PORT ORCHARD, Wash. - The public employees who say they are the lowest-paid in the state also claim to be getting the largest wage cut, as part of Gov. Gregoire's budget reductions for the coming two years, announced this week. Home care workers for elderly Washingtonians and people with disabilities make about $10 an hour, and they say the governor's proposal to cut their hours of service will reduce their pay 10 percent, compared to 3 percent cuts for other state-paid workers.
Judy Harris, Port Orchard, cares for a 49-year-old man burned on 70 percent of his body, whose service time has already been cut to two hours a day. From tending his skin grafts to helping with cooking and bathing, she says there is never enough time - and caregivers are put in the tough position of doing less, or working for free.
"I'm going to do those things for him because I care about him - and they know that. But what they don't realize they're doing is, a lot of the clients living in our homes, they're going to have to go into facilities, because the people that are taking care of them are going to have to go out and get other jobs."
Harris will ask her lawmakers to reject the Governor's budget proposal. She believes the state's priorities exclude its most vulnerable residents, making it almost impossible for them to live outside of nursing homes.
"You know, they've taken away dental, vision, a lot of the mental health services from our clients. But they're building a brand new, wonderful park in Port Orchard - that's already got six or eight of 'em. Why?"
Gregoire's plan to make up the state's $4.6 billion shortfall involves, in her words, "transforming the way Washington provides essential services to the public." Harris says she has testified for the past two years in Olympia as those services have been trimmed or eliminated, and she expects to be there again in January.