A bill that would give two of the state’s most powerful unions a chance to organize in-home care workers failed on a surprise tie vote in committee on Monday.
The 11-11 vote in the Senate Finance Committee, with two DFL senators joining Republicans in voting no, was a blow to the backers — Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The vote may not kill the bill’s chances entirely, but shows that it faces a tough path to passage, despite DFL control of the Senate, House and governor’s office.
“It’s always been hard,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said of the union bill’s chances. “I’m not going to twist people’s arms to vote for it. If the advocates want to pass it, they’re going to have to figure out how they could get to 34.”
In the 67-member Senate, 34 votes are needed for passage.
AFSCME is seeking to represent certain licensed and unlicensed in-home child care workers, while SEIU is focused on in-home personal care attendants who work with elderly and disabled clients. About 21,000 total workers could be affected, the unions said. The bill allows the workers to vote on unionization.
DFL Senators Barb Goodwin, of Columbia Heights, and Terri Bonoff, of Minnetonka, were among the no votes. Goodwin said many child-care providers in her district oppose it, adding, “We don’t have the votes to pass it on the floor.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, called the vote disappointing, but said she hopes to get enough votes to move the bill to a full floor vote even without a positive recommendation from the committee.
Eliot Seide, head of AFSCME Council 5, said he was confident the bill would pass.
The two unions spent heavily to help elect a DFL Legislature in 2012. They say unionization could help the workers and their clients by providing additional subsidies and better training.
Opponents, meanwhile, say child-care providers are small-business owners who won’t benefit from a union.
Goodwin said that she is concerned about the amount the state would have to spend to oversee the effort and that she has doubts about what a union can do for the in-home care workers. At the same time, she said, she worries that nursing-home workers in her district have gone years without an increase.