Workers, clients and community supporters express dismay that just as real changes and improvements in home care are beginning to take effect, anti-union groups want to reverse that progress
St. Paul, MN – On Wednesday morning outside of the Federal Court Building in St. Paul, dozens of home care workers, clients and supporters spoke out for good care and good jobs for both home care workers and
the clients they serve. They gathered after oral arguments in appeals of district court rulings in two lawsuits brought by small groups of extremist millionaires and billionaires. The Chief Judge of the Federal Court in Minneapolis issued decisive rulings earlier this year and last year vindicating home care workers’ right to organize.
The hearings combined lawsuits from two anti-Union groups, including the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. After voting overwhelmingly to form their Union in 2014, home care workers negotiated and ratified their historic first contract earlier this year. Amongst other contractual benefits, home care workers are now beginning to be able to take paid time off if they are sick or want to take a brief vacation, many for the first time ever after many years of work caring for people with disabilities and seniors.
Speaking outside of the courthouse after the hearings, Deb Howze, a home care worker from Minneapolis and a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, shared that home care workers are confident that they will win and why they are so outraged that a small group of millionaires and billionaires are funding work to destroy the home care workers’ union.
“This work is predominantly work done by women and people of color, and so I see this court case as a direct attack on women and people of color. We voted democratically to form our union so we can get the benefits that we deserve, such as a pay raise, sick time and access to training. These things help us better care for our clients,” Howze said. “Our home care system has been broken for years. Many PCAs have worked around the clock without a break, overtime or even being paid at all for what we do. Why would the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation want to undo the work we’ve done to improve conditions for clients and PCAs? Why would they want to take our rights away? Why are they threatened by us standing up for ourselves?”
Howze continued: “We are confident the judge will rule in our favor against these baseless attacks, but no matter what they try to do in court to stop us from standing up for ourselves, we are going to continue to fight to make sure home care workers and our clients have a voice to improve care for the tens of thousands of people with disabilities and seniors we serve all across our state.”
Francis Hall, a home care worker from Crosby and member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota,last week became the first known home care worker in Minnesota to utilize the paid time off provision workers won in their contract. It was the first paid time off she has had as a home care worker in over 15 years doing the job.
“In my 15 years as a home care worker, my day of paid time off last week was my first day of paid time off as a home care worker. 15 years! A few years back I broke my back and only took three unpaid days off. I needed to pay my bills, so I bought baggy clothes to cover my back brace and painfully went back to work without telling my employer what had happened,” Hall told the crowd of supporters outside of the courthouse. “Despite the important work we do caring for seniors and people with disabilities, too many home care workers did not have basic protections like paid time off before this contract. That is why we came together to form our union. It is wrong that extremists are trying to take away our union. It is wrong for workers in every corner of our state. It is wrong for the people we care for. We are going to stick together and keep fighting because we’ve come too far and the home care industry is too important to not stand up and fight back.”
Home care consumers like Nikki Villavicencio of Maplewood joined workers at the Federal Courthouse in support of a strong home care union. Villiavicencio touched on the how important a strong home care industry is to families like hers who receive home care services.
“My home care workers assist me with almost every aspect of my life, from the time I put my three year old on the bus, to meetings, dinner, bed and many things in between. Without home care my life would look very different. Right now I go to meetings every day and have things like enough clean clothes for my daughter. Without home care workers, I wouldn’t be able to leave my house for days, I would struggle to make meals for my family, not to mention not contributing to the many community activities that I am involved in. My life would go from very active and complex to isolated and exhausting. That is why as a recipient of home care and a disability advocate I have been, and continue to be, a strong supporter of the home care workers’ union and am confident we will win this case.”
Cortney Phillips, a home care worker from the St. Cloud area and member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, spoke about why she made the trip to St. Paul to speak out for a strong home care workers’ union.
“We’ve made initial gains with paid time off, raising the wage floor, and funding for training, and those are great starting points. However, we still have a very long way to go to give home care the value it truly deserves,” said Phillips, a mother of three. “After getting involved with the union and breaking down those barriers of isolation and hearing from other workers like myself, I realized that so many of us are facing the same struggles and issues working in the home care industry. There are thousands of us from every corner of our state, from the Twin Cities to Greater Minnesota where I am from, who want to voluntarily join this union to improve our industry. We won’t stop fighting, because this work is too important.”
After the hearing, while the speakers told their stories, workers and clients held signs saying things like “Don’t Take Away my PTO” and “We Love Home Care Workers,” vowing to continue their fight for good care and good jobs no matter what attacks they face.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota unites more than 42,000 healthcare and long-term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care throughout the state of Minnesota. SEIU represents more than 60,000 members across Minnesota and is a powerful voice working to improve the lives of all Minnesotans.