Issues: Self-Determination

Our members share a deep and demonstrated commitment to working with advocates to ensure the most inclusive and empowering services for persons with mental health needs and developmental disabilities. In 2005 SEIU joined 180 other organizations in endorsing the community imperative and has worked to transform these principles into action.

We believe people should be able to stay in their own homes and control their lives including deciding how and by whom they will receive services and support.  In states around the country we are working to expand access to consumer directed services, home and community based waivers, and increase the consumer’s control of where services are provided and who is providing them.

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From East to West Coast, Human Service Workers Come Together to Form their Union


In a win for the workers and the communities they serve, human service workers in Massachusetts and California have voted to form their union with SEIU to have a voice on the job and improve the quality of services they provide.

Following a months-long campaign, more than 100 CLASS service providers will now join SEIU Local 509. This historic win makes CLASS the first unionized affiliate of The Arc in Massachusetts.

“I’ve been an Integrated Day Service Specialist at CLASS for over five years and I love my work,” said Liz Parrilla, a worker who voted. “My co-workers and I know that SEIU Local 509 will stand with us in our fight for fair wages, safer working conditions and a real voice on the job. We’ve united to make our voices heard.”

Over 150 employees of Mission Hope Day Program (MHDP) in northern California have also voted to form their union with SEIU Local 1021. Workers stuck together in the face of MHDP management’s effort to intimidate them with expensive anti-union consultants who tried to convince workers not to vote for their union.

“In the past we have tried to voice our concerns to management but nothing changed, “said Manny Lopez, Mission Hope worker and union supporter. “Coming together and forming a union will help us see the changes we’ve earned.”

MHDP employees are already preparing for the next step when they will sit down with their employer to improve their jobs and ensure their clients receive the quality care they deserve.

Read more on CLASS win in the North Reading Patch here and visit the 509 Local website here.

Read more on the Mission Hope win on the SEIU 1021 Local website here.



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People with Disabilities and Workers Team Up to Fight the “Right Fight”

Bob Kafka, from the Adapt Community, Endorse the Guiding Principles while SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and SEIU Executive Vice President Kirk Adams look on.

Today leaders from the union and disability advocacy movements joined together to sign a historic document called “Guiding Principles: For Partnerships with Unions and Emerging Worker Organizations When Individuals Direct Their Own Services and Supports.”

For nearly three years, SEIU, ADAPT, the Center for Self Determination, and the National Resource Center for Participant-Directed Services have collaborated to design these shared principles.

The refrain at the signing ceremony today was the words “stronger, “ and “together,” because these principles provide a framework for how disability advocates and labor unions can work side by side to advance an individual’s ability to direct and control their own services while also improving workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions.

“In this environment, our two great movements must work together to fight these threats. We must support each other and combine our strength, or we will suffer the consequences. These Guiding Principles create the framework for us to work together,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said.

Now more than ever, Americans need our united voices. Millions of Americans in the 99% are being left behind in this economy; affordable, secure healthcare is under attack; corporations and right wing extremists are focused on dismantling the rights of workers; and the very foundation of independent living for people with disabilities is at risk.

Today’s ceremony closed with the joint commitment of both movements to go forward in educating its respective constituents of the Principles. Please feel free to download the full document, or this version of the document optimized for screen readers, and pass it along to everyone you know. You can also read a cover letter from the individuals involved in drafting the principles and get in touch with them here.


Left to right, back row: Tom Nerney, Leslie Frane, Kirk Adams, Mary Kay Henry, Mark Polit, Kevin Mahoney, Erin McGaffigan; Left to right, front row: Mike Oxford, Bob Kafka

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SEIU local 509 opposses use of aversives

Last week,  SEIU Local 509 provided testimony to the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Disabilities opposing  the use of aversives behavioral interventions or “skin shock . There has been much public controversy over the Judge Rotenberg Centers use of electric shock as a form of punishment to some autistic, retarded, and emotionally troubled students.  The 509 membership attested to having extensive experience successfully working with individuals with severe behavioral disabilities through positive behavioral interventions without the need to resort to inhumane measures. SEIU 509 strongly opposed this punishment and joined in spirit with the United Nations, the Department of Justice, and the Attorney General, just to name a few, who have taken a strong position against the JRC’s use of skin shock.   The Local 509 stands strong in hope that soon the state will fully utilize positive behavioral supports and fully prohibit the use of skin shock.

You can download the letter from SEIU Local 509 President Susan Tousignant here.
In addition to this new rule, Representative Tom Sannicandro has introduced legislation banning the use of aversives and shock therapy in MA.

Below are links letters from other organization SEIU Local 509 joins in support of the new rule eliminating the use of aversives.

The Arc of Massachussetts


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CA Senate Votes Today on Self-Determination Bill

Today marks an important step in the political process that could give people with disabilities more control over their lives and and allow the workforce providing these services to join together in a union to improve their jobs and the program.  AB 1244 (Chesbro) is up for a vote in the Senate Committee on Human Services today.    We need to make sure the  committee stands with people with  disabilities and workers who want self-determination and votes yes on the bill.

Tell the Committee to vote yes!

Under the Self-Determination program:

  • Individuals would have the authority and  budget to control their own services and supports, and to transform their lives by focusing their individual life goals
  • Individuals could hire and manage their own direct support workers and dismiss them if it isn’t the right fit
  • Workers, employed directly by the individual, could seek to improve their jobs and the program by forming a union if they choose

The Senate Committee on Human Services is holding a vote on the bill today.  We need to make sure the committee does the right thing for people with disabilities and votes yes on this important bill.

Tell the Senate Committee on Human Services to vote yes on AB 1244.

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Expanding Self Direction in CA

Since the mid 1990s, states have been experimenting with Self-Determination, Self-Directed Services, and other forms of consumer direction for people with developmental disabilities. In these options, the person with a disability gains control over their service budget, and they make decisions (with supporters that they choose) over what services they purchase to meet their needs.  It’s been tough getting there in California. Twelve years ago the state started a self-determination pilot project, and today it still has only 140 participants statewide, out of over 100,000 adults with I/DD.

SEIU has been a leading voice in California to make self-direction available to all people with I/DD in California.  In 2005 we partnered with Disability Rights California to pass legislation to expand self-direction statewide.  After that got stuck in bureaucracy, California started looking at a scaled-back version called Individual Choice Budget (ICB).  SEIU is continuing to advocate for an expanded program with maximum flexibility for families and people with disabilities to control their services and their lives.

SEIU members believe consumer control is in the best interest of both the individuals and the workers who provide supports. We will continue to stand up to those who oppose change because they benefit from the status quo, such as the providers of the current service mix who have always found reasons to oppose consumer control.  We will continue to push for services that allow people to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

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