Senator Eaton, Representative Nelson Introduce Home Care Workforce Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 21, 2013
Contact: Kate Brickman | 612-460-1219
Media Relations Coordinator | SEIU MN State Council

Bill to address looming workforce crisis introduced in House and Senate

St. Paul, MN – Today Senator Chris Eaton introduced S.F. 665 and Representative Michael Nelson introduced H.F. 844, a bill that would address the looming workforce crisis in our state’s public home care programs, by giving home care workers the right to form a union.

“We are facing a massive shortage of workers to care for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Representative Nelson. “As the Baby Boomers age, there is going to be a strain on our state’s long-term care system. We must ensure there are enough workers to help people retire with dignity.”

Many home care workers are employed directly by their clients in self-directed home care programs. Even though 100% of the funds that pay for these programs are controlled by the state, these workers do not have the right to form a union.

“Minnesota relies on the thousands of dedicated home care workers who do extremely important work,” said Senator Eaton. “When I worked as a public health nurse, I would do home assessments to decide how much care the state would provide for a senior or person living with a disability. The truth is, the work home care workers do is real and valuable.”

The bill would allow home care workers to decide if they want to form a union and negotiate with the state for better wages and working conditions.

“I’ve been caring for my mother for three years,” said Johnese Abney of Duluth. “My wages and hours have been cut. With my first check of the month, I pay rent. My second check goes towards utilities and other necessities. That leaves me nothing. My mother is 93 years old and needs my care. It’s not about the money, but I can barely make it right now. As home care workers, we need a voice to protect us from further cuts and to make this job into a profession that people can live on.”

“Our family is like a lot of other Minnesota families,” said Clara Nakumbe of Minneapolis. She cares for her 39-year-old son, Siran, who was diagnosed with a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis shortly after graduating college. “Young people get sick. Seniors want to stay in their homes. These problems are not going away. If our values as a country are going to survive we have to have a good plan for taking care of our family members who choose home care. To do that, we have to treat caregivers like real workers with an important job to do.”

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects demand for more than 50,000 new home care workers in Minnesota over the next 10 years. However, the core labor pool from which the state’s workers are traditionally drawn – women aged 25-54 – is expected to decline by nearly 2,000 workers.

“Increasing wages and benefits will stabilize this workforce, which will allow seniors to age at home rather than in nursing homes or other, more expensive institutions,” said Senator Eaton. “It will also improve the quality of care by reducing worker turnover, which is as high as 50% in a single year.”

“It comes down to making smart decisions for the future,” said Representative Nelson. “Home care workers save the state millions of dollars. If we don’t make investments in these workers now, taxpayers will be forced to fund thousands of additional Minnesotans who will be forced into nursing homes and institutions.”

“We deserve the same rights as every other worker to form a union so we can fight for better wages, paid time off, even training,” said Darleen Henry of Rosemount. She cares for her mother who suffered a series of strokes. “Mine and my mother’s future, as well as everyone else’s, could only get better. I want to thank the legislators for introducing this bill. It gives me, my family and my fellow home care workers hope.”

The bill is expected to have its first hearings in early March. There are an estimated 10,000-12,000 Minnesota home care workers in self-directed programs.

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SEIU Healthcare Minnesota unites more than 15,000 healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care throughout the state of Minnesota. SEIU represents more than 30,000 members across Minnesota and is a powerful voice working to improve the lives of all Minnesotans.

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