By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Getting a Milwaukee County board member to threaten with a government audit apparently isn’t enough intimidation.
Now, Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin is taking matters into its own hands.
The labor group is organizing a protest on Aug. 14 near Supportive Homecare Options Inc. in Wauwatosa, partly because business owner Sally Sprenger has repeatedly refused SEIU’s demands to force all of her employees to join the union.
But Art Beck, a Milwaukee attorney representing Sprenger, said he intends to file a complaint Wednesday with the National Labor Review Board because Sprenger alleges SEIU did not give her the required 10-day notice for the rally.
“They didn’t give me any notice until I walked over there and got a copy … If they want to do something with a 10-day notice for a rally in 10 days, they can do it. But they can’t stand outside my office and hand out this information without a 10-day notice,” Sprenger said.
The circulation of flyers comes five days after Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen, at the urging of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin President Dian Palmer and several SEIU members, requested a county audit of Supportive Homecare Options.
Bowen, a state Assembly candidate, has received campaign contributions and political endorsements from SEIU and its front group, Wisconsin Jobs Now. He also got help from SEIU-affiliated officials in writing the county’s newly implemented “living wage” law, which exempts county-contracted firms from paying the higher wage if they have their entire workforce join a labor union.
Sprenger, who said she stands to lose her business if the living wage dries up the reserves of the Milwaukee County Department of Family Care as projected, was told by SEIU officials in December at the beginning of collective bargaining negotiations that she wouldn’t have to worry about the pay hike if she gave SEIU full “union security.”
But, during the past eight months of numerous collective-bargaining sessions, Sprenger has turned down similar offers because she said she wants her staff to have a choice. Her employees also would see less money in their paychecks if they kept the same wage and had to pay union dues.
But SEIU would see a considerable increase in revenue.
A little more than 300 of Supportive Homecare Options’ employees are voluntary members of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and pay close to $100,000 a year in union dues, Sprenger said. If all 1,200 workers had to join, that figure would jump to about $400,000, she added.
But Bowen and SEIU officials say they are pursuing the audit because they want to see how Sprenger is covering her legal expenses for collective bargaining purposes.
Bowen told fellow Health and Human Needs Committee members and Department of Family Care Director Maria Ledger last week that he has been approached by several Supportive Homecare Options employees who claim the company is not being supportive of their labor and union rights.
Bowen said concerns also point to Supportive Healthcare Options using money from its contract with the county to “legally attack” workers.
Ledger told Wisconsin Reporter earlier this week that any firm contracted with Family Care can use management fees for work-related legal services. The county department is funded by Medicaid dollars from the state.
Ledger also said she’s never been informed of any inconsistencies with Supportive Homecare Options financial records, which are reviewed annually by county staff when employees are given bonuses and pay raises.
Still, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin is prepping for its 11 a.m. rally Aug. 14 near the intersection of Harmonee and Wauwatosa avenues.
The information flyer says home care workers from all over will be “fighting for their rights and fair wages.”
The Department of Family Care, and not the companies contracted with the county agency, sets the minimum hourly rate for all supportive home care workers with the county, according to Ledger.
That hourly wage is $10.27, more than $3 higher than the federal and state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
SEIU representatives Anu Pradhan and Amara Lawson, whose office contact information is listed on the rally handout, did not return calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.