Home care workers ratify new contract, urge lawmakers to get serious about looming care crisis

Home care workers and clients kicked off the campaign for a new contract covering more than 20,000 workers statewide in September 2016.

Union members who provide in-home health services to clients across Minnesota have ratified a new contract with the state that will lift wages, provide holiday pay, boost paid-time off and expand training opportunities for an estimated 27,000 home care workers statewide.

The new contract, home care workers’ second since voting to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota three years ago, will take effect July 1. The union announced results of a week-long ratification vote this morning.

Home care workers said the new contract builds on their union’s effort to raise wages and working conditions in the home care industry – improvements they say are necessary to meet the needs of Minnesota’s seniors and people with disabilities.

But it doesn’t go far enough, said Yasmine Soud-Reynolds, a home care worker from White Bear Lake.

“On one hand I feel like the contract is good,” Soud-Reynolds said. “We do get a little bump in pay, also time and a half for holidays. On the other hand, I feel like it needs to be improved.”

The contract ratified this month looks different from the tentative agreement reached by SEIU members and the state earlier this year. That’s because elected officials cut funding for the contract in half during last-ditch budget negotiations at the Capitol last month, forcing workers and the state to renegotiate the pact.

The decrease in funding will slow efforts to address the care crisis facing vulnerable Minnesotans, home care workers warned, and they pinned much of the blame on anti-union attorney Doug Seaton and the Center of the American Experiment, which is funding an effort to decertify their union.

In legislative testimony, these groups urged legislators to vote down raises and new benefits for home care workers, who vowed to continue fighting to restore funding in the next legislative session.

Soud-Reynolds, who cares for a client recovering from a massive brain hemorrhage, said she earns less than the $15 per hour her stepsister makes at a local gas station, and called the Legislature’s move to defund her union’s contract “very frustrating.”

“I feel like legislators won’t really understand what home care workers are going through or asking for until they either have to work in the field themselves or, God forbid, one of their family members needs a home care worker,” Soud-Reynolds said. “What I do is hard, and I definitely don’t feel like it’s valued.”

The new contract creates a $12 wage floor, with a new 5 percent increase for workers like Soud-Reynolds who provide care for the highest-need clients.

The state also agreed to create an online matching registry to help clients find quality care workers. Several clients who receive in-home health services participated in SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s home care contract campaign.

Jim Carlisle, who relies on care for himself and his wife to be able to stay in their home, said the crisis facing the home care industry is “well beyond the point where any half-measures will suffice.”

“This is, without exaggeration, a life or death situation for someone like me who relies on quality caregivers to get out of bed and do basic tasks like eating and leaving my house,” Carlisle added. “I’m proud we won the gains we did, but we are still a long way from where we need to be. What we’ve proven over the last few months is that we won’t let any attacks or setbacks stop us. We will fight to ensure every person who needs care has access to quality caregivers.”

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