Recently a lawyer for a special interest group trying to decertify the PCA union wrote a piece in Access Press about its unrealistic campaign to move the home care industry in Minnesota backward. The whole piece highlighted that working to solve the care crisis in Minnesota was not anywhere on the list of her priorities. Her work seems to start and end with destroying the union PCAs democratically voted to form in 2014. One piece she wrote about their campaign, in particular, stood out:
“This will reignite one of the state’s most controversial political issues of recent years.”
How will this solve our care crisis? Is this a good thing for people with disabilities like my wife and me? The first home care contract had bipartisan support, so it seems that making the care received by thousands of people like me across the state a political football is somehow a positive outcome for the author.
I started using home care workers in the 1970s when the program first began, and my aging mother was unable to care for me anymore. Mom was always concerned about who would take over my care after she was gone. Thus, her failing spirits were lifted when the state of Minnesota started directly subcontracting home care workers and paying them about $6 per hour.
Despite the efforts over the years of numerous parties and individuals, home care workers’ wages have only increased from $6 to $11 per hour. Compare this to a $6 purchase in 1975, which would cost nearly $27 in 2016, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, the cost of living mushroomed 350 percent in the last 40-plus years while home careworkers’ wages went up only 83 percent.
It’s not hard to see why these workers wanted to come together to form a union and why people like me who receive care supported their cause. The pay, benefits and working conditions simply were not attracting enough care workers, which has led us to the point now where Minnesota has a clear and obvious care crisis.
My wife is also disabled, and we have shared numerous care workers throughout the years. This includes the good, the bad and the excellent. Among the good, there have been office managers, computer engineers, and college students all wanting to make a difference in our lives as well as in their incomes.
Among the bad, there has been one who set us up to be robbed at gunpoint, one who picked our pockets right in front of us and one who was verbally abusive to us: all moments in our lives that made lifelong traumatic memories. And among the excellent, there have been those who traveled with us on family vacations, and the one woman who was our home care worker for 34 years. The good and the excellent ones need to be rewarded so that they stay with their clients, leaving no room for the bad ones to enter the homes and lives of vulnerable adults.
I have been a public accountant for more than 55 years. Before selling my practice in Rosemount, I assisted nearly 300 clients and employed four staff members during tax return preparation seasons. I still prepare 30 income tax returns each year. Thus, I’m well aware of how wage rates and the economy, in general, have increased compared to the much slower rise in average hourly wages of home care workers.
Our lives most definitely depend on the daily support given by caring individuals. If our caregiver doesn’t come to work in the morning, my day simply does not begin. “Sleeping in” might sound good to some people, but it’s a daily concern when you rely on one person to unlock that front door each morning. By failing to adequately fund wages and benefits for our independent-living supports, society very likely contributes to conditions that significantly increase risks for a poor quality workforce. That is why home care workers formed their union and began turning around the industry with their first contract. Nearly two years to the date after the first negotiation session, I am proud to be one of the clients who is part of the negotiating team bargaining the second contract.
There is much work to do to improve the home care industry in Minnesota, and the problem becomes even more important every single day as more and more seniors and people with disabilities begin requiring care in their homes. It is frustrating that instead of working to fix this crisis facing Minnesota families, this small group is following the lead of an organization that wishes to “reignite” this issue as a way to try and score political points. Our lives and our care are not for scoring political points. I’m glad that home care workers have their union and am happy that they are fighting so hard to improve the home care industry for all eligible Minnesotans who need essential care.
James R. Carlisle is a longtime-self advocate. He and his wife Claudia live in West St. Paul.