Joint Committee schedules another hearing on PCA/SEIU “Contract”

On Monday, May 8th, the joint Subcommittee on Employee Relations in the Minnesota Legislature met to hear the testimony of personal care attendants (PCAs) who are paid under a special Medicaid program to care for the disabled. They were subjected to unionization after Governor Dayton and the DFL Legislature declared them to be “public employees.”

The subcommittee, Chaired by Rep. Marion O’Neil, which reviews public employee contracts, is scheduled to meet again next Monday, May 15th to hear testimony from the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS handles labor issues for the state) and MMB (Minnesota Management and Budget). MMB negotiates labor contracts on behalf of the executive branch, with input from the Department of Human Services (DHS).

On Monday, PCAs testified about their experiences with the SEIU. Alpha News picked up the story today:

For almost a year, MNPCA, a coalition of in-home care providers, have been seeking an election so PCAs themselves can determine if they want to continue the representation. Feeling misrepresented, the coalition of PCAs went door-to-door, talking with PCAs around the state about their experience with the union.

Right from the start, the election raised eyebrows. Some PCAs claimed they never received a ballot. Others reported receiving a ballot and voting “no,” but later looking at their pay stub and finding union dues subtracted. When this was brought to SEIU’s attention, PCAs found their signatures had been forged, or they had been tricked into signing a card believing it was a request for more information or a pledge of support for certain benefits

This contract is getting a heightened level of scrutiny and attention because the 2014 election of the Service Employees International (SEIU) was marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud. Moreover, as the PCAs themselves testified, a union simply should not be allowed to use Medicaid funds as a pretense for declaring these PCAs “public employees” solely for the purpose of providing public unions with a revenue opportunity.

These PCAs are not “workers” or “state employees.” Most of them are family or friends who thought the PCA program, designed to allow the disabled to live with dignity at home, was pretty terrific before the SEIU showed up at their door, demanding they join the union.

Alpha News noted what these PCAs, most of whom did not even know there was an election in 2014,  have been up against because Minnesota treats them like any other labor union:

In order to be able to call for a special election, MNPCA had to produce election cards for 30 percent of PCAs currently in the bargaining unit. SEIU last estimated the bargaining unit to include about 19,000 PCAs. MNPCA was able to reach thousands of PCAs across the state, collecting over 7,500 cards petitioning for a decertification election, well above the required amount. Despite meeting the requirements, the state Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) denied MNPCA a new election.

The hearing next week is a milestone for MNPCA, which has petitioned BMS and taken this matter to court. The coalition of PCAs, its decertification effort and legal actions, has received a great deal of national press but the press in Minnesota has not told their story despite many opportunities to meet PCAs and hear them out.

MNPCA attorney Doug Seaton is not backing down, telling Alpha News they are appealing the decision made by BMS.

“Twice as many that voted for the SEIU in the first place do not want the union,” Seaton told Alpha News. “We believe that is enough to call another election.”

Rep. Marion O’Neil, Sen. Michelle Benson and others in the Legislature called for hearings rather than business as usual. Normally, employee contracts are rubber-stamped. The risk next week is that the new contract will be ratified, with devastating legal consequences for PCAs.

However, PCAs may not even get the chance to take the issue to court. A hearing of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations is scheduled for May 15 where they are expected to discuss SEIU’s PCA contract. The two year agreement, beginning in 2014 at the start of the bargaining unit, expires in July 2017. If the Subcommittee on Employee Relations approves the contract, it would put an end to any decertification efforts.

“If the contract is ratified, it will stop the decertification,” Seaton explained. “We believe we have raised significant issues of misconduct such that the contract should not be ratified, or at a minimum action should be deferred into the post-session period until the information can be fully considered.”

Has the SEIU offered something of value to PCAs that Congress and the legislature were not providing under the program? Actually, most PCAs make much more than the hourly rate in the SEIU contract. There is also pending legislation to raise PCA pay, as the state has done like clockwork year after year.

One of the provisions in the new contract is a higher wages for PCAs. While urging legislators not to ratify the new contract, Seaton emphasized they are not against higher wages for PCAs. The current omnibus health and human services bill includes a raise for PCAs, something Seaton says they are “very much in favor of.” Seaton says this is one example why the union is unnecessary.

“There is nothing that the union offers PCAs that they can’t do themselves,” Seaton said.

If you can, please join us at the SER hearings next week. The crab apples are in bloom at the Capitol; it is a great time of year to visit the seat of state government!