This article was originally published October 27, 2016 by Laura Alderman in The Sun this Week. To access the original, please click here.
Personal care attendants say state undermining union decertification effort
A Lakeville resident is a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state that alleges it is undermining union decertification efforts by some personal care attendants.
Kris Greene has cared for her daughter Meredie Greene at home for about 24 years, including recently working as a personal care attendant reimbursed under a Medicaid program supporting the at-home care of special needs family members.
Kris Greene and other PCAs are working to gather signatures within the 60-day window they legally have to decertify the vote and seek a new election.Legislation in 2013 declared home-based providers “state employees for collective bargaining purposes,” and some PCAs voted to unionize in 2014.
They say the state has not provided them an accurate, current list of PCAs, so they cannot contact the workers or even know how many signatures they need to meet the 30 percent standard to call the vote.
Doug Seaton, an attorney representing MNPCA members, said the state provided PCAs a list two years old and about 40 percent incorrect.
The lawsuit details multiple delays plaintiffs experienced when they sought updated lists in subsequent requests until ultimately receiving the same dated list.
“We think they’re simply trying to prevent us from communicating with people,” Seaton said. “That’s not right.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order forcing the Department of Human Services, the Bureau of Mediation Services and Minnesota Management & Budget to provide a current list of PCAs in the state bargaining unit, provide more time to collect signatures and suspend what it says are premature SEIU/State negotiations for a new contract.
Seaton said the list they were given includes addresses of abandoned, condemned, torn down buildings or nonexistent addresses.
He said it also includes individuals who have either moved or never lived at the address provided.
Nikki Villavicencio, of Maplewood, is an SEIU leader and self-described disability rights advocate who served on the first bargaining unit for the PCAs.
She said the union received the same list from the state as the PCAs did when it was starting out.
Villavicencio said there is a lot of turnover in the low-wage profession, and many PCAs live with their families or move frequently.
She said the updated lists contain private data and cannot be released.
“Personally I think that’s kind of a ridiculous inappropriate request,” she said. “It’s like one company asking another for data.”
She said the PCAs will have to do their own work to organize another vote.
Of the estimated 27,000 PCAs in the state in 2014, just 13 percent, about 5,800 PCAs, participated in the 3,500-2,800 vote to join the Service Employees International Union Health Care Minnesota (SEIU).
“That’s not very many,” Kris Greene said. “So I feel like a lot of them didn’t even know what was going on, and here we are now being represented by a union that is a political union to be completely blunt.”
Villavicencio said the union’s efforts have established training and pay raises that were not previously available.
Kris Greene said a lot of PCAs are not even aware the union exists because they are busy just taking care of the special needs of their family members.
She said PCAs also have piles of paperwork to compete and likely overlooked a card requesting a vote that had to be returned within two weeks.
“Most PCAs do not want the SEIU interfering with their families and skimming off part of the Medicaid benefit for their special needs family members,” Kris Greene said.
Another plaintiff, Catherine Hunter, said in a news release the program is funded through the Legislature and Congress, “so the union adds nothing in this context and should be removed.”
Kris Greene said the union receives $3 million to $4 million from PCAs’ income in dues, at a cost of almost $1,000 per year for a PCA.
“That’s a lot for union dues,” she said.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said the 3 percent dues rate home care was established during months of discussion, research, debate and voting, all led by home care workers who chose to join the union.
“Allegations that SEIU Healthcare Minnesota is ‘taking money out of Medicaid’ reflect, at best, a serious misunderstanding of the payments home care workers receive for the work they perform,” SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said in an email to the newspaper.
The lawsuit also alleges the union began contract renewal negotiations an unprecedented nine months prior to expiration in an effort to thwart the decertification vote.
SEIU said negotiations for the original contract occurred in the same time period.
The PCA group has started a website, mnpca.org, to gather signatures and inform other PCAs of their efforts.
An initial court hearing was scheduled Thursday, after this edition went to press.
Calls to the state seeking comment were not returned.
Kris Greene said the union is political and not focused on the what she is most concerned about: her daughter.
“Our lives totally flipped when she was born,” Kris Greene said. “I have four other children older than her. When she was born, she had a lot of health issues. When she was 6 months old, she spent 60 days in hospital on and off over a three-month period.”
She said they have poured their energy into helping Meredie through surgeries, providing home nursing care and helping her learn to communicate.
Meredie Greene is non-verbal but has learned sign language. She cannot read or write, so Kris Greene said they are constantly trying to help, direct and guide her.
Kris Greene said Meredie Greene has been in programs outside the home, but was always getting sick, suffering with bronchitis up to six times a year.
Since being home, Kris Greene said her daughter has not been ill and is happy and thriving.
“She’s very vulnerable,” Kris Greene said. “So, for me it’s about protecting her and caring for her in the best place.”