Negotiations start as issues swirl around caregivers

Minnesota’s caregiver crisis continues to make headlines. As the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) launched a high-profile campaign to change the state’s Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program through contract negotiations, another group continues its fight to decertify the union.

SEIU represents about 20,000 home care workers. Those workers help 30,000 disabled and elderly Minnesotans. In early October, activists bearing banners urging state lawmakers to “Fix the Homecare Crisis” made their case at the capitol.

The center point of negotiations is for better wages and working conditions. Supporters contend that the current take-home pay of $11 to $13 must be increased, to retain home caregivers and keep them from jumping to better-paying jobs at nursing homes, hospitals, private-pay patients and or even fast food work. The pay is about $3 less on the Traditional PCA Program.

Job vacancies are nearing a 10-year high, with people who need more intensive support having trouble even hiring staff. One part of the message is that many people who need 24-hour care are going without help, sometimes for days. The lack of assistances not only means isolation and confinement to beds for entire weekends, but it can also put people at risk for serious, costly health complications. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota is calling for a $15 wage and expanded training for home care professionals. Part of the argument for an increase is that care workers have to consider the failure to adequately provide for their own families with the needs of clients they care about.

SEIU won an election to unionize the 27,000 workers in 2014. The union has been described as an open shop because the PCAs don’t need to join or pay dues. Under the two-year contract approved in 2105, all PCAs got a base wage of $11 per hour, as well as training and paid time off.

Not everyone endorses the union. On October 20, union opponents announced that they are suing three state agencies in Ramsey County District Court. The latest move in the struggle to decertify SEIU is to accuse the state of withholding information.

Forcing a vote to decertify the union means having several thousand signatures in hand by December 1. The union foes, led by the organization MNPCA, contend that state agencies refuse to provide the group with more up-to-date worker lists. The records are needed to find people to sign the union decertification petition.

The lawsuit seeking current lists centers on the Data Practices Act, which governs public records in Minnesota. But officials from the Minnesota Management and Budget Office contend that they cannot legally turn over the caregiver lists.

“I really did not want to be represented by the union,” said Catherine Hunter. She cares for her two children with disabilities. At the press conference, Hunter said it is “reprehensible” that SEIU takes union dues. The union has long pointed out that dues don’t come out of state Medicaid funds. But Kim Crockett of the Center of the American Experiment and others question that and say there is no transparency or accountability for the dues.

 

 

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