Home care workers win election, take momentum into contract talks

Pro-union home health care workers celebrate the results of their organizing election at the Minnesota AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion on the State Fairgrounds.

Pro-union home health care workers and their clients celebrate the results of their organizing election at the Minnesota AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion on the State Fairgrounds.

Home health care workers in Minnesota have spoken, and they voted decisively to form a union, the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services announced yesterday.

Now the fight to improve the lives of home care workers and the people they serve shifts from the organizing field to the negotiation table – and back to the State Capitol.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” St. Paul home care worker Sumer Spika said during a press conference at the State Fairgrounds to announce the election results. “We know this is an industry that needs fixing, and that is why we have come together for this fight.”

In the process, Spika and other home care workers are making history. The BMS mailed ballots Aug. 1 to about 27,000 workers who are paid by the state to provide care to elderly and disabled Minnesotans – the largest union organizing election in state history.

Sixty percent of the 5,872 workers who returned ballots voted “yes” to joining the Healthcare Minnesota local of the Service Employees International Union, which will represent the newly created bargaining unit in contract negotiations with the state.

Yankuba Fadera, a home care worker from Maplewood, also works as an emergency room technician in a union-organized hospital.

Yankuba Fadera, a home care worker from Maplewood, also works as an emergency room technician in a union-organized hospital.

Workers plan to push for a contract that includes wage increases, benefits and training opportunities to better serve their clients.

Yankuba Fadera, a home care worker from Maplewood, knows firsthand the gains health care workers – and patients – make through collective bargaining. In addition to providing home care, Fadera works as an emergency room technician in a union-organized hospital.

“We have fought for and won real gains, both for workers and the patients we serve,” he said, pointing to pay and benefit increases, as well as contract language guaranteeing safe staffing levels and access to proper equipment.

Lack of benefits like health insurance, sick leave and paid time off makes home care a transitional field for many workers.

“I was shocked to discover home care isn’t considered a ‘real job’ despite how important it is to tens of thousands of Minnesotans,” Fadera said. “This work is real, and this work is very important.”

Home care recipients and advocates for people with disabilities cheered the election results as well. Nikki Villavicencio of Maplewood said better wages and working conditions for her caregivers would increase the stability of her care.

“The high turnover in this field, from the low pay and lack of benefits, causes turmoil for families,” Villavicencio said. “When we undervalue the workers, we undervalue families like mine.”

Whatever gains workers and clients achieve on paper in a bargaining with the state are subject to one last – and potentially major – hurdle: approval from the Legislature.

Home care workers and child-care providers paid with state subsidies lobbied successfully for a new law granting them union rights in 2013, but they faced stiff opposition from Republicans. Returning a pro-worker majority to the Minnesota House in 2015, then, is likely a priority for the new bargaining unit – and the 30,000 SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members statewide.

web.SEIUHCvote-scene

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: