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Home health care workers to hold largest union vote in state history

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Home health care rally
Minneapolis resident Anab Jama speaks about her experiences caring for her mother, which required that she quit her job, in St. Paul during a rally supporting home health care workers as they file for union election.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Home health care workers in Minnesota are moving ahead with a union election, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that similar workers don't have to pay any union dues.

Union organizers presented a petition to state officials Tuesday in St. Paul, and said it will trigger the largest vote of its kind in state history.

State legislation in 2013 passed a bill that allows a unionization vote by workers who provide care to elderly and disabled people in their homes. There are more than 26,000 workers who are eligible to vote, and the 9,000 cards delivered to the state Bureau of Mediation Services exceeded the 30 percent required to trigger an election.

At a rally outside the bureau office, Tyler Frank said the high turnover rate among personal care assistants means he has to spend more time caring for his partner Nicole.

"When home care workers finally receive the attention and the respect we deserve for the difficult work we do, when our jobs are finally seen as the careers that they are, Nicole can finally get the reliable help that she needs to thrive," said Frank, of Minneapolis. "And with that steady help, I'll no longer need to choose between my goals and hers."

Home health care rally
A crowd of home health care workers and their supporters rallied Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul before filing for union election.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Frank and other union advocates are seeking representation from the Service Employees International Union, which began its organization effort shortly after the 2012 election. Rosemary Van Vickle, of Crosby, said she wants basic benefits such as fair pay, sick days and paid time off.

"Now I and other home care workers in Crosby have decided that we are going to fight to make home care jobs good jobs, and make sure everyone across the whole state is able to get care in their home," Vickle said.

Organizers delivered their petition a week after the U.S. Supreme Court said similar workers in Illinois cannot be forced to pay full or partial union dues if they don't want to join, because they are not full-fledged public employees.

• More on the Supreme Court ruling

Sumer Spika of St. Paul said home care workers still have the right to organize, but she said the plan now is to no longer seek partial dues from those who object. Spika said she doesn't know whether those workers will still benefit from union representation.

Home health care rally
Nikki Villavicencio, center, and Sumer Spika, right, rally a crowd of home health care workers and their supporters with the chant "Invisible No More."
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

"I don't know all the details of that. Our union hasn't officially formed yet," she said. "I'm sure all those things will be worked out as we move along in the process."

Spika contends there is broad support for forming a union. But others disagree.

State Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, a vocal opponent of the 2013 legislation that authorized the union election, said she was disappointed to see the effort moving forward, especially after the Supreme Court ruling. Mack said she continues to hear from personal care assistants who care for family members and don't want anything to do with a union.

"They just want to take care of a loved one and get some government assistance in order to do that and make it possible," Mack said. "So, there's huge concern among the advocates trying to stop the unionization that this would have a disincentive and kind of a dampening effect on people wanting to take care of their family and loved ones."

Mack said she thinks some Minnesota opponents might try their own legal challenge to try to stop the union vote. But she did not provide any specifics.

Josh Tilsen, commissioner of the state Bureau of Mediation Services, said the petition delivery begins an administrative process for conducting a unionization election. He said the specific timetable for the voting is not yet set but will be posted in an election order later this week.