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Home care workers and clients testify that bill to grant organizing rights would help address long-term care gap, attract and retain more workers
St. Paul, MN – Home care workers turned out in force Monday for the first committee hearing for SF 665, which would grant collective organizing rights to home care workers seeking to form a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The bill would address the looming workforce crisis facing Minnesota’s long-term healthcare programs by giving home care workers in self-directed programs the ability to negotiate directly with the state, which determines and funds their wages and benefits.
At the first hearing in the Senate State and Local Government committee, Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL – District 65) moved to merge SF 665 with SF 778, a bill that would also grant organizing rights to in-home childcare providers. Sen. Pappas says both bills would extend the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) to cover the workers for purposes of collective bargaining with the state over wages and benefits.
“These bills are about lifting up vulnerable workers who do incredibly important work in our society,” said Sen. Pappas. “Allowing home care and childcare workers the same right to organize as other workers helps stabilize the workforce and raises the standards of care for seniors, children, and people with disabilities. Workers in both of these fields are predominantly women and have too often had their work overlooked and devalued as ‘women’s work.’ We need to empower these workers so they can continue providing quality care to Minnesotans of all ages.”
Senator Chris Eaton (DFL – District 40), co-author of SF 665, supported the move.
“As a former public health nurse, I know how incredibly important home care workers are to ensuring Minnesotans can remain in their home and retire with dignity,” said Sen. Eaton. “I am supportive of the right of all workers to form a union. These workers should have the same right under state law as teachers, nurses, and firefighters to form a union and negotiate with the people who determine their wages and benefits. Doing so will help us attract and retain more workers, which is crucial given that the need for home care workers will continue to increase as the Baby Boomers age.”
Two home care workers testified about the work they do, including Shaquonica Johnson, a home care worker from St. Paul who cares for people living with disabilities.
“I am passionate about caring for people,” said Johnson. “I help with transportation, feeding, dressing, bathing and medical appointments. This may sound like basic tasks, but they are fundamental to secure an independent life. For people not living with a disability we often take these tasks for granted. I know because last year I suffered from two strokes and was forced to re-learn the basic tasks I had helped others with for years. I think one of the scariest parts of this experience was that after all the care I’ve given, I did not have any health insurance from my job to show for it. I’ve made very low wages, forcing me to choose between paying my bills or feeding my children. I am not allotted sick leave or vacation time. I believe that if we come together to form a union we can change that.”
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. These workers provide direct support for the elderly and people with disabilities. Those who work for clients who direct their own care currently do not have the right to form a union under state law.
Rochelle Turan of Brooklyn Park also testified about the care her sons with developmental disabilities receive from home care workers, saying the workers help keep her sons safe.
“Without the help of these skilled people coming into our home we would be forced with the decision of how to care for our children,” said Turan. “I grew up in a family where I watched my single mother have to make the decision to send my brother to a residential facility away from our home because of the severity of his disability and the lack of support to families in their homes in those times. Please believe me when I say I was devastated as a young girl. These workers allow family members not to have to make the decision I watched my mother go through. This is what makes home care workers so valuable.”
The bill was held over until the committee reconvenes on Wednesday. The home care bill will have its first hearing in the House on Tuesday, where it comes before the House Health and Human Services Policy committee. Rep. Michael Nelson is the co-author in the House.
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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.