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American Experiment Files Complaint: Star Tribune “Reporter” Chris Serres

In October, we told you about a “social services” Strib reporter who writes on the news pages like a commentator or advocate. It is an old fashioned but good idea that “news” be factual and balanced while commentary has greater license to advocate a particular point of view. This is the formal complaint we sent today to his boss, Rene Sanchez, Editor and Senior Vice President at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Dear Mr. Sanchez,

I left a message with Michael Klingensmith a while back, but I am told I should bring my concerns to you. I just left you a voicemail.

Your “social services” reporter Chris Serres is not conducting himself as a reporter; he is writing as an advocate with a strong point of view and agenda.

He got on my radar because I am helping thousands of personal care attendants (PCAs) conduct a decertification campaign against the SEIU.

It is fair to say that, when Serres covers the SEIU Minnesota Healthcare union, he has been operating as an advocate for the SEIU. The people he interviews are almost always PCAs who also work for the SEIU. And the “research” he cites is from the same organization (PHI) that the SEIU and Afscme use when advocating for the right to organize (http://phinational.org ).

In fact, the SEIU kicked off their contract talks this fall with the same studies Mr. Serres cites in his articles.

As a result of Mr. Serres close relationships with SEIU and his personal advocacy, there is so much news and information that is not getting covered. His articles are slanted to admit only the narrative favored by the SEIU and the Dayton administration. There is a real story here; our state legislators and Congress really need help sorting it all out. As America ages and more and more people are found to be “disabled” our ability to care for the most vulnerable among us is strained.

Fo example, I think there is a real split between PCAs who are family members caring for a disabled person, versus people who are doing this for a living. In some cases they have different interests. But at the end of the day, this is a Medicaid program designed to keep people out of institutions by supporting their families. I also think that who is qualifying as “disabled” and therefore eligible for Medicaid benefits may be stretched beyond the original intent. For example, adults who have emotional problems due child abuse are now considered “disabled” and getting help from PCAs.

One thing is certain: there are too few dollars to allow the SEIU to take millions for its own political agenda. We estimate based on LM-2 filings that SEIU is taking $4.7 million from Medicaid just in Minnesota. Virtually all of its donations go to the DFL. Across the country, the SEIU may be taking as much as $50 million out of Medicaid from PCAs alone.

I have spent months studying this PCA issue. And yet Mr. Serres has never reached out to the PCAs who do not want the SEIU to represent them, or to me (a policy expert) or their lawyer Doug Seaton.

Isn’t that a bit odd if you are a reporter?

Mr. Serres knows who I am because I reached out to him following his October article and offered to help him with the subject. I got suspicious and so I did a little research.

He has moved in and out of reporting for the Star Tribune over the years. He left in 2011 to work as a union activist, apparently returning a few years later. Here is Mr. Serres in City Pages:

My reasons for leaving newspapers after 20 years are personal and political. They stem from a growing belief that, without a vigorous union movement, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery and impoverishment. In the midst of blatant injustices against workers and recent, unjustified attacks against unions, I found it increasingly difficult to stand on the sideline as a spectator. http://www.citypages.com/news/chris-serres-explains-leaving-star-tribune-business-pages-to-be-union-activist-6542203

And an excerpt from my article: The 2015 “contract” that SEIU wants to re-negotiate by the way, does not expire until June 30 of 2017. So why the rush toward a new contract? Could it be that SEIU is trying to thwart the PCAs effort to decertify their union? I also attended the first session of that contract negotiation (which was held at the SEIU’s offices)…. None of that was of interest to Chris Serres at the Star Tribune. Serres focused instead on the stressful nature of the work and the fact that PCAs do not make a lot of money. Yet he failed to mention that SEIU was taking a full 3 percent of gross wages in union dues, up to $948 dollars a year, from PCAs who signed a union card (or had one signed for them). Wouldn’t a reporter concerned about PCAs ask the SEIU why their union dues were so high?

Much has happened during the PCA decertification over the last few months. None of it was covered in the Star Tribune, the leading paper in Minnesota.

  • The Dayton administration has refused to give PCAs a good list so they can reach other PCAs, so they had to go to court, repeatedly. A judge had to issue three orders telling the State to turn over a list—and when the administration appealed the order, the judge told them to turn over the list. MNPCA is still not sure it has a good list.
  • Even though MNPCA has been working with a bad list for months, almost 2,600 PCAs filed cards calling for a new election with the Bureau of Mediation Services on Friday, December 2nd.
  • The SEIU and State have been planning to block the decertification by reaching a new contract before the end of the year and the start of a new legislative majority—this could wipe out all the hard work of MNPCA and force PCAs to wait another 2 years to file a decertification.
  • But BMS issued an order yesterday telling SEIU and the State to stop negotiating a new contract until the petition to decertify has been handled. Here is our NewsAlert: http://www.americanexperiment.org/news/seiu-state-ordered-halt-early-contract-talks-boost-decertification-drive/
  • MNPCA has gathered affidavits from PCAs all over Minnesota who say that SEIU is taking dues out of their paychecks (up to ($948 a year) even though they never joined the union. One woman has called us in tears because she has asked the union over and over to return her pay and is now short on rent.
  • Let’s not forget how we got here: A governor gets endorsed by the SEIU and Afscme, gets campaign contributions (and field support). When he wins, he pushes hard to deliver a significant new source union dues by subjecting home based providers of care to unionization by calling them “state employees.” They aren’t really “state employees” but it is a nice legal fiction that is now delivering about $4.7 million in Medicaid funds to SEIU MN.

Now that seems like a great story that the paper should be covering.

I know that editorial policy is separate from reporting at a paper but please note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board condemned the idea that PCAs and Child Care Providers could be unionized as “state employees” because they are paid with welfare for in-home care. Why does the reporting side of the paper have an editorial point of view– at all?

Mr. Serres has a big heart but he is a reporter, not a columnist for the Star Tribune.

Please consider this a formal complaint.

 

Respectfully,

Kim Crockett

VP, Senior Policy Fellow and General Counsel

Center of the American Experiment

 

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