MNPCA Update: Who is Chris Serres? Reporter or Union Activist?

Recently, a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter named Chris Serres wrote a sympathetic article about a new SEIU union for home-based personal care attendants (PCAs):  “Minnesota’s home care workers demand action on staff shortages, low wages: Two years after a contentious battle to form a union, they are starting contract negotiations”

We thought the article felt more like a press release for the SEIU’s press conference last week.

The press conference, announcing the start of new contract negotiations, was held at the Senate Office Building last Wednesday, September 28.  We just happened to find out about it that morning. I was able to change my schedule and attend. More on that later.

The Strib reporter, Chris Serres, had not bothered to talk to any of the PCAs at MNPCA who are engaged in a decertification campaign against the SEIU union formed just a few years ago with help from Gov. Dayton. Serres did, however, talk to the SEIU officers, members and supporters that I met at the press conference.

SEIU Press Conference
SEIU Press Conference

You would think a reporter would find this decertification effort newsworthy. It has been covered in the national press for weeks.  If MNPCA succeeds in decertifying the SEIU Choice PCA union, it could be the largest decertification in U.S. history.

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). After I get a copy of the proposed new deal, I will post it.

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? I know school teachers making pretty good money who do not pay that much.

The Center often tries to educate a reporter who is tackling a complex subject like taxes, pensions or in this case, a Medicaid program for the disabled, so I have been corresponding by email with Chris Serres, asking him to meet with PCAs who want to protect the home-based PCA Choice program by decertifying the SEIU.

Like I said, we thought the article felt more like a press release for the SEIU’s press conference last week.

And now we know why.

Chris Serres left the Star Tribune in 2011 to become a union activist.

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.

According to Doug Grow at MinnPost,  Serres went to work for UniteHere! a union that focuses on hotel workers and other industries (not too dissimilar from SEIU). I am still trying to determine who he worked for and what he did over the last five years, before returning to the Star Tribune to focus on the disabled and their caregivers, among other related topics.

Apparently Serres was a professed “union activist” even before he left to work for a union, while still a business reporter.

Serres had not been a union member until arriving at the Strib, a Guild paper. But he arrived in 2004 at a point when the paper’s management was attempting to dump its longtime readers representative, Lou Gelfand. The Guild was holding a rally in Gelfand’s support across the street from the newspaper, Serres attended the rally out of curiosity and was deeply moved.

From that day on, the aggressive biz reporter also became an aggressive union activist.

Ironically, we could sure use the help of a readers representative or ombudsman to help us bring this obvious conflict of interest to the attention of the Star Tribune and its readers. But the paper has eliminated that position.

Clearly, Mr. Serres has a big heart for this subject and he has formed the conclusion that unions are the answer for the challenges faced by people with disabilities and their caregivers. That is fine if he is writing as a columnist or working for an advocacy group.

But Chris Serres is holding himself out as a reporter. The minimum we expect of him is that he follow widely accepted standards of journalism such as reporting the facts without bias, and fairly reporting both sides of the story.

We plan to file a formal complaint with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

You can read the article by Chris Serres here, and judge for yourself.