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Photo: Health care.

Thomas Kienzle, Associated Press

Let home care workers unionize

  • Article by: Chris Eaton and Mike Nelson
  • February 20, 2013 - 9:14 PM

It is easy for many of us to take for granted the simple tasks we do every day — getting out of bed on our own, putting on our socks, making breakfast or going to the bathroom.

But for thousands of seniors and people with disabilities in Minnesota, these important, everyday tasks are not possible without the services and supports provided by home care workers.

Personal care assistants and other home care workers take care of our family members and friends who are elderly or living with disabilities, providing critical services that allow such people to live at home with their families or independently in their communities, as most prefer to do.

Not only is home care the preferred option for those who need long-term care — it also saves taxpayers money compared with nursing homes or other institutions.

Unfortunately, however, home care workers who are employed directly by their clients are not valued for the critical role they play in our state. They face low wages, declining part-time hours, and no appreciable benefits like health insurance or sick days. As a result, turnover is high, and it is difficult for those who need these services to find dependable workers.

Home care workers are passionate about what they do, providing the best possible care, often for their loved ones. Many sacrifice better-paying jobs in order to do this work. All too often, they know that if they don’t, no one else will and that their friend or family member may be forced to move to a nursing home or other institution.

In truth, Minnesota faces a looming workforce crisis in its public home care programs. Demand for these services will grow rapidly in the near future as our state ages — the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects that we will need more than 50,000 new home care workers over the current decade, while the demographic that has traditionally made up this workforce will shrink.

Unless we take steps to improve these jobs, there will not be enough people willing to do this work. We need to improve wages and working conditions for the home care workforce.

That is why we are introducing legislation this week to address the needs of our home care workforce and give home care workers the right to form a union.

Currently, thousands of home care workers who work directly for their clients in self-directed programs do not have the right to form a union and negotiate with the state. They do not have a united voice to improve their pay and working conditions. Yet, these are the people we rely upon to take care of our loved ones. They deserve better; they deserve a voice. They should have the same right to form a union as other Minnesota workers.

We are not just proposing this legislation because it is the right thing to do for home care workers; it will also improve the quality of care provided to our seniors and people with disabilities.

If home care workers are allowed to form a union, they will have the opportunity to gain access to training and education opportunities, reduce turnover, improve stability and enhance the overall quality of their workforce.

This in turn will save taxpayers money by relieving the strain on our nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities in the coming years.

This is not something we should do just because it is sound policy. It is something we must do in order to ensure the long-term viability of our long-term-care system in Minnesota.

After all, there is no place like home.

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Chris Eaton, of Brooklyn Center, is a member of the ­Minnesota Senate. Mike Nelson, of Brooklyn Park, is a ­member of the Minnesota House. Both are Democrats.

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