Health care workers seek right to unionize

The effort to allow home care workers the right to form a union continues at the 2013 Minnesota Legislature. Hearings are expected this month on a bill that would allow the workers, who are not affiliated with any home care agency to form a union.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center) and Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park). Advocates see the bill as addressing a potential crisis in the state’s public home care programs.

“We are facing a massive shortage of workers to care for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Nelson. “As the ‘baby boomers’ age, there is going to be a strain on our state’s long-term care system. We must ensure there are enough workers to help people retire with dignity.”

Many home care workers are employed directly by their clients in self-directed home care programs. Even though 100% of the funds that pay for these programs are controlled by the state, the workers do not have the right to form a union. The bill would allow home care workers to decide if they want to form a union and would allow them to negotiate with the state for better wages and working conditions.

“Minnesota relies on the thousands of dedicated home care workers who do extremely important work,” said Eaton. “When I worked as a public health nurse, I would do home assessments to decide how much care the state would provide for a senior or person living with a disability. The truth is the work home care workers do is real and valuable.”

Many home care workers have hailed the bill. “I’ve been caring for my mother for three years,” said Johnese Abney of Duluth. “My wages and hours have been cut. With my first check of the month, I pay rent. My second check goes towards utilities and other necessities. That leaves me nothing. My mother is 93 years old and needs my care. It’s not about the money, but I can barely make it right now.

As home care workers, we need a voice to protect us from further cuts and to make this job into a profession that people can live on.” “We deserve the same rights as every other worker to form a union so we can fight for better wages, paid time off, even training,” said Darleen Henry of Rosemount. She cares for her mother who suffered a series of strokes. “Mine and my mother’s future, as well as everyone else’s, could only get better. I want to thank the legislators for introducing this bill. It gives me, my family and my fellow home care workers hope.”

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects demand for more than 50,000 new home care workers in Minnesota over the next 10 years. However, the core labor pool from which the state’s workers are traditionally drawn—women aged 25-54—is expected to decline by nearly 2,000 workers.

The bill is expected to have its first hearings in March. There are an estimated 10,000-12,000 Minnesota home care workers in self-directed programs.

The bill would create a Quality Self-Directed Services Workforce Council. A majority of this council will be made up of people who receive direct support services. The council will advise the commissioner of human services on steps that the state should take to ensure the quality, stability, and availability of the direct support workforce. Second, the bill will give home care workers who work directly for the people they support through self-directed programs the right to form a union so they can bargain directly with the state over wages, benefits and training opportunities.

The bill explicitly protects the rights of people who receive services to select, hire, direct, supervise, and terminate the employment of their workers and it recognizes that home care workers are essential employees who would not be allowed to strike

People with disabilities who use personal care attendant (PCA) services joined workers at the capitol for SEIU Lobby Day when the bills were announced. For more information about how the disability community is showing support for home care workers contact Galen Smith at 651-285-5364 or galen.smith@seiuhealthcaremn.org