Judge denies request to stop unionization vote for Minnesota home health care providers

  • Article by: AMY FORLITI , Associated Press
  • Updated: August 20, 2014 - 3:50 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge said Wednesday that he won't stop an election that could unionize thousands of individuals who provide in-home health care to the elderly and disabled, saying he can't predict the vote's outcome and the mere fact that an election is occurring doesn't violate the rights of those who want to stop it.

"The Court will not interfere with an ongoing election based on Plaintiffs' fear about what the outcome of that election might be," U.S. District Judge Michael Davis wrote.

Nine state-subsidized home health care workers have sued state officials and the Service Employees International Union, alleging a 2013 law that allows a unionization vote by personal care attendants is unconstitutional because it violates their right of free political expression and association. In addition to trying to block the law, the group also tried to halt an election, currently underway, to determine whether the majority of nearly 27,000 home-care providers in the state will be represented by the SEIU.

Davis said Wednesday that state law gives home-care workers the right to vote, and if the SEIU is certified to represent the workers, the plaintiffs may renew their challenge in court. Ballots are expected to be tallied Tuesday.

In his ruling, Davis said the request to stop the election isn't ripe for judicial review, even though the plaintiffs felt the "need to expend resources to influence the outcome of the election in order to prevent SEIU from prevailing." Davis said by next week there may be no need for the court to rule at all, and the plaintiffs face no hardship by his decision to deny their request.

Davis said if the union is certified, individuals won't be required to join, and certification won't affect the right of any employee to express his or her views to the state. In addition, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a similar law in Illinois violated the First Amendment by requiring home-care providers to pay fair share fees to the union, the SEIU said it would require no such fees if it is certified to represent the Minnesota workers.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, representing the plaintiffs, said Davis' ruling opens the door for forced unionization of home-care providers, many of whom take care of their own family members in their homes.

"When the state forces the SEIU's so-called representation on individuals who don't want and never ask for that representation, it will violate Minnesota homecare providers' First Amendment rights," Patrick Semmens, the foundation's vice president, said in a statement.

Sumer Spika, a home-care worker for six years, said she's excited to move forward with the election and let home-care workers decide whether or not they want to unionize. Spika, who takes care of a non-family member, said being in a union will help workers negotiate better wages, benefits and training programs — which she said are needed in the industry.

"We had no voice at the Capitol until we started working with SEIU," she said. "I have a family of five, a baby on the way. ... This is our income. This is what puts food on our table. I want to be able to provide a better life for my family, and also a better life for my client."

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