It’s official. Home care providers, also known as personal care attendants or direct support providers, have voted to form their own union. The election results were announced by the state August 26. The vote allows the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which organized the election, to bargain with state officials for wages and benefits.
The union election was the largest in state history. It was made possible by a 2013 Minnesota law authorizing unionization votes for in-home care and day care workers. The election, held by mail, began August 1 and ended August 25.
According to the Bureau of Mediation Services, about 60 percent of 5,800 voters approved unionization.
But the vote doesn’t end the controversy over forming a union. Supporters contend it will provide higher wages and benefits for workers, which in turn will equal better care providers for people with disabilities and the elderly. The opponents of unionization noted that just 13 percent of eligible voters supported the union. They vowed to continue fighting against the unionization efforts. The new union will represent about 27,000 workers.
In Minnesota there are nearly 110,000 homecare workers who provide services to clients in the community. Only those who treat Medicare enrollees were eligible to vote in the union election. SEIU has said it won’t require eligible members to join or pay fair share dues.
Workers and people with disabilities celebrated at a press conference during the Minnesota State Fair.
“When workers voted yes for their union, they were voting yes for a better life not only for themselves, but also for families like mine,” said Nikki Villavicencio, a home care recipient from Maplewood who attended the press conference with her husband and daughter. “The high turnover in this field, from the low pay and lack of benefits, causes turmoil for families. When we undervalue the workers, we undervalue families like mine. With a voice through a union, we are confident we will finally see the changes needed to make this work invisible no more.”
“Despite the importance of our work caring for Minnesotans in every corner of the state, our work still lacks the respect it deserves,” said Rosemary Van Vickle, a home care worker from Crosby. “Workers deserve things like fair pay, better training and paid time off. Because we love our work and the people we serve, we have come together to fight for change. After years of struggle just to get a vote, today we are so excited to have won our union. With our collective voice, we will be strong in our fight for improvements for both workers and the people we serve.”
Union critics are bringing forward many concerns about unionization. In a statement, Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, said “There are significant concerns about the conduct of this election given that barely one in 10 affected providers supported public sector unionization, but any regulations agreed to between the union and state could affect all care providers.”
Litigation against the union is likely to continue. A bid by a group of workers to stop the election failed last month. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which represented the workers, said it plans to refile a motion for an injunction against the law now that the union is authorized.
“No one is opposing the right of individual homecare providers to freely associate with the union if they choose, but the issue raised in this legal challenge is whether those individuals who don’t want anything to do with the union can have it imposed on them,” Mark Mix, the group’s president, said in a statement. “That’s why the providers’ legal challenge to this forced unionism scheme will go forward.”