I met Kris Greene several years ago. We were in federal court, listening to arguments in a case she and other parents brought in an attempt to stop Gov. Mark Dayton from inviting a union to speak for them, or even worse, interfering with how they care for their disabled family members.
On the steps of the courthouse she quietly but firmly told me, “I don’t want a union getting between me and my daughter.”
As a fellow mom, I immediately related to Kris Greene.
Kris Greene’s daughter is a beautiful, disabled adult who will never live on her own. Taxpayers have generously and wisely supported a Medicaid program that offers a modest benefit so that the Greenes’ daughter can thrive at home instead of being cared for by strangers or living in an institution. This gave Kris Greene and her husband peace of mind.
Despite heartfelt objections by PCAs like Kris Greene, the Minnesota Legislature in 2013 voted to allow a portion of these modest benefits intended for caregivers of the disabled to be redirected to a powerful political ally. Home-based Choice PCAs were declared “state employees” so that the Service Employees International Union (or “SEIU”) could “collectively bargain” against the state under the guise of improving wages and working conditions.
It is hard to follow the pretzel logic of the deal— since the legislature could just pass a bill increasing PCA pay and benefits if that was really the goal. We joined Kris Greene and other PCAs asking Dayton to focus on helping the disabled and their caregivers rather than helping public unions to increase their revenues.
SEIU went on to win the biggest public employee labor election in Minnesota history with a scant 13 percent of the 27,000 eligible PCAs (about 3,500 people).
While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that PCAs like Kris cannot be compelled to pay union dues or even “fair share fees” because they are not “full-fledged public employees,” thousands of Minnesotans were enrolled by the SEIU.
We estimate that if every person who voted “Yes” for the union is paying dues under a new 2015 contract, SEIU is taking in more than $3 million a year. The contract set dues at 3 percent of gross pay, up to a stunning $948 a year.
The contract allows SEIU to speak for Kris Greene and other PCAs like her in Minnesota, even if they do not join or pay dues. Yet Kris and others like her have been excluded from planning training for PCAs with DHS, and they are not even allowed to attend trainings until they join the SEIU. For now, there is no judicial or legislative relief in sight.
But Kris Greene and other PCAs around Minnesota are not giving up.
PCAs have launched a statewide decertification campaign aimed at eliminating the new collective bargaining unit before it becomes the “new normal.” They have a steep mountain to climb: Kris and her team need to collect around 10,000 signatures (30 percent of bargaining unit) to force a follow-up election. This will reignite one of the state’s most controversial political issues of recent years.
The plan calls for a grassroots campaign that reaches out to PCAs by mail, phone and online. A new website—mnpca.org—generates election authorization cards that must be received by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services by a December 2 deadline. Kris is asking that PCAs get their cards in now, or at least long before we all get busy at Thanksgiving time!
Mnpca.org also offers a place for PCAs to grow a supportive network over time. Win or lose, this will be their website where they can stay in touch so when things happen at the capitol, they are not taken by surprise.
Kris Greene and her fellow PCAs are not alone in this major endeavor. In addition to their long-time lawyer Doug Seaton, the project has attracted grassroots support and several nonprofits from around the country. PCAs from all political stripes are upset about this. It just does not seem right.
Sometimes God gives us the gift and challenge of a special needs child. I will never know what Kris Greene and her family have faced but I do know that Minnesota’s decision to subject PCAs to unionization is robbing PCAs of the peace of mind that came from knowing they could direct the care and resources for their special loved one.
Let’s help Kris Greene and other PCAs get back that peace of mind.
-Kim Crockett is a vice president, senior fellow and general counsel for the Center of the American Experiment in Golden Valley