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Minnesota home health workers expect summer union election

ST. PAUL — Christine Hale has undergone fusion procedures for her back and neck, and needs more.

But, the Crosby woman said, she gets no paid time off. So she must hurry back to work as a home health care worker after the procedures.

Because she cannot take enough time off for her back to heal, she and her mother said, she is forced into more treatment. That means her client, for whom she works 20 hours a week, will be forced to get used to a new health care worker while she is off, something Hale called an unsettling prospect.

“It’s time for us to stand up,” Hale said Tuesday as she prepared to hear her mother, Rosemary Van Vickle, talk to a couple of hundred people gathered outside the state Bureau of Mediation Services in St. Paul to celebrate taking a key step in forming a union to represent them in negotiations with the state.

Darlene Henry of Rosemount, who receives state aid to care for her mother 38.5 hours a week, said a union could negotiate to provide training, better pay and benefits for personal care attendants.

Attendants won the right to attempt to form a union in a law Minnesota’s Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor approved last year.

The union drive organized by the Service Employees International Union gave more than 9,000 signatures of people who want to unionize to the mediation bureau. If signatures are confirmed, the bureau is expected to set up an election this summer to see whether the 26,000 home health care providers want to form a union.

However, even if the election approves a union, clouds remain after a late-June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned unions like would be formed in Minnesota from collecting dues from people who do not want to join.

It had been assumed that “fair share” payments would be required from workers who did not join. In similar circumstances, that money has been crucial to unions.

Union organizer Nikki Villavicencio of Maplewood promised Tuesday he union would not collect dues from anyone who is not a member, but it was not clear how that would affect the union’s work. Union organizers said they were not prepared to discuss the court ruling’s impact other than that it reaffirmed the right to form a union.

Republicans indicated they will continue to oppose the unionization of health care workers. GOP governor candidate Kurt Zellers, for instance, blamed the situation on Gov. Mark Dayton, who “has sided with liberal special interest groups.”

Henry said the workers in other states have been successful at getting higher wages and benefits, more training “and, most importantly, a voice in the state decisions that affect them.”

She said she is not concerned if Republicans take control of state government because everyone should see struggles home care workers face and “realize we need to do something different.”

Van Vickle, whose husband, Keith, sat with Hale in the front row of the celebration to support his wife, said she usually works two or three jobs 50 hours a week because being a home health worker pays so poorly.

Hale and Van Vickle said workers do jobs such as taking clients to doctor appointments, organize medication and clean house.

Van Vickle said she used to work in a nursing home, where “it was always rush, rush, rush.” She said she likes home health care, but the lack of pay and benefits is an issue.

Union organizer Sumer Spika of St. Paul said the health care worker election would be the biggest union vote in Minnesota history.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.