Lawmakers Spar Over Controversial Home Care Worker Contract
It’s not often a hearing of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations packs the room. But the chambers were filled for a hard-hitting legislative session at the State Capitol on Monday that put the Service Employees International Union and their backers on notice.
The message? No more business as usual when it comes to public employee union contracts considered for approval by state legislators. The abrupt change caught Democrats off guard.
“I have served on this subcommittee as the longest serving member,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center). ” I have never seen what’s about to happen today happen in this subcommittee ever and the politicization of these particular issues.”
In her first action as Subcommittee on Employee Relations Chair, Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Buffalo) upped the oversight function of a legislative body viewed by many as a rubber stamp for negotiated state labor agreements–until now.
It wasn’t just any union contract under the microscope before them, but the renewal of a two year agreement tied to a disputed 2014 union election for 27,000 personal home care assistants (PCAs). Lawmakers heard a laundry list of irregularities and allegations of fraud related to the 2014 union election that led to SEIU Healthcare Minnesota representation of many personal care assistants.
“There are several court cases in specific regards to the PCA contracting and unionization and I felt it the obligation of the committee to hear those details and that information before we weigh in on the PCA contract,” Rep. O’Neill explained.
Opponents came from around the state to get their say. Parents, small business owners of agencies caught in the middle and canvassers helping the more than 7,500 Minnesotans who want the state to give them a chance to vote down–decertify–the union.
“I didn’t want to be in it, they forged my signature, I signed nothing with them and it just got to a point where I felt like I was being harassed to join [SEIU Healthcare MN],” said Sara Madill, a Duluth PCA who helped care for her sister.
It was David and Goliath, home care mothers and fathers against top SEIU officials, families dependent on a Medicaid stipend to care for loved ones at home versus union bosses siphoning off an estimated $4.7 million a year from the program for dues.
“I do not believe that the SEIU is here for our best interests but for their own political and monetary gain,” said Kris Greene, who brought her 24 year old daughter Meredie with her. “I am a mom taking care of my daughter in my own home. I am not a state employee.”
Former Minnesota Sen. Al De Kruif told the panel that none of his family or PCAs who help care for his son Jason even got a chance to vote in the 2014 union election. “I believe the SEIU vote to unionize PCAs was fraudulent, as I’ve learned other PCAs were also not given the opportunity to vote,” De Kruif told lawmakers.
American Experiment Vice President Kim Crockett and MNPCA attorney Doug Seaton made the case that the subcommittee should reject the contract that recognizes SEIU as the exclusive bargaining representative of home care workers in the PCA Choice program. Otherwise, the effort to force the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation to hold a union decertification election could be put on hold for another two years.
“We have uncovered some serious problems and those problems could amount to fraud,” Seaton testified. “They certainly amount to mischief, misfeasance or malfeasance, something that calls into question the original election that brought the SEIU representation into being.”
But Healthcare Minnesota officials denied any wrongdoing and defended the union’s record.
“The claims against our union are growing more silly and outlandish with time, and their attempts to win support of actual health care workers has failed,” SEIU HealthCare MN President Jamie Gulley said. “The fact remains that health care workers support their union.”
Twice as many home care workers as originally voted for the union have already submitted cards to BMS demanding the opportunity to vote down SEIU representation. The Subcommittee on Employee Relations expects to take up the controversial SEIU Healthcare Minnesota contract again on May 15.