Right to Union Contact Lists Upheld by Minnesota Court of Appeals

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a Ramsey County District Court order directing the Dayton administration to turn over an up-to-date list of personal care attendants to a group (MNPCA) opposed to union representation, clearing a legal hurdle to a campaign aimed at decertifying the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota bargaining unit.

In order to force the election, MNPCA must garner signatures from 30 percent of a statewide PCA bargaining unit. But the 18-month long campaign has been stymied from the start by the Dayton administration’s lack of cooperation in providing accurate and timely lists of PCAs in Minnesota. As a result, MNPCA does not know how many PCAs remain in the program.

In November 2016, Ramsey County District Court Judge Awsumb ordered the state to provide MNPCA with contact information for PCAs eligible to vote, a ruling now affirmed by the appeals court. (Minnesota Court of Appeals A16-1863.)

“We think we have enough cards now, but want to be sure there are no arguments against the election, so we continue to obtain more. Our next steps are to re-file our decertification election petition and to ask the courts for help restraining or overturning any more Bureau of Mediation Services’ decisions to stall, prevent or deny us the election,” MNPCA attorney Doug Seaton said.

PCAs are reimbursed under a Medicaid program designed help families care for a disabled family member at home but were declared “public employees” under a controversial 2013 Minnesota state statute–for the purposes of collective bargaining only.

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In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Harris v Quinn, that the First Amendment rights of such PCAs were violated by state laws that compelled them to join a union, and that they are not “fully-fledged state employees.” They are hired or fired by individual participants in the Medicaid program, often family members. The state is not the employer and therefore cannot compel them to pay any union dues.

Nonetheless, under Minnesota law, the SEIU represents all PCAs in the program, even if they are not members of the union. The law allows the SEIU to charge PCAs who voluntarily participate in the union three percent of their gross wages paid under Medicaid, up to $948 dollars a year. Based on federal filings, SEIU is estimated to be taking in as much as $4.7 million a year in new revenues from the Medicaid program.

SEIU is a major political donor to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Dayton championed the legislation passed by the then DFL-dominated legislature that allowed SEIU to “organize” PCAs as “public employees” in Minnesota.

“The SEIU is not spending millions of dollars on behalf of PCAs in Minnesota.” said Kim Crockett, Vice President and Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. “But it does spend a lot on its own executive salaries, stipends for union organizers and millions getting politicians (all Democrats) elected or on grants to outside groups like Planned Parenthood. How does that improve the lives of the disabled?”

American Experiment has been working alongside MNPCA since 2016 in hopes of reaching PCAs, telling the people of Minnesota their story and alerting elected officials in hopes that they might act to protect the program for the disabled.

“This ruling is not controlling in other states,” observed Crockett. “But the decision will offer encouragement to other PCAs fighting to get lists so they can reach out to members of their bargaining unit.”

Despite lack of cooperation from the Dayton administration and other serious irregularities in the process, MNPCA has already obtained more than 8,500 signed cards from PCAs in support of a decertification election.

“MNPCA has uncovered evidence of wide-spread fraud,” Crockett said. “The PCA lists contain addresses that do not exist, and names of people who have never been PCAs. And worse, PCAs who never signed a union card are being charged dues. Minnesota taxpayers deserve an accounting of what is happening to the PCA program.”