Judge won't block union vote by 27,000 Minnesota home health care workers

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2014 - 11:51 PM

A national right-to-work group promised a further challenge if workers in fact vote to unionize.

Judge Michael Davis : “At this time their challenge is premature,” he wrote of the right-to-work group.

U.S. District Chief Judge Michael Davis ruled Wednesday that he will not stop the union election for thousands of Minnesota home health care workers, and the national group that tried to block the vote said it will not appeal the decision.

However, the National Right to Work Foundation, which sought a temporary injunction, said that it will continue to argue in court that the unionization effort is illegal if the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) wins the election.

Ballots will be counted next Tuesday to determine whether the union will represent nearly 27,000 personal health care workers, the largest unit in Minnesota to seek union certification since the Wagner Act was passed in 1935.

“Based on legally enacted Minnesota law, home-care providers have the right to vote in the current election to determine whether a majority desire SEIU to be their exclusive representative,” Davis wrote in a 19-page decision.

Davis noted that the right-to-work group’s claim is contingent on the SEIU winning the election, but the results of the election are not yet known. Hence, he said, it is not “ripe” for judicial intervention.

The organization’s complaint “is not fit for judicial review because a threshold factual element of their claim is uncertain and factual development within the next few weeks may therefore obviate the need for the court to consider plaintiff’s complaint,” Davis wrote. “The development of other facts would also assist the court in its consideration of the complaint.”

Anthony Riedel, a spokesman for the right-to-work group, said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune that it would not appeal the decision. “Because the judge’s ruling was on ripeness, the providers can bring this back to the same court after the election.”

Davis wrote that if the SEIU is certified as the workers’ bargaining representative, the group may renew its challenge to the certification. “At this time, their challenge is premature,” Davis wrote.

The Virginia-based Right to Work Foundation had argued that permitting a vote to select the SEIU as the exclusive bargaining agent of home care workers violates workers’ First Amendment rights.

In his ruling, Davis wrote, “Collective action, such as collective bargaining does not violate First Amendment associational rights of others.”

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the foundation, issued a statement disagreeing with Davis’ ruling.

“The state of Minnesota should not be picking home-care providers’ official representative to the government.

And 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 home care providers’ First Amendment rights.”

The SEIU e-mailed its own statement to the newspaper, enlisting a rank-and-file member to state the union’s position. Its spokesman was Mark Kirwin of Minneapolis, a home-care worker for his wife.

“I am glad the judge ruled today that home care workers will be able to exercise our democratic right to form our union if a majority of voters vote yes,” said Kirwin. “In other states, workers and those who receive care have seen significant improvements when they formed their unions, and families like mine across Minnesota deserve that same opportunity.”

Jan Johnson, the bureau’s labor mediation manager, said that 5,366 ballots had been returned to the bureau by the end of Wednesday.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst

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