But only in Minnesota, thanks to the SEIU
In the middle of a shortage crisis for homecare workers in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the anti-union group Minnesota Personal Care Assistants (MNPCA), which was trying to decertify the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Union officials have expressed frustration that this legal opposition to their work has interfered with their efforts to getting better pay and benefits for underpaid workers.
The lawsuit occurred within a year of the SEIU bargaining for a new $48 million contract with Minnesota that included pay raises, more training, paid time off and, for the first time ever, holiday pay. SEIU’s original tentative agreement that was worked out with the State included $96 million, which was later cut in half by State lawmakers at the end of the 2017 legislative session.
The MNPCA filed a petition for a decertification election in 2016 to the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) but failed to collect signatures from 30 percent of homecare workers represented by SEIU. When the BMS turned down their petition for not hitting the 30 percent signature threshold, the group sued. In last Tuesday’s hearing three Appeals Court judges unanimously upheld the BMS’s decision.
The executive vice president of SEIU Minnesota, Phillip Cryan, said that moving forward from this case will allow them to focus on the real issues again, like the homecare crisis — referring to the shortage of homecare workers available in Minnesota. “It’s just been such a huge distraction for us to constantly be dealing with these legal attacks,” Cryan said.
By 2030, nearly 20 percent of Minnesotans will be 65 or older, according to the Paraprofessional Health Care Institute (PHI). Despite the increase in demand, there is still a lot of turnover among the roughly 93,000 homecare workers in Minnesota. The low pay and lack of benefits are partly to blame for the shortage, said Cryan, “and we’re kind of the only force that is out there doing something positive to fix that,” he added.
Jasmine Laducer-Kitto, who worked in home care for 13 years before organizing for the SEIU, said these benefits were long overdue, adding, “Before the union we had nothing. People were just working minimum wage for nothing; there was no paid time off, no holiday pay, nothing. Just a paycheck.”
Despite the new contract and the new $12 minimum wage, wages are almost one dollar lower than they were in 2006. Also, one in four homecare workers live below the federal poverty line, and over half rely on some form of public assistance, according to a Star Tribune article published in 2016.
Six years ago, Patsy Gibson was placed at the Pleasant Ridge apartment complex by a Minnesota women’s shelter. As part of her apartment lease, she agreed to be a caretaker for other residents in the building. For Gibson, this was nothing new. As a mother, grandmother and former nursing home employee, Gibson said, “I’ve always taken care of people ever since I can remember. It’s just something I love.”
As a member of the SEIU, Gibson is enjoying the new benefits bargained for by the union. Like the holiday pay, for the first time, homecare workers got paid time and a half on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Minnesota is the only state that offers holiday pay for homecare workers.
With the extra money earned from her holiday pay, Gibson was able to send a box of toys and clothes to her grandchildren in St. Louis. “It felt wonderful… It gave me the opportunity to do something that wasn’t included in my normal budget,” said Gibson.
Laducer-Kitto knows there is a lot of work to do going forward. “This is really far away from what is deserved,” she said. Gibson echoed the sentiment and said that, while she is thrilled about the new benefits, they are long overdue.
One unique struggle for Laducer-Kitto and the SEIU is that they are an open shop union, meaning non-dues paying members of the union get the same benefits of those who do pay. “That’s our struggle…trying to get people to realize it’s not free. It’s your fellow members who are paying for your union.” But, with such low wages, even the three percent it costs to be a dues-paying member can be too much.
However, for Gibson, it’s not about the money. “For me, it’s about the smiles,” she said. “I just want to believe that when the time comes and somebody’s got to take care of me, that they feel the same way I feel about what I am doing right now.”
Keith Schubert welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.