It’s official: Dayton signs Minnesota home care workers’ contract into law

Pro-union home health care workers celebrated the results of their organizing election last August.

Pro-union home health care workers celebrated the results of their organizing election last August.

In a victory for 27,000 home health care workers across Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton today gave final approval to a historic first union contract that will dramatically improve working conditions in the industry when it takes effect July 1.

Dayton’s signature on the Omnibus Health and Human Services bill, passed by the Legislature with bipartisan support, made the contract official. It’s the first new union contract with the State of Minnesota in decades, according to SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the union representing home care workers.

For workers, the contract means the wage floor in the industry will jump from $9 to $11 by 2016. The contract also includes paid time off – five days per year for full-time workers – plus increased training opportunities and grievance and arbitration procedures.

The contract represents a victory not only for workers, but for the seniors and people with disabilities they serve. Clients joined workers in supporting the union drive – a process that took several years and involved changing state law – and together, they cheered the governor’s final signature today.

“Invisible No More” was the slogan of home care workers’ organizing campaign. Nikki Villavicencio, a home care recipient from Maplewood, said the new contract provides more than just wages and benefits; it shows the state values the freedom home care workers provide thousands of Minnesotans who choose to stay in their homes.

Nicole Villavicencio (L) talked about why they support their home health care providers’ efforts to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota during the lobbying effort two years ago.

Nicole Villavicencio (L) offered her support to home care providers organizing s to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota as the campaign kicked off two years ago.

“This contract will mean a better life for workers, but also for families across the state like mine,” Villavicencio said. “My family will benefit from the increased stability that will come with a higher pay floor, paid time off, new training funds and the other benefits that this contract will provide the workers who care for us.”

The contract will also help reduce turnover among workers the industry by cutting down on wage theft. Sadie Hawkins, a home care worker from White Bear Lake, is in the middle of a fight to get the wages she’s owed – a fight the new contract will help her win.

“The grievance process will give those of us who have gone through wage theft a clear way to get the pay we are due for the work we have done – without going to smalls claims or another unpredictable process,” Hawkins said. “I worked for Forest Lake home care and my agency failed to pay me for a month of my work, but I couldn’t stop working because my client needed support. Two months later and I’m still waiting on my money.”

Although membership in the bargaining unit is voluntary, the contract will cover all home care workers serving clients in so-called “self-directed care” programs, which are supported with public funds. The new Health and Human Service bill appropriates $16.227 million toward the home care contract over two years, and its economic impact will be double that because of federal Medicaid matching, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said.

The contract elevates standards in an industry marred by low wages, part-time schedules and few benefits, and it’s a welcome change, said home care worker Alberta McCurdy of Minneapolis.

“I currently make $9 an hour and this wage increase will help me pay my bills and pay my rent,” she said.

“I’m so excited to get paid time off after working for all these years without it,” Christine Hale, a home care worker and mother of three from Crosby, said. “The last time I had a surgery I had to go back to work right away because I was the only provider for my family – and it was really hard.”

Negotiations between SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the state began after workers voted decisively to form a union in August 2014. The two sides reached a tentative agreement in January, and over 95 percent of voting members ratified the agreement.

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