Home care workers, clients not backing down from anti-union group’s legal challenge

Cortney Phillips, a home care worker from Annandale, speaks to media after a court hearing challenging her collective bargaining rights.

Cortney Phillips, a home care worker from Annandale, speaks to media after listening to oral arguments in a federal court case challenging her collective bargaining rights.

A week ago, Francis Hall made history as the first known home care worker in Minnesota to take a paid vacation day. Today, Hall stood outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul and condemned the well funded, extremist groups suing to deny her that benefit – and take away her newly formed union.

“We’ve come too far,” Hall said. “The home care industry is too important to not stand up and fight back.”

Hall was among a handful of home care workers who observed oral arguments today in a pair of court cases challenging their right to organize a union and negotiate with the state for better wages and working conditions.

Francis Hall is the first known home care worker to use paid time off.

Francis Hall is the first known home care worker to use paid time off.

Home care workers voted to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota last year, after Gov. Mark Dayton approved a measure expanding collective bargaining rights to home care workers paid with state subsidies. Home care workers negotiated and ratified a contract with the state that went into effect July 1, extending higher wage floors, paid time off and other benefits to more than 26,000 workers statewide.

But legal challenges have pestered the home care workers’ campaign, which became a target of the Virginia-based, anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

A federal judge in Minneapolis twice rejected legal challenges to the Minnesota home care workers’ union. Now the foundation, funded by millionaires and billionaires, is bankrolling a lawsuit filed by nine home care workers who argue being covered by the union contract amounts to forced association – and a violation of their First Amendment rights.

During oral arguments today, according to Workday Minnesota, a lawyer for the State of Minnesota countered that home care workers are not required to pay dues, making it impossible for the plaintiffs to claim they are harmed by the union contract.

After the hearings, workers said the absurdity of the plaintiffs’ position lays bare the National Right to Work Foundation’s agenda. And it’s not about improving workers’ lives or the home care industry.

“The industry deserves more value,” Cortney Phillips, a home care worker from Annandale, said. “Our union is ready to provide that. And joining the union is completely voluntary.”

The National Right to Work Foundation and its deep-pocketed donors, Phillips added, want to reverse the gains home care workers have made through collective bargaining. Losing their union, she said, “would be bad for clients and providers, and it could push us back into the shadows.”

“I see this court case as a direct attack on women and people of color,” Deb Howze said.

Deb Howze, a home care worker from Minneapolis, added that women and people of color make up a majority of home care workers in Minnesota. “I see this court case as a direct attack,” she said.

Several home care recipients joined union workers inside the hearings to show their support for the union, including Nikki Villavicencio of Maplewood. “We won’t ever let them stop us from fighting for quality care,” she said.

The National Right to Work Foundation’s lawsuit not only threatens to undermine home care workers’ progress, but the progress teachers, nurses and other workers have made through collective bargaining as well.

“The same group that continues to attack home care workers … will simply come after teachers and nurses next,” Education Minnesota Secretary-Treasurer Rodney Rowe said.

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