9 workers sue to block Minnesota home health care union vote

  • Article by: BEENA RAGHAVENDRAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2014 - 8:20 PM

Attorney says home attendants don’t want SEIU’s representation.

Nine home health care workers have filed a lawsuit to block a vote starting Friday that could organize the state’s home care workers under the Service Employees International Union.

The workers, backed by the National Right to Work Foundation, filed the suit Monday against the state of Minnesota and the SEIU. They are part of the about 26,000 personal care attendants across the state who would be represented by the SEIU in petitions and contracts with the state, if the vote succeeds.

Bill Messenger, their attorney, said they don’t want the SEIU’s negotiating with the state for wages on their behalf.

Scott Price of Andover is one of the plaintiffs. His daughter has cerebral palsy, and he pays for a staff to care for her.

“I’ve never needed anybody to set the wages,” Price said.

The effects of the potential unionization and the higher wages could hurt the way the home care funds are distributed in the state, said Linda Brickley, a plaintiff who cares for her son, who has autism.

“It’s just not for me,” Brickley said. “It doesn’t help me at all and, in fact, it could actually cause harm, in some ways.”

‘Extremist right-wing group’

Gov. Mark Dayton, Bureau of Mediation Services Commissioner Josh Tilsen and Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson were cited in the lawsuit, along with SEIU.

“This is just another extremist right-wing group trying to tell Minnesotans that they cannot decide for themselves whether to vote to form a union,” said Matt Swenson, Dayton’s press secretary.

Sumer Spika is a home care worker and an SEIU campaign leader who lives in St. Paul. She’s been a home care worker for six years and has seen low wages, no benefits and no training. She hopes if the majority votes for the union, some of those problems will be fixed.

“I strongly believe that a union will help us be able to negotiate for better training and benefits, so I can better provide for my family, but more importantly, so I can better provide for my clients,” she said.

As for the plaintiffs’ complaint that they don’t want the union’s representation at all, Spika said unions have functioned that way for hundreds of years, and it won’t change. But if the union can negotiate higher wages for home care workers, it would be win-win for everyone.

The point still comes down to First Amendment rights, Messenger said, and that no one should be forced into representation of a union unwillingly.

“They should be able to choose for themselves,” Messenger said.

Fourteen states across the country have exclusive union representation for home health care and child care providers. Of those states, the majority of them require compulsory fees to be paid for all represented by the unions, whether people want to be members or not, Messenger said.

If the home care union is implemented in Minnesota, all home care workers in the state will be represented by the union but will not have to pay the compulsory fees if they don’t want to be members, SEIU said.

Personal care aides, or those who care for people with disabilities and the elderly, make an average of $10.09 in hourly wage nationally for an average annual wage of $20,990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2013. These workers in Minnesota make $11.09 per hour, or an average of $23,060 yearly.

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