In contract talks, home care workers hope to address crisis facing state, industry

Home care workers and clients kick off the campaign for a new contract covering more than 20,000 workers statewide.

Home care workers and clients kick off the campaign for a new contract covering more than 20,000 workers statewide.

Minnesota’s home care workers are set to begin negotiating a new union contract Friday. At a Capitol press conference today, workers and their clients framed the talks as an opportunity for the state to begin addressing the workforce crisis in their industry.

As Minnesota’s population continues to age, the demand for workers who provide in-home health care is expected to increase sharply. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects nearly 38,000 new openings for home-health and personal-care aides over the next 10 years.

Home care clients and advocates worry those jobs will remain vacant unless working conditions in the industry improve – a process that starts with raising wages and respecting the work, home care client Nikki Villiavicencio said.

The Maplewood resident said a “huge shortage” of home care workers already exists in the state. “It’s a crisis that Minnesota leaders have not valued home care workers and the services they provide enough,” she said.

Represented in negotiations with the state by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, home care workers said they plan to seek a $15 minimum wage in their next union contract, as well as expanded benefits and training opportunities specific to the type of care they provide.

Additionally, workers said they want the state to commit to long-range strategies for growing the industry’s worker pool and, along the same lines, improving job satisfaction among home care workers.

"I can be a better father, a better husband a better member of society with her," Jonathan Spika of St. Paul, left permanently disabled by MS, said of his home health care worker.

“I can be a better father, a better husband a better member of society with her,” Jonathan Spika of St. Paul, left permanently disabled by MS, said of his home health care worker.

“Most people don’t stay in these positions for very long because … this is one of the lowest-paying jobs in Minnesota,” home care worker Jasmine Laducer-Kitto said.

For Laducer-Kitto, the rewards of home care work go beyond the paycheck. But if state lawmakers value giving people the option of receiving care in their homes, she said, they need to invest in the workers who make it possible.

“We have to look at the this as an important job,” Laducer-Kitto said.

Home care workers’ first contract with the state, bargained after their historic organizing drive, is set to expire in July 2017. It raised the industry’s wage floor to $11 per hour and gave home care workers paid-time-off benefits for the first time.

Still, Villiavicencio said, “the progress we’ve made hasn’t been enough to lift us out of the crisis we’re in now.”

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s contract covers more than 20,000 home care workers across the state. Negotiators said they hope to have a tentative agreement before the 2017 legislative session begins so that lawmakers can vote to approve it for inclusion in the 2017-18 fiscal year budget.

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