Double whammy! Home-care workers sue to stop labor union election


By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Days before the scheduled start of the largest-public sector labor union election in state history, nine Minnesota home-care workers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis aimed at stopping it.

Home care assistants from throughout Minnesota sued Gov. Mark Dayton and the Service Employees International Union, asking the federal court for an injunction against a controversial 2013 state law authorizing organized labor to target providers for collective bargaining.

“I’m just looking for the union to stay out of my house and not take money out of my wages,” said Scott Price, a plaintiff whose daughter receives care for cerebral palsy. “I just don’t need them to represent me when I can do that myself. … Last year the Legislature increased the waiver budgets by 5 percent. That was without the help of any union. We did that as advocates all by ourselves.”

Some 26,000 Minnesotans provide home-based help for family members and others with special needs through Medicaid programs that subsidize the cost to avoid institutionalized care.

A 2013 state law designates individual providers as “executive branch state employees employed by the commissioner of management and budget or the commissioner’s representative” for purposes of unionization, according to the complaint filed by the National Right to Work Foundation.

SEIU organizers delivered 9,000 signed cards earlier in July to the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services, which ordered a statewide mail-ballot union election due to kick off Friday.

“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,” Darleen Henry, a Rosemount home-care assistant, said in a SEIU news release.

The legal challenge picks up where a key Supreme Court decision issued last month left off. The Harris v. Quinn ruling barred SEIU from collecting millions of dollars in fair share union fees from Illinois home-care workers who did not want to join the union.

Minnesota providers hope to take it a step further, contending the state law violates their constitutional rights of free expression and association by authorizing “forcible unionization.” The same legal team that represented Illinois home-care workers now represents Minnesota providers.

ON THEIR OWN: Scott Price joined a federal lawsuit so the union will “stay out of my house and not take money out of my wages.”

“This scheme, which forces relatives taking care of persons with disabilities into union political association is a slap in the face of fundamental American principles we hold dear,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a news release. “In effect Governor Dayton is picking the SEIU as the lobbyists for Minnesota’s personal care providers as payback for the union bosses’ support and political contributions.”

SEIU did not issue an immediate response to the development, but a spokesman for Dayton echoed a criticism leveled by the governor against child-care providers holding up an organizing drive by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees through a similar constitution challenge now in federal appeals court.

“This is just another extremist right wing group trying to tell Minnesotans that they cannot decide for themselves whether to vote to form a union,” Matt Swenson, a spokesman for the governor, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Bureau of Mediation Services Commissioner Josh Tilsen recently brushed aside requests by several GOP legislators to extend the August 25 deadline to return mail-ballots by two weeks to give home-care workers more time to participate in the process.

“These are people who are caring for family members in most cases,” said Kim Woehl, a Forest Lake provider and plaintiff. “They’re already overwhelmed and working hard just doing what they’re doing and that they have to deal with this mess is just absolutely ridiculous.”