Health care local celebrates 80th anniversary, welcomes PCAs into union

Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, and home-care provider Karen Urman answer questions during a press conference on the union's efforts to organize PCA's.

Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, and home-care provider Karen Urman answer questions during a press conference on the union’s efforts to organize providers statewide.

The nation’s oldest union of health care workers marked its 80th anniversary Sept. 20 by welcoming a new group of members, home care workers, into the local.

For the first time ever, roll call to open SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s convention included a unit of personal care attendants who are hired by their clients and paid by the state, or “consumer-directed home care” workers.

Nicole Villavicencio and Ziggy Norberg talk about why they support their home health care providers’ efforts to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. “If my PCA has a better quality of life, I will have a better quality of life,” Villavicencio said.

Nicole Villavicencio and Ziggy Norberg talk about why they support their home health care providers’ efforts to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. “If my PCA has a better quality of life, I will have a better quality of life,” Villavicencio said.

These workers had been barred from collective bargaining by state law, but Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL majorities in the Minnesota Legislature lifted those restrictions last spring, setting the stage for a massive organizing drive that could nearly double the 15,000-member union’s rolls.

“Home care workers provide care for our seniors and people with disabilities,” local President Jamie Gulley said. “Yet today they have the same struggles the hospital workers who founded our unions faced 80 years ago – low pay, lack of benefits and lack of respect. We look forward to their inclusion in our great tradition of improving people’s lives.”

Gulley said the organizing effort is likely to kick into high gear later this fall.

At a press conference during the convention, home care workers expressed optimism that forming a union would improve their wages, benefits and training opportunities – changes that would improve not only their own standard of living, but their clients’ as well.

“The PCA system is a blessing when it works,” Shaquonica Johnson said. “But in my years as a PCA, I see it’s not working because of turnover and a lack of training opportunities. Our clients should never wonder, ‘Is my PCA trained, and will he come back tomorrow?’”

Karen Urman, a PCA for her son, called her profession a workforce in crisis, pointing to studies that show Minnesota’s changing demographics will result in a care gap of more than 53,000 workers needed to provide home care services over the next decade.

“We need to grow the field,” Urman said. “To attract workers to do this work, we need to provide livable wages and benefits.”

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