Day One: Minnesota home care workers’ first contract takes effect today

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.

The union contract that goes into effect today between the State of Minnesota and home care workers statewide is a big deal to Tallaya Byers. But it’s about more than paid time off, wage increases and other benefits that kick in today, the 38-year-old from St. Paul said.

“I’m being recognized as an employee,” said Byers, who provides care for her 6-year-old autistic son. “It’s really great to be recognized now and to know that there’s a family – a union family – that is looking out for my best interests.”

The historic first contract covers 27,000 workers like Byers who provide state-subsidized, in-home care for elderly and disabled Minnesotans.

Ratified by members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and approved by state lawmakers last session, the contract increases the wage floor in the industry to $10.50 this year (and $11 next year), allows workers to accrue up to five paid-time-off days per year and provides access to training opportunities and grievance procedures.

It’s a big step forward for home care workers, who organized a union to gain a stronger voice in an industry that took for granted a low-wage, high-turnover workforce. That’s an insult not only to home care workers, Byers said, but to the seniors and people with disabilities they serve.

“A lot of people – disabled adults, senior citizens – are in their homes instead of nursing homes because of the work we do,” she said said. “For a lot of people, this is not just something they want to do for family members, but as a career. Now they can get compensated, get training – it’s really great.”

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.

Although membership in the bargaining unit is voluntary, the contract will cover all home care workers statewide. Byers said she expects more will sign up to become union members after the benefits of the new contract hit home.

“For a lot of people, our union is still brand new,” Byers said. “So we still have a lot of information to get out to the PCA’s about why it’s important and how beneficial it is.”

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