Just days before the start of contract bargaining with the state over a new two-year union contract, home care workers and clients with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota held a roundtable with Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan Wednesday morning, sharing stories of how the care crisis caused by underfunding has harmed care workers & thousands of seniors and people with disabilities across the state.
The care crisis has meant thousands of home care jobs are unfilled because of the low pay caused by the lack of investment in this critical work. After months of advocacy, including shutting down the road outside of the Capitol before the October special session, care workers won a temporary emergency rate increase as part of the bonding bill recently signed by Gov. Walz, but the increase will only provide a few weeks of additional pay and recognition, and workers who have kept Minnesotans safe and healthy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are still making as little as $13.25 per hour with minimal benefits.
Francis Hall is a home care worker from Aldrich, MN who is an Executive Board member with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and part of the union’s bargaining team.
“As a home care worker I take care of my terminally ill grandson. Home care has extended his life thus far by an additional 10 years. Without these essential services he would have already died, but with his home care services he is now 22 and he has been able to stay at home and live a much happier & healthier life,” said Hall. “Taking care of him at home has saved the state millions of dollars in the last 10 years. With this contract we are going to push the state to increase pay, boost training and give home care workers overtime to finally show we value the essential work that home care workers do in keeping individuals in their home and community.”
The two sides will begin bargaining their next contract on Monday October 26th, with a union bargaining team of workers, clients and families representing SEIU Healthcare Minnesota in talks with state officials. The two sides have to reach a tentative agreement before the next legislative session to ensure funding is allocated for the contract. Key demands from home care workers include:
Living wage for professional caregivers, at last
Improved training and orientation for the state’s home care workforce, to provide higher quality care to seniors and people with disabilities
Overtime pay, like all other hourly workers have
Damon Leivestad is a Mechanical Engineer from Plymouth who was born with a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy which is a degenerative disorder that causes muscle deterioration and weakness as it progresses. He started using a wheelchair when he was 10 and has used home care services since 1993 and currently requires total assistance with every aspect of my daily living. He is part of the bargaining team and shared why this contract is so important for thousands of Minnesotans.
“The shortage of Home Care Workers is growing at an alarming rate and without sustainable livable wages and benefits this shortage will leave many disabled and elderly Minnesotan’s little choice but to move into unsafe, costly nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. With the addition of COVID, many of these long term care facilities would be a death sentence to myself and many of my friends,” said Leivestad. “Paying home care workers livable wages and benefits not only allows them to provide for their families but it also gives their clients, like myself, the ability to live full, dignified, independent lives in our own homes and communities.
“I, as well as many people I know, struggle to find and retain reliable, knowledgeable Home Care Workers which, in turn, affects our ability to live normal, productive lives that most people take for granted,” Leivestad added. “Continuing to pay substandard, non-livable wages to home care workers who have dedicated their lives to helping the disabled and elderly citizens of Minnesota is appalling. What does it say about the moral character of our state when we pay other jobs more than we are willing to pay hard-working, compassionate, reliable, knowledgeable home care workers?”
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents over 40,000 healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care across Minnesota