Home care workers rally as lawmakers consider their union rights

Streamers drop as Zev Nicholson speaks at a rally in the Capitol rotunda. Each cutout represents a home-care worker who has signed up to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

Streamers drop as Zev Nicholson speaks at a rally in the Capitol rotunda. Each cutout represents a home-care worker who has signed up to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

Working to change a state law denying them the right to form a union, home health care workers “made it rain” at the Capitol yesterday, streaming more than 1,000 purple cutouts – each representing a home-care worker who has signed up for the union – from the second level onto the rotunda floor.

It was a powerful backdrop for a rally that drew home-care providers and their clients. Together, they called on lawmakers to pass legislation granting workers who provide so-called “self-directed” care the right to decide for themselves if they want to form a union.

“If my workers have a better quality of life, then I have a better quality of life,” Nikki Villavicencio-Tollison, a recipient of home care programs, told the crowd.

Clara Nakumbe, who cares for her adult son with multiple sclerosis, said having a union help legitimize the home health care profession and ensure workers are treated with the respect they deserve.

“There will probably come a point where I will no longer be able to care for my son anymore,” Nakumbe said. “That’s why I’m here today, to advocate for the union so we can attract people to this career, … quality people we can trust.”

Currently, state law grants organizing rights to workers employed by home health care agencies, but not to workers providing so-called “self-directed” care, who are considered more like independent contractors.

Klara Nakumbe talks about why she signed up to join

Klara Nakumbe believes forming a union of home-care workers will help attract “people we can trust” to the profession.

A bipartisan bill making its way through the Legislature would eliminate that distinction – and open the door for an estimated 12,000 home-care workers to choose whether or not to form a union.

But many home-care workers aren’t waiting for the law to change. Many already have signed up to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota – enough to make it rain with cutouts in the Capitol rotunda.

A union of more than 15,000 workers statewide, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota has been the driving force behind the legislative push to enable home-care workers to organize. Members like Nakumbe and Zev Nicholson, a home care worker from Minneapolis, have been prominent at committee hearings, delivering testimony in support of the bill.

Nicholson said so many home-care workers are signing up to join the union because they understand the power of speaking with one voice.

“Without a union we are going to be invisible,” he said. “But that’s why we’re here today. We’re invisible no more.”

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