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Continued: In historic vote, Minnesota home health care workers unionize

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 27, 2014 - 6:10 AM

Nikki Villavicencio, an advocate for people with disabilities and a vocal supporter of home care unionization had a different view.

Her voice shaking with emotion as she took the microphone while in her wheelchair, Villavicencio told the crowd at the fairgrounds that, “when home care workers are struggling to survive, having to work multiple jobs and still barely being able to feed their families, families like mine see it firsthand — the hardship that it causes for both their lives and for ours.” Villavicencio and her husband, Darrell Paulsen, rely on care aides at their home in Maplewood.

Personal care aides, or those who care for people with disabilities and the elderly, make a national average of $10.09 an hour, or about $20,990 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2013. Such workers are a little better paid in Minnesota, making an average of $11.09 per hour, or $23,060 yearly.

Union fees not required

In a setback for the home care union effort, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union’s costs of collective bargaining. The ruling will directly affect unionized home care workers, but Spika said signatures from 9,000 home care workers who expressed union support in Minnesota likely means the same number will pay dues.

Minnesota Republican lawmakers tentatively welcomed the new union, saying it in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, it “would be the first union in Minnesota to operate under the concept of employee freedom.”

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said in a statement Tuesday that “In the unlikely event this new union survives a court challenge — which we support — it will serve as an excellent case study for how a union can operate in an employee freedom environment. If the union provides value for its members, it will survive. If it doesn’t, it will lose membership and die. Either way, employees will have the freedom to make those decisions without the heavy hand of government forcing its way.”

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison lauded the vote as one that “evens the playing field between employers and employees.”

“Today’s vote is cause for celebration,” Ellison said. “Collective bargaining is essential to restoring economic mobility to American workers and rebuilding the middle class. The home health care workers’ vote is a vote for fair wages, safe working conditions, and a better future.”

Abby Simons • 651-925-5043

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  • Many home care workers in the state, including Sumer Spika (at lectern) welcomed the voting victory and the right to unionize.

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