Why do care attendants need a union?

  • Article by: CATHERINE HUNTER
  • Updated: March 27, 2014 - 6:10 PM

As a PCA whose children also receive these services, I don’t get the point.

Tonight “Sara” knocked on my door, telling me about a wonderful opportunity for personal care attendants like me to support the formation of a union in Minnesota.

So let me tell you about my job as a PCA.

 

I love what I do. I love my clients. I think I get paid well for what I do, which quite frankly is not all that challenging.

I can do gastric-tube feedings and simple physical therapy exercises. I can change the diaper of an older child or adult who is incontinent — not fun, but certainly not difficult. I can take my clients to clinic appointments or other outings. And that’s as complicated as it gets. The rest of the time that I am with my clients, I may sing or dance to elicit some joyful response from them, but I may also just sit on the couch while we “hang out” together.

I am not trying to minimize what I do, but this is not a position that rises to the level of other professional union positions. Being a PCA is a wonderful job for college students or others who want flexibility, or who desire part-time work. Few would consider this job a full-time career. Personal care attendants don’t go into an office to do their jobs. They usually serve clients in the home, or out in the community, accompanying them to various social gatherings. And for this, most PCAs earn anywhere from $10 to $13 an hour.

Our jobs are varied and interesting and enjoyable. I have no complaints about the wage I am earning. Furthermore, no one is getting rich on me. The fiscal intermediaries who dole out my paycheck get paid 20 percent of what the state provides for the hourly wage of a PCA. This 20 percent pays for workers’ compensation insurance and covers tax and other deductions. This means the state and parental fees are paying about $16 for every PCA hour that I work.

How much more is a union going to be able to “win” for a PCA like me? And how much would this “representation” cost me? If a union forms in Minnesota for PCAs, and if they are able to win me another $2 an hour in wages, that gain most assuredly will get swallowed by union dues. As a former teacher, I am all too familiar with union dues.

Yet as a parent of children with special needs who qualify for PCA services, I also have some concerns about how the formation of a union would affect my children’s services.

These services are a godsend. But families like ours pay a hefty parental fee for these services. The state foots the bill for much of these services, and I am not complaining. But if a union wants to increase the salary and/or benefits of any of my PCAs, I ask: Who is going to pay? How many Minnesota taxpayers want to pay more so my PCAs can get a couple of paid holidays or minimally higher wages?

Parental fees could be increased. Let me put this in perspective. When our son was born 17 years ago, he qualified for all of these wonderful services. When we finally received a bill, we owed upward of $25,000, which eventually ballooned to $80,000. All this while, I worked less and less due to my child’s serious health issues. This year, the year our son turns 18, we will finally be caught up on our parental fee, paying it off in full.

Sara is not a PCA. Sara is not a parent paying parental fees. Sara is a union canvasser whose livelihood depends on the formation of unions. Sara cannot answer my question of how additional PCA benefits will be funded.

So where are the representatives for families like mine? I asked Sara, and she assured me that there are parent advocacy groups watching out for our families. Of course, I know all about ARC and PACER and the rest, but what separates these advocacy groups from unions is money. Advocacy groups are nonprofit. They lobby with a fraction of the dues collected by unions, dues protecting the jobs of union canvassers like Sara.

 

Catherine Hunter lives in Burnsville.

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