Home care workers file for largest union election in Minnesota history

Tyler Frank, who cares for his partner, Nicole, was among the home care workers who spoke at a rally Tuesday after filing for union representation.

Joined by the clients they serve, workers who care for people in their homes filed Tuesday to form a union. Organizing under the slogan, “Invisible No More,” they said a union will improve pay, working conditions and the quality of care.

The state Bureau of Mediation Services will conduct a mail ballot election among the state’s 26,000 home care workers, making it the largest single union vote in state history.

The workers are seeking representation by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, a statewide local of the Service Employees International Union. They filed cards signed by more than 9,000 home care workers, triggering the process for a vote. Organizers expect the election to take place in August.

“We are coming together because we know that in other states where home care workers have formed a union, they have won significant wage increases, access to benefits and training opportunities, and most importantly, a voice in the state decisions that affect them,” said Darleen Henry, a home care worker from Rosemount.

Home care workers are employed by their clients – seniors and people with disabilities – but are paid mainly through public funds. Some home care workers gave up good-paying jobs to become personal care assistants and direct support professionals for a family member.

“My partner, Nicole, needs PCA support 24 hours a day. With the help of several other PCAs, I work every day to see that she gets the care she needs to accomplish her goals,” said Tyler Frank, a home care worker from New Hope.

“Because of the high turnover of Nicole’s workers and the extra work their absence leaves for me, I often have to support Nicole at the expense of my own aspirations. We need to recognize the importance of home care work and make it a stable career – that will improve the stability of my life and Nicole’s life.”

Pay is so low that many caregivers qualify for food stamps. They don’t receive paid sick leave or health or retirement benefits.

“I had a hysterectomy and went to work the following day because missing work means that my children do not eat,” said Shaquonica Johnson, a home care worker from Brooklyn Park. “I am here today because for too long, the work I and over 26,000 other Minnesotans do for a living – the work of caring for our neighbors, keeping seniors and people with disabilities in their homes and communities – has been made invisible, and when we win our union, we will finally be invisible no more.”

Clients who depend on home care workers are supporting the unionization effort.

“The high turnover in the field, from the low pay and lack of benefits, causes turmoil for families,” said Nikki Villavicencio, a home care recipient from Maplewood. “The current conditions often make me wonder, why is this field so undervalued? Why is it the workers who support my family are treated as if they are invisible? My family knows that when home care workers win their union, it will help not only them, but us as well.”

Villavicencio, who is married and the mother of a two-year-old daughter, said the care provided by PCA Makayla Morgan enables her to be independent, employed in a job and active in the community.

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Barb Kucera

I edit the Workday Minnesota news site, www.workdayminnesota.org