biden’s proposal calls for a $400 billion investment.
“We know that the home care investment is incredibly popular,” SEIU’s President Mary Kay Henry said of the plans, which were first shared with The Hill. “Senators have to continue to see that as they return home.”
The SEIU, a vast union representing 2 million workers, has linked the timing of their upcoming discussions to when Congress is expected to begin reviewing the $2.3 trillion plan. The events will be the first held in-person amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henry said the intention of the forums is to highlight the importance of linking workers’ stories to the legislative process.
“It’s a way to take a job that’s primarily invisible and make it very visible to the people that are going to be deciding whether or not to invest,” she said.
The town halls, which started Wednesday in Minnesota and Nevada with Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), will feature appearances from several other elected officials in the coming weeks.
“We want to make sure we’re on the minds of the senators,” said Safiyyah Abdulrahim, a home care worker based in Las Vegas who earns $11.65 per hour, just over the median figure in Nevada. “We have families to take care of as well.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), an outspoken proponent of more robust spending toward the growing workforce, is headlining a national discussion for the member organization and will be joined in separate appearances by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in their respective states. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a first-term progressive, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will also participate.
“We all have different stories,” said Abdulrahim, who stressed that raising wages and benefits would help her maintain her family’s household without having to acquire an additional job. “If they’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth, they will get a better understanding of what is going on.”
Rounding out the states where elected officials will be on the ground, organizers have also scheduled independent stops in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
“We know that one of the most powerful persuasive tools in moving senators and congresspeople on this is for them to listen directly to the voices of caregivers in their states,” Henry said. “It’s the time to connect the dots for senators about the scope of this workforce.”
Biden, who campaigned as a pro-union candidate for president, has an ongoing relationship with the SEIU. Union leaders have since engaged in private conversations with senior White House officials about the importance of including home care workers as part of the administration’s jobs package and the president has spoken publicly about the significance of the workforce on a number of occasions.
Organizers involved in the planning believe that the transition from virtual to physical campaign-style events signifies a return to a more traditional grassroots approach of creating momentum around legislative priorities. They also see it as a chance to temporarily redirect the conversation away from Washington and to focus on individuals with compelling narratives in key states.
A big part of that population is underrepresented communities. According to the SEIU, 87 percent of home care workers in the country are women, making up the majority of the 2.3 million person workforce, with 62 percent of that total being people of color. The union’s data indicates that it is the “fastest-growing job sector” in the United States.
“For too long, caregivers — who are disproportionately women, and women of color, and immigrants — have been unseen, underpaid, and undervalued,” Biden said when explaining his proposal in late March.
In preparation for the town halls, staffers also brainstormed with other senators on both sides of the aisle. The initial list included several lawmakers who leaders believed to be strong allies in their cause for more care funding during the Biden administration, but did not necessarily support other aspects of the union’s broader agenda. Union staffers said they attempted to invite GOP senators to host such forums, including Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Rob Portman (Ohio), even though they did not back some top tenet’s for the SEIU such as a $15 minimum wage hike.
Similarly, Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), who were invited but did not commit to attending by press time, oppose the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which a majority of senators in the Democratic caucus support.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), for his part, said during a virtual panel with the Screen Actors Guild in late May that he would potentially consider a rules change in the upper chamber to get the PRO Act passed.
“We need three more Democrats to go on the PRO Act,” Schumer said. “If we get all 50 — we would like to get 10 Republicans but if not, we’ll have to see how we change the rules in one way or another to get it done.”