State home care workers OK union

Published 9:23 am Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Christopher Snowbeck

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Thousands of Minnesota home care workers have voted to create their own union, the state said Tuesday after counting results.

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The union will represent about 27,000 workers who are paid by the state to care for disabled or elderly patients.

About 60 percent of the 5,872 workers taking part in the election voted to unionize, according to the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services.

The election was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and union officials called it the largest of its kind in Minnesota history.

Although 27,000 workers were eligible to participate in the election, union supporters needed only a majority of the votes cast in order to unionize.

“This is what democracy looks like — not everybody is going to vote,” said Sumer Spika, a home care worker who supports the union.

“The bottom line is that the majority of people who voted, voted ‘yes’ — and we are able to form our union.”

“It was close, and disappointing that so many didn’t vote,” said Cindy Lindbloom, a home care worker in St. Joseph, who joined other workers this summer in a lawsuit trying to block the union effort. “We’ll just get ready for an appeal, that’s all.”

The results Tuesday likely will prompt more litigation and won’t resolve the debate among Democrats and Republicans about whether the home care workers should be allowed to organize a public-sector union.

The vote authorizes the SEIU to bargain with the state on the workers behalf. The state is then obligated to meet and negotiate in good faith a labor agreement, according to Minnesota Management and Budget officials.

Not all home care workers in Minnesota will be part of the union. Instead, it applies only to those care attendants who help clients in certain state government programs. In these programs, clients hire the workers and direct the care they provide, while the state pays for the services.

In some cases, the care allows clients to live in their homes, rather than in nursing homes. Some care attendants are relatives of their clients.

The mail-in union election started Aug. 1 and ended Monday. State workers at the Bureau of Mediation Services headquarters in St. Paul spent two hours Tuesday morning just opening envelops containing the ballots. Tabulating the vote took more than four hours.

The bureau has overseen more than 20 union elections this year, but the home care vote was unusual in size and the composition of the workforce, said Josh Tilsen, the agency’s executive director.

— Distributed by MCT Information Services