St. Paul, MN – More than 50 hours after first arriving at the Capitol Saturday afternoon, Sumer Spika joined a tired, but elated group of home care workers and recipients in celebration.
“This is incredible,” said Spika, a home care worker from St. Paul. “Home care workers deserve the same right as other workers to form a union and now, because of this bill, we will soon have that right to choose for ourselves if we want a union.”
The House voted 68 – 66 to approve a bill which extends collective bargaining rights to self-directed home care workers in public programs. The workers and those they care for have been a constant presence throughout session, talking with legislators, holding rallies and testifying at hearings in their support of the bill. Since the House put the bill on the calendar for Saturday, workers have been camped outside the chambers to show their support. If the Governor signs the bill into law, the approximately 12,000 workers would be allowed to start the process of holding an election to vote on a union.
“This bill is about ensuring the basic rights of undervalued workers to choose for themselves if they want to collectively bargain for better wages,” said Rep. Michael Nelson, the chief author of the House version of the bill. “These workers, who are predominately women, now have an opportunity to bargain for improvements in their lives and the lives of the children, seniors and people with disabilities they serve. No longer will our state be able to dismiss the immense value of their work.”
“As we’ve said all along, this bill is simply about giving us the right to choose for ourselves,” said Darleen Henry, a 23-year-old home care worker from Rosemount who cares for her mom. “By forming a union, we can negotiate with the state for better wages, paid time off, even training. Mine and my mother’s future, as well as everyone else’s, could only get better.”
The vote came after more than 10 hours of debate stretching over three days, with Republicans threatening to filibuster with more than 100 amendments. The Senate passed the bill early Wednesday morning after a record-setting 17 hours of debate. Workers across the state have been vocal about their desire to form a union.
“I work hard as a PCA (personal care attendant),” said Vicki Dewald, a home care worker from Detroit Lakes. “My work helps the state save countless dollars that would be spent on a long-term care institution if I wasn’t there to work with my grandson and keep him living independently. By forming a union we can improve conditions for workers, which will keep good PCAs and improve the quality of care clients receive. We should have a say in the programs that benefit us all.”
“Workers need the chance to come together to work for better wages, access to benefits and access to training,” said Jim Lovold, a disability advocate who receives PCA services. “When I do find people to work for me they almost always leave to go do something where they make more money. I support this bill because it will give advocates who use self-directed services and the people who work for us a voice in fixing the system.”
Other states have passed similar legislation allowing self-directed PCAs to organize – those states have seen a reduction in worker turnover and a stabilization of the workforce. 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.
A study from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), the nation’s leading authority on the direct care workforce, released a report in January which showed a looming workforce crisis and a care gap of thousands of workers in Minnesota. A union will allow Minnesota to retain and attract enough workers to care for the aging population in their homes and avoid a massive strain on long-term care facilities.
“This is a celebration today,” said Spika. “It’s been a long road in our fight to get the same rights as other workers. We are so thankful to the legislators who voted on this historic bill to support working families, who voted to let us choose for ourselves. This is a win for all of us and we look forward to winning our union vote.”