November 18, 2016

Many caregivers want out of unions grip

 This article was written by Kim Crockett and originally published in the Star Tribune on November 17, 2016. Please view the original here.

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Praise be, the election is over. Most people can turn to who’s coming for Thanksgiving. But some of our neighbors are preoccupied with a very different kind of election still approaching. These neighbors come from all walks of life and political persuasions, and out of fairness they are asking for a do-over. This is their story.

A coalition of parents caring for disabled children called MNPCA.org are attempting to extricate themselves from a union that claims the right to represent them at the State Capitol. These parents have been fighting to protect a wonderful Medicaid program — personal care assistance — they rely on to care for their disabled family member at home. The union is now taking millions out of the program and inserting itself into the private affairs of these families.

MNPCA.org has to first demonstrate that 30 percent of the “bargaining unit” wants a new election by gathering thousands of signatures before Dec. 2. But they do not know how many personal-care assistants (PCAs) are in their union, and they do not have a reliable way to reach them.

If you are confused, you are not alone.

The PCA program, funded by Medicaid, was designed to keep the disabled out of institutions. It was never meant to subject caregivers to unionization. Most PCAs are women caring for a family member, but some are unrelated PCAs.

Under the pretext of helping “low-income health care workers,” Gov. Mark Dayton proposed in 2011 that PCAs “organize.” Undeterred by objections to what the Star Tribune Editorial Board called, “the legislation’s convolution of the traditional worker-employer union model,” Dayton won passage of a law that declared PCAs “state employees.”

Under that new law, PCAs could only “collectively bargain,” but over what? All their benefits come from Medicaid. In recognition of the fact that they are not really “state employees,” the law excludes them from such benefits as pensions. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has said they could not be forced to pay union dues because they are not “full-fledged public employees.”

The Star Tribune Editorial Board said: “It’s fitting that much of the Senate’s debate took place in the dark of night. But DFL lawmakers are fooling themselves if they doubt that Minnesotans see this overreaching legislation for what it is: the collection of a campaign IOU by labor interests who worked on the party’s behalf in 2012.”

Nonetheless, in a mail-in ballot election, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) won the right to represent 27,000 PCAs all over Minnesota — with support from just 13 percent of the membership (3,543 voted yes; 2,329 voted no).

Why did so few cast votes? Frankly, the ballots looked like junk mail, or something you could put in the pile to read later. Only PCAs in the loop knew what to look for and when.

SEIU set union dues at an astonishing 3 percent of gross wages up to $948 a year. We estimate that SEIU is collecting up to $4.7 million a year, in some cases from PCAs who never signed a union card. If SEIU is the champion of low-wage workers, why is it taking 3 percent from people earning $12 to $14 an hour?

Thus, a Medicaid benefit is now a major revenue source for powerful unions. In 2016, SEIU spent $50 million nationwide on politics.

SEIU is using taxpayer funds to attack MNPCA.org with a postcard campaign offering “new free training” to PCAs funded by $250,000 in taxpayer money. SEIU can reach PCAs because it has access to updated PCA names and addresses.

The Dayton administration has refused to give MNPCA.org the contact information it is entitled to under the law. Instead, the administration gave MNPCA.org a bad list. Twice.

So after working with bad names and addresses, PCAs asked a judge for help. At a hearing last month, the state said it did not have a current PCA list. Judge Robert Awsumb ordered the state to provide a good list to MNPCA.org. In response, the state turned over just a list of names with no addresses. As a result, MNPCA.org does not know how many PCAs are in the bargaining unit, or where to reach them. And the deadline of Dec. 2 remains unless the judge rules otherwise.

The Dayton administration is also playing beat-the-clock by conducting new contract negotiations in an attempt to bar the decertification effort. The union is demanding a mandatory 30-minute meeting with PCAs to “discuss their union membership” and access to private household income, cell and e-mail data. Why?

PCAs do not want their homes turned into union workplaces. Even if they do not pay dues, they are directly effected by changes lobbied for by SEIU. They need an accurate list of PCAs and more time to reach them. Then they would be able to breathe a sigh of relief and think about who is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.