Home Care Workers Celebrate as Bill Heads to Floor Votes in House and Senate

Bill that would extend collective bargaining rights to workers in public home care programs passes final committee votes

St. Paul, MN – After months of walking the halls, talking with legislators and attending hearings at the State Capitol, home care worker Darleen Henry is overjoyed that a bill that would give her the right to vote on whether she wants to form a union is finally headed to the floor for final votes in both the House and the Senate.
“This bill is a huge deal for my family and me,” said Darleen Henry, who lives in Rosemount. “I want the opportunity to join together in a union with other home care workers so we can make doing this work sustainable. Workers – including me – face low wages and absolutely no benefits, despite working round-the-clock caring for the elderly and people living with disabilities. I don’t want to be forced to leave this career simply because I can’t make ends meet. If that happened, my mom would be forced to move into a nursing home, and that would break her heart and mine.”

Though only 23 years old, Henry has been working as the personal care attendant for her mother ever since her mother suffered a series of small strokes. She has been working with other home care workers who are seeking to change state law so they can have a statewide vote on whether the approximately 12,000 workers would like to join together in a union. The workers have been hard to miss throughout the legislative session, visiting the Capitol each week, attending the many hearings and holding multiple rallies in the Capitol rotunda.

Tonight the Senate Finance committee voted 12 – 10 to send the bill to the full Senate for a final vote on the floor. Last week, members of the House Ways and Means committee approved the bill’s companion, sending it to the full House as well.

The bill would extend collective bargaining rights to self-directed home care workers in public programs. Unlike workers employed by agencies, these workers employed directly by their clients do not currently have the right to join together in a union under state law, even though the state provides the funding and sets reimbursement rates that determine the workers’ wages. If passed, the bill would allow the workers to call for an election to decide if they would like to join together to collectively bargain with the state for better wages, benefits and standards.

“We’re so close to passing this bill, just a couple more votes,” said Pat Winick, who receives services through the Consumer Directed Community Supports waiver program after suffering a traumatic brain injury. “Everyone who does this valuable work deserves to be respected and well compensated. While I set the wages for my workers I am limited by what the State gives me to work with in my budget. Right now workers have no voice in how these budgets are set or what is a fair wage for the services they provide.”

“I have relied on direct support workers for over 12 years,” said Nikki Villavicencio-Tollison, who receives services through the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) Choice program. “I need people who understand that I am a confident, independent woman who uses support services and not someone who is sick or broken who needs care. I use the PCA Choice program because it allows me to choose, train, direct and terminate my own workers. In this program I am the employer. The only thing I don’t control in the PCA choice program is how much my workers are paid. The reimbursement rate is set by the State.

“I support this bill because it will give workers the right to form a union to bargain with the State for better wages and access to benefits. It is difficult to find quality, reliable people who are willing and able to work for low wages and no benefits. When I do find someone who is really good and reliable they always end up leaving to make a living wage. When people do stay and work for me full-time they often have to rely on public assistance to be able to feed their families or get health care for their own children,” continued Villavicencio-Tollison.

In other states where home care workers have joined together in a union, there has been a stabilization of the workforce and an ability to better attract and retain workers. Workers and participants there have also seen an increased access to services, better wages and benefits, the creation of registry and referral services, greater access to training and a voice on the job.

“This bill will give these workers the right to vote to form a union so they can finally have a powerful collective voice.  I look forward to partnering with these organized workers in advocating for more access to and stable funding for self-directed services,” said Winick.

“A more stable workforce will save the state money,” said Darleen Henry. “Home care workers allow people to remain living independently in their homes, rather than be forced to choose a more expensive nursing home or institution. I take great pride in knowing my work helps people retire with dignity.

“Home care workers deserve the same rights as other workers,” continued Henry. “Nurses and teachers have the right to form a union. The work we do isn’t more important, but it certainly isn’t less important. Allowing us the right to join together in a union will improve the lives of workers and the people we care for, while making smart decisions for a better future. I look forward to seeing this through to the final votes in the House and Senate. Mine and my mom’s future depends on it.”

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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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