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Tuesday, November 6, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bargaining rights for state's home-care staffers passing

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bargaining rights for state-paid home-care workers and creation of a "home-care quality authority" appeared to be winning, with voters strongly favoring Initiative 775 in early returns.

The initiative calls for the governor to appoint a nine-member board to run the new authority, which would recruit, set standards and establish a registry of qualified workers to provide home-care services to the elderly and disabled in Washington state.

The measure also allows contract workers to bargain collectively for better pay and benefits — a provision that stirred debate during the campaign, despite widespread agreement that the 28,000 state-funded home-care workers are paid too little — $7.68 an hour.

Initiative 775 proponents said collective bargaining is essential to help workers in a vital and demanding service achieve needed pay increases and to help maintain high standards of home care. Workers provide such services as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, assistance with medications and housekeeping.

The campaign was supported mainly by more than $1 million from the Service Employees International Union.

Opponents, led by Mark Stroh of the Washington Protection and Advocacy System, the state chapter of a federally funded watchdog group for disabled people, contended that home-care clients would lose some of their power as employers.

Some critics worried that clients might lose the ability to hire or fire home-care workers, which some contend is essential because of the intimate nature of the services.

Though the initiative says the workers can't strike, some opponents thought the language in the measure was not strong enough.

The union said it would never call a strike and agreed that clients must be able to hire and fire workers at will.

Opponents spent about $6,000 to fight the initiative, according to Stroh.

Judith Blake can be reached at 206-464-2349 or jblake@seattletimes.com.

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