Homecare workers mount statewide drive to drop union

The Service Employees International Union that won the biggest public employee labor election in Minnesota history in 2014 now faces a statewide decertification campaign aimed at eliminating  collective bargaining for 27,000 personal care assistants.

A group of PCAs today launched a drive to collect the required 9,000 signatures to force a follow-up election, reigniting one of the state’s most controversial political issues of recent years.

A 2013 state law designates Minnesota home care workers as public employees subject to collective bargaining because they receive a Medicaid subsidy to care for family members and others with special needs. Homecare workers who join the union pay three percent of their gross wages to SEIU Healthcare Minnesota for dues.

“The SEIU has just done nothing for PCAs.  They’re taking advantage of us, and it’s just not right,” said Kris Greene, a Lakeville homecare worker who cares for her special needs daughter and leads the campaign. “They don’t take care of our loved ones three percent of the time, why should they be entitled to three percent of our money?”

Kris Green, Lakeville personal care assistant, is leading the union decertification campaign.
Kris Greene, Lakeville personal care assistant, is leading the union decertification campaign.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota got off to a rocky start in July 2015. Several personal care assistants complained to SEIU about dues being deducted from their paychecks even though they did not knowingly join the union. Others contend most employers already pay more than the minimum hourly wage SEIU representatives negotiated with the state.

““The Union provides no genuine services to PCAs and the Legislature and Federal Government fund these benefits, so the Union is a parasite in this situation and should be removed,” said Doug Seaton, an Edina attorney involved in the campaign through the firm of Seaton, Peters and Revnew.

Union red tape has also proved to be unpopular with many agencies and care recipients that employ PCAs. Some agencies report a massive movement of homecare workers from the PCA Choice program that allows union membership to another program that does not.

“I can’t think of one of my clients that are actually positive about what the union is doing,” said Scott Price, who manages his daughter’s support staff and serves as a consultant to other care recipients. “They said ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with them, they can’t help me, I don’t want them around.’”

It’s not clear how many homecare workers are dues-paying union members and how much they contribute to SEIU’s coffers. While the Supreme Court has ruled the caregivers can no longer be compelled to pay union dues or fair share fees, thousands of Minnesotans were enrolled by signing cards that authorized the 2014 election.

But union opponents face a tall hurdle in gathering signatures from 30 percent of the 27,000 personal care assistants in order to trigger an election. Their plan calls for a grassroots campaign that reaches out to homecare workers by mail, phone and online. Many PCAs work largely on their own and have unpredictable hours. A designated website—MNPCA.org—generates election authorization cards that must be received by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services by a December 2 deadline.

“We will support the Minnesota PCAs every way we can, including logistical and communications help and making sure the national media is aware of this outrageous situation,” said Matt Patterson, executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom.

The unusual campaign has drawn both national and local backing, including Center of the American Experiment’s Employee Freedom Project.

“SEIU spends millions of dollars from union dues on candidates and politics, in addition to lobbying the Legislature. For example, in 2015 SEIU Health Care MN spent about $80,000 a year lobbying the Legislature. That is money that could be going directly to the disabled and their families,” said Kim Crockett, vice president of Center of the American Experiment and director of the Employee Freedom Project.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota had not commented on the decertification effort as of this writing.